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Grace Watanabe dead at 100; held at WWII camp for Japanese Americans, plaintiff in suit against Lincoln Park nursing home

Watanabe had no living relatives. Members of the city’s Japanese community rallied to support her in recent years.

Grace Watanabe at her 100th birthday.
Grace Watanabe at her 100th birthday.
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Grace Watanabe, who survived a U.S. internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II and was the plaintiff in a pending lawsuit against a Lincoln Park nursing home where employees bilked her of $750,000, has died. She was 100.

She died Tuesday at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge after suffering a stroke, according to Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert.

After Golbert learned of the mistreatment of Watanabe — who suffered from advanced dementia — his office stepped in to have her moved to a different care facility in 2018 and filed a lawsuit against Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park.

The lawsuit is seeking to claw back the money allegedly stolen from her, as well as punitive damages.

Despite her death, the suit is expected to go forward, with the beneficiaries of her will — Misericordia and Mercy Home for Boys and Girls — stepping in as plaintiffs.

Watanabe had no living relatives.

“I would expect the charities would take over the case and continue it,” Golbert said. “They will be the administrators of the decedent’s estate. She was a remarkable woman and lived just such a remarkable life.”

Watanabe’s life savings — allegedly stolen by several Symphony employees through forged checks and by using her ATM card — was spent on jewelry, travel, ride-hailing services and fast food, according to Golbert.

The lawsuit names individual employees as well as executives at Symphony. While not accused of taking part in the theft, the suit alleges executives were aware of it and didn’t report it to law enforcement.

Members of the Japanese community in Chicago rallied to support Watanabe in recent years.

“They’ve regularly sent letters and cards to her and had Japanese food sent to her at the nursing home. Grace was so happy to see them at her birthday celebration,” Golbert said. “Many said what an inspiration her life story was to them.”