April Toma Remembering April Toma

First post: Aug 9, 2022 Latest post: Oct 27, 2022
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Our world lost Ms. April Marie Kiyono Toma to ovarian cancer on Wednesday, September 14th, 2022. 

April was born in Los Angeles on April 24, 1959.  She was the second of five children of Ronald Shigeo Toma and Mary Usui Toma, and the granddaughter of immigrants from Okinawa and Japan who settled in Maui and Gresham, Oregon respectively.

She grew up in Los Angeles’ Echo Park/Silverlake neighborhoods, and attended LAUSD schools Micheltorena elementary, Thomas Starr King Junior High, and Marshall High.  

From an early age, she was introduced into the world of dance by her mother, whose love for dancing was a passion soon felt by April too.  She studied ballet at De Rea’s Dance Studio in L.A. and at Ballet La Jeunesse in Toluca Lake (L.A.), as well as creative modern dance at the L.A. City Cultural Arts Center near Griffith Park.  April excelled, performing as the principal dancer in many performances and earning scholarships to study with the Joffrey Ballet in New York City.  She was also a talented gymnast, and won L.A. citywide high school championships.  She was “discovered” at an early age by a Hollywood talent agent, and was featured in a Debbie Reynolds TV special and a “Smokey the Bear” TV public service announcement in the late 1960s/early 1970s. 

She then studied as a Dance Major at University of California at Irvine before leaving to begin her professional ballet career with the Santa Barbara Ballet company. While at UCI, she met and fell in love with John Gabriel.  Although being short of stature and of Japanese and Okinawan ancestry was not seen among professional ballerinas in her day, her talent and dedication led her to lead roles for the Santa Barbara Ballet, Golden Gate Ballet, Los Angeles Ballet, and the Oakland Ballet.  April even received offers to join the Columbus Ballet and Ballet of Caracas just while being observed taking dance classes in NYC and other cities where she lived.

April married John Gabriel in San Francisco in 1980, and her passion and dedication for dance extended to motherhood when her son Graham was born in 1990. She enjoyed living in some of the great cities: her native Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, London, Boston, and Chicago. April was also a skilled artist and calligrapher. She loved to sew, make jewelry, knit and crochet. April also felt strongly about living a holistic and spiritual life, and explored many avenues to nurture her health and spirit.  She nurtured and home schooled Graham to be an avid reader, a brilliant cellist, and a sharp mind.  Eventually, she separated from John Gabriel, who had been an English Education professor at DePaul University in Chicago. She worked for many years as an office staff and manager at the Porsche dealership in north of Chicago.  Many years later, in 2020, John passed away of prostate cancer.

After April was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in August 2021, she decided to move back to Southern California to continue her treatment and be closer to family. During that time, she lived with her sister Heidi and her family. Over the past year, she courageously fought through many rounds of chemotherapy and surgery, but unfortunately her body succumbed to the unrelenting cancer.  At that point, her only viable option was being discharged from the hospital to home hospice care on September 3rd.

April passed away on September 14, 2022, after nearly two weeks in hospice care at home, spending precious time with her son, her sisters, brothers, and a few dear friends and family members.   We lost a kind, loving, sensitive and gentle person, a wonderful mother, sister, friend, cousin, and human being. 

Mourning April’s departure are her son Graham Toma-Gabriel; her sisters Heidi (and Paul) Schmiedeke and Heather (and BC) Carr; her brothers Robin Toma (and Debra Suh) and Dana (and Debbie) Toma; her nieces and nephews Alec and Kylie Schmiedeke, Nina and Julian Suh-Toma, and Isabelle, William, and Eric Carr; and her many dear friends and wonderful aunties, uncles and cousins of both the Toma and Usui families; and her boyfriend Emmett Lynch.