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In Loving Memory of Ms. Ellen Yoko Sakai
Ms. Ellen Yoko Sakai, a cherished member of our community, departed this world on November 8, 2023, at the age of 80, after a brief period of illness. She was the beloved sister of Michiko (Seino) Koreeda, a loving aunt to Yuka, Hitoshi, and Ria, and the devoted daughter of the late Yoshio and Masako Seino. Ms. Sakai is also survived by numerous friends, colleagues, students—both current and former—and her feline companion, Kitsia.
Born into the Seventh Day Adventist faith on October 23, 1943, in Madison College, TN, Ms. Sakai made the newspapers for being the first person of Japanese descent to be born in Tennessee. Even from an early age, Ms. Sakai dedicated her life to serving others. Her journey in education began at the tender age of 8 when she was first bitten by the teaching bug, and she gave her first piano lesson at the age of 11. She had a passion for teaching music, a commitment she continued until her passing.
Ms. Sakai’s journey into professional piano teaching led her to Washington DC at the Catholic University of Maryland under the tutelage of Emerson Meyers, and then to Maryland where she would attend the University of Maryland, win the Homer L. Ulrich award for outstanding performance, and earn her Master’s under Dr. Stewart Gordon. Ellen also belonged to many professional organizations including the Maryland State Music Teachers’ Association and Prince George's County Music Teachers Association. Ms. Sakai served as the music theory chairperson for the latter for over 20 years, and also worked hard administering and scoring the Gail F. McDonald High School Piano Examinations.
Throughout her life, Ms. Sakai nurtured the talents of young performers, not only guiding their musical development but also fostering their spiritual and moral growth. Building and maintaining a thriving piano studio of young pianists, her dedication to teaching persisted even as her health waned, culminating in the combined celebration of her 80th birthday and a piano recital performed by her current students. Nearly a hundred friends, former students, and their families attended to wish her well.
Ms. Sakai’s dedication to her students was an extension of her deeply founded faith in and love for Jesus Christ and the Seventh Day Adventist message. From giving out bibles to providing piano accompaniment to her friend Paul Rolling in singing cantatas - performing at Constitution Hall multiple times - to playing the piano for many churches, Ms. Sakai always sought opportunities to help people to get to know her Savior through the act of showing love.
Ms. Sakai's commitment to her faith extended beyond her local community. She participated in 10 trips to Japan for the Voice of Prophecy and other evangelistic efforts between 1982 and 2000, alongside the late Esther and Paul Rolling. Ms. Sakai reflected fondly on these efforts to bring people to Christ throughout her life.
Known for her loving service and dedication to her community, Ms. Sakai never failed to recognize birthdays and anniversaries with heartfelt cards, texts and phone calls. Even into her 70s, she made the five-hour drive back and forth from Greenbelt to Farmville to attend to the needs of her close friend.
During her recent illness, the extent of Ms. Sakai's impact was evident in the outpouring of affection from students, both current and former, many of whom had been under her tutelage two to three decades prior. Ms. Sakai was deluged by phone calls, text messages, cards, emails, and visits which brought her great comfort during her final days.
Ms. Ellen Yoko Sakai was preceded in death by her parents, Yoshio and Masako, dear friends Paul and Esther Rolling, and her beloved dog Muffin.
A celebration of Ms. Ellen Yoko Sakai's life will take place on Friday, November 24, 2023, starting at 10 am. The viewing and funeral service will be held at Sligo Seventh Day Adventist Church, 7700 Carroll Avenue, Takoma Park, MD 20912, followed by a graveside service at 1 pm at George Washington Cemetery, 9500 Riggs Road, Adelphi, MD 20783. A reception will follow her interment at Sligo Seventh Day Adventist Church from 1:30-2:30 pm.
Flowers may be addressed to:
Donaldson Funeral Home of Laurel
313 Talbott Ave
Laurel, MD 20707
for delivery on Wednesday, November 22, 2023