Kazuko “Kathy” Spisto

Kazuko “Kathy” Spisto of Pelham, AL Jan 2, 1936 – April 15, 2023 was a beloved friend, grandmother, mother, and wife during her incredible 87 years of life. She passed away peacefully, surrounded by loved ones. 

Kathy was born to Seiji and Fijiko Matsuda, the second oldest of their nine children, on “Roto” Mariana Islands. Growing up, Kathy enjoyed playing sports and ballroom dancing. She was known for her strength and determination, especially during times of hardships when she remained her family’s rock. 

As a young child, Kathy had to endure what most of us will never witness. During WWII Kathy’s family resided on the Mariana Islands witnessing war up close. This included stepping over bodies, rationing food, and climbing trees for fruit to name a few. Kathy and her family remained there until the war was over in 1945. From there they were sent to Okinawa to live out their lives. The American GIs gave each family member (3) blankets to start building a life on Okinawa. They received a total of 21 blankets for shelter and to barter for supplies for their needs. She and her father made tea kettles and bobby pins to sell and barter with. She was her father’s right hand…even at 9 years of age. These were very difficult times for everyone on the island and it left Okinawa leveled from the war.

During the Vietnam War, Kathy would meet Justin Spisto from Brooklyn, NY. Kathy was 26 and Justin was 18 years of age. Justin fell in love immediately and proposed just three days after meeting her. What a love story – she could not speak English, so Justin taught her.  She went to US citizen classes – she passed, and she became a respectful Military wife.  Capt. Justin R. Spisto, Special Forces, Green Beret, 82nd Airborne was KIA on his 3rd deployment to Vietnam on March 4th, 1970. He would receive a Silver Star for his bravery and service. Kathy was left raising their three American young children Richard 8, Debbie 6, and Michael 1. This was another difficult time in her life. She remained focused while grieving her loss and did the best she could do with the situation.

In 1978 Kathy and her children moved to the United States, eventually settling in Birmingham, AL.

In 2013, Kathy met a wonderful man, Johnny Shaw. Johnny and Kathy had many adventures together and were able to visit Okinawa several times. When Kathy took ill, Johnny was by her side until the very end. He cared for her every day and was truly a blessing and testament of love.

Kathy made the most of every day and lived a vibrant life for as long as she could. She spent many years traveling back and forth from Okinawa, Japan to Birmingham, Alabama balancing family and friends on both sides of the world. She enjoyed playing bingo, going to church, and a good steak, but nothing compared to her love for her family. As she would say “go go go”!

Kathy was preceded in death by her husband Capt. Justin R. Spisto, grandchild Kristin Marie Hulsey, parents Seiji and Fujiko Matsuda.  She is survived by her children Richard Spisto and his partner Katie, Debbie (Denson) Hulsey, Michael (Christi) Spisto, and Akemi Kina; stepson Chuckie Boggs; partner Johnny Shaw; grandchildren Rachel (Matthew) Eichenblatt, Bobby (Meredith) Hulsey, Ceanna and Lucy Spisto, Stephen Spisto, Justin Spisto, and Izumi Kina; great-grandchildren Thomas, Ella Anne, and Abigail Hulsey, and Marin and Misora; and siblings Miyoko Yamashiro (Okinawa, Japan), Masaru Matsuda (Okinawa, Japan), Yoshie Nance (Nashville,TN), and Tsutomu Matsuda (Toyko, Japan).

We find great comfort that Kathy went home to be with God and loved ones. After 53 years, she is finally reunited with her husband, Justin, and we know they are smiling down on us. 

The family will have a Celebration of Life on April 29, 2023 from 2PM-4PM at the Hulsey residence, 120 Silverleaf Dr., Pelham, AL 35124, with a small service later this summer on Long Island, NY at the Long Island National Cemetery, where she will be laid to rest with the love of her life, Justin. 

In lieu of flowers please consider donating to the Briarwood International Outreach Ministry. https://briarwood.org/missions/local-internationals/japanese-congregation/


  1. Debbie Hulsey on April 22, 2023 at 8:45 pm

    Love you mom! ❤️

  2. Annette Booth on April 22, 2023 at 10:47 pm

    Wow what an incredible woman!! A lot of love and strength in such a small body😁 I know her family and friends are going to miss her greatly but they are all so much better and Blessed for having had her in their lives!! May you all find peace and comfort and cherish the sweet memories!!

    • Johnny Shaw on April 24, 2023 at 6:27 pm

      What to say …. missing you …my heart is still with you…

  3. Kim Holler Spencer on April 23, 2023 at 6:13 am

    I am tremendously saddened by your family’s loss. I remember the very first time I met “Obachan” and what a wonderful bright light she was. What a dear and very special lady who was so so strong and overcame so much in life. I know she will be greatly missed. May you all be comforted in all the cherished memories and her eternal love be your guiding light always. I am reminded of so many funny stories of her adventures in life. What a great lady, truly one of a kind! My prayers are holding you all close to my heart.

  4. Jackie Crear Jowers on April 25, 2023 at 2:23 am

    Condolences to the family and friends

  5. Johnny Shaw on April 25, 2023 at 6:09 am

    What to say….Kathy has my heart from first time we met …I’m missing her so much….she brought me so much happiness…