by Sarah Langsdon, Head of Special Collections
With this project, we came across so many people who have been lost to the history of Ogden. There are very few women that people still remember and yet they truly served their community in all sorts of ways. One of those women for me was Mary Nakaishi. She was known to many as “The Angel of 25th Street.”
Mary Nakaishi owned Uke’s Cafe at 232 25th Street for over thirty years from the 1940s-1970s. She was given the nicknames of “Mama Uke” and “The Angel of 25th Street.” She provided friendship and services to the residents of 25th Street including the homeless population. She was known to give meals on credit, help people find shelter, and even aid in completing welfare or other government forms.
Mary worked from 4:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day so that she could provide breakfast for the men working on the railroad and even the men on welfare in the rooming houses. In 1969, over 100 of their regular customers were on welfare and they ate on credit until they got their checks. The restaurant ended up losing three to four hundred dollars a month on the meals. Sometimes, Mary just offered a listening ear. She explained in a news article that ran December 8, 1969 “We listen to their stories. That’s the main thing. To listen. After we’ve talked it over, we can usually figure out a way of helping them.”
In 1976, Mary was awarded the Public Citizen of the year by the Utah chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. She was recognized for her grass roots social work with the transients and alcoholics that frequented 25th Street. She gave of herself, her time, and her means in rendering compassionate service to those who found their way to 25th Street.
When Mary and her husband finally retired and closed down Uke’s Cafe, 25th Street lost an angel and a friend to those less fortunate. Luckily there have been other women willing to step up and fill Mary’s shoes as Angels of 25th Street.