On a gravestone in the Sheridan Municipal Cemetery, the following words are inscribed: “Koychi (Kay) Suyeda Apr. 2, 1889 — Aug. 20, 1985.” The 96- year-old Japanese man buried beneath the stone took most of the knowledge about his life with him. He remains probably the most mysterious man who ever lived in Sheridan.
The little that is known about him came from Mary Kumor who, with her husband Ed, managed the Edwards Hotel for 50 years. She may have been Kay’s only friend and supplied what information she had to The Sheridan Press which published an editorial about Kay on Sept. 12, 1985, soon after he died. She didn’t want “his story to be completely lost.” That editorial is the primary source for this column.
Mrs. Kumor first met Kay when he went to live in the Edwards Hotel in 1958. He lived there for the next 26 years until the year before he died. Apparently Kay had lived in Sheridan long before that. The 16-year-old boy, who was born in Hiroshima, Japan, arrived in San Francisco in 1905 in one of the last great immigration waves. When or how he made his way to Sheridan is unknown. According to Kumor, Kay told her that “he lived here long before the federal government hustled him away to incarceration in the Heart Mountain Camp with other Japanese…” in 1942.
After the war, Kay returned to Sheridan and worked as a night porter for Pearl Logan at the Rex Hotel, then a house of ill repute. He probably had some good stories to tell if he had anyone to tell them to. He may have lived there before he moved to the Edwards Hotel. Supposedly he also ran errands for the Palace Café.
Kay was a familiar figure on Main Street. He was a slight, very upright figure always dressed in a white shirt done up at the collar. He often wore a bow tie, and always wore a cloth cap which seemed too big for his head. It was, because according to Kumor, Kay stuffed it with paper and plastic to make it fit.
Kay also never wore a coat. Even in the coldest days of winter he strode purposefully down Main Street seemingly oblivious to the cold. Sometime in the 1940s someone bet him $500 he couldn’t go without a coat for some period of time (some say a day, some say a year). Kay did and won the bet and never wore a coat again.
Mary Kumor shared other tidbits of information about the mysterious Kay Suyeda. For instance, he loved to play poker and was an avid baseball fan and could be observed walking to Thorne-Rider Park in the summertime to watch a baseball game. He also couldn’t read English and relied on Mary to read his mail for him. Kay was a pack rat and when Mary looked in on him from time to time his room was packed to the brim with packages and many books in Japanese. Often, Mary provided him with holiday meals.
Kay had strange eating habits; that is, he only ever ate fast food, unless, of course, Mary gave him food. And when the Arctic Circle opened up in about 1967, Kay became a regular customer; it was the only place at which he ate.
He did have a generous streak which extended to stray cats. He bought cases of cat food and kept all the cats in the neighborhood on a steady diet.
And that is basically all we will ever know about Kay Suyeda save that one day in October 1984 he suffered a heart attack. On that day he went to Mary Kumor for help and asked her to call a doctor. He then “unrolled $4,000 in bills from the cuffs of the long underwear he wore winter and summer and entrusted it to Kumor.” After treatment he was taken to Eventide nursing home where he languished until the next August when he died of old age.
Thankfully, when he was buried in Sheridan Municipal Cemetery he had one friend, Mary Kumor, who made sure he wore the new hat she had bought him the year before.
It fit perfectly.
Mary Kumor said that “He was quiet and kind…He didn’t socialize — he thought he was beneath everyone.” One cannot help but think that Koychi “Kay” Suyeda would be astonished to know that 28 years after his death he was remembered once again even if only because he remains a mystery shrouded in enigma.
Tom Ringley was re-elected as a county commissioner in 2012. He is the author of four books. Ringley grew up in Sheridan and returned home in 1990 after 27 years as an Air Force officer. He has been involved with the local hospital foundation, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo and has been the facilities director at the county fairgrounds.