Tsukasa Kiyono was one of the earliest Japanese immigrants to settle in Alabama. He came to Semmes in 1914 purchasing farm land and began growing Satsuma’s and Pecans. In 1921 he returned to Japan for a visit, marrying Tomoe and returning to Semmes.
Tsukasa and Tomoe had two daughters, Mary born in 1926 and Marion born in 1928 while living in Semmes.
Hard freezes destroyed the fruit crops and the farming changed to grow nursery plants. In the beginning years, all work was done by Tsukasa and Tomoe. With years of hard work, Kiyono Nursery became very successful; employees were hired to do the labor.
Tsukasa was always interested in the development of new plants and methods of growing plants, traveling back to Japan and over the world to see plants that might be grown here. He became known as a renowned horticulturist. He was featured in Life Magazine in 1939. The Nursery industry was growing in Semmes.
The Kiyono’s are fondly remembered for their kindness, friendship and generosity to the community. Semmes was a rural community with a rural school with limited teaching resources. Tsukasa purchases a Victrola and records for Semmes School. The Victrola was rolled from room to room every Friday and classical music played according to Tom Dodd, Jr.
In 1939 Semmes First Baptist Church had built a new church but did not have money for pews. Tsukasa purchased and donated all the pews for the main auditorium in honor of his two daughters, Marion and Mary, who had become Christians.
While the Kiyono Family was on a visit to Japan 1941, World War II broke out preventing their return to the United States. Kiyono Nursery was sold at auction to Clint McDade and renamed Semmes Nursery.
Preserving our History