Erin Fujimoto: Make the most of uncertainties

Tommy John apparel co-founder shares her story at Women’s Day at Sanford International

Erin Fujimoto speaks at the Sanford International luncheon with windows behind her overlooking a golf course.

Erin Fujimoto’s message to a group at the Sanford International’s Women’s Day presented by EMC was an inspiring account of making the most of a “what-if” circumstance.

On a spring 2020 visit to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, she and her family faced a potentially life-changing hypothetical: “What if we stayed?”

Fujimoto, co-founder of the apparel company Tommy John, was the keynote speaker for Women’s Day, an event that annually opens the week of activities for the PGA Tour Champions Sanford International presented by Cambria.

Women’s Day at Minnehaha Country Club serves as a day to celebrate all women from the community, bringing them together to strengthen business and social relationships. In addition to Fujimoto, the group heard from Allison DeSchepper, whose son Cobey is the 2021 Sanford Children’s Hospital Ambassador.

Both Fujimoto and DeSchepper talked about dealing with uncertainties, keeping the faith and appreciating the support they received from the community. In these cases, the mutual messages also included the feel-good warmth of successfully meeting challenges.

For Fujimoto, who serves on the Sanford International Board, her story includes growing up poor in Phoenix, Arizona, and eventually getting a finance degree at Arizona State. From there, with twists and turns that ultimately steered her and her husband Tom Patterson in positive directions, the couple built Tommy John into one of the fastest-growing comfort-focused lifestyle brands in the country.

“When it comes to speaking to a room full of ladies, I’ll raise my hand,” Fujimoto said. “That’s so important to bring women in the community together to build camaraderie. I want to tell my story.”

Los Angeles and New York

Fujimoto and Patterson, who grew up in Milbank, South Dakota, have children ages 4 and 6 and moved back to the area in April of 2020. Developing Tommy John had taken them to Los Angeles and New York up to that point. The weight of COVID-19 restrictions as it applied to their children had them considering a move to South Dakota.

What started out as more of a visit than a move turned into a decision to stay in the area.

“We’ve been in this journey for 14 years,” Fujimoto said. “There’s still a lot more to this story. A lot more work and a lot more effort. We have a lot of big goals and initiatives with building the company.”

The family move came during the height of the first wave of the pandemic. It was the beginning of what continues to be a difficult time for front-line providers throughout the United States and back here in Sioux Falls.

Recognizing this, Tommy John began gifting products to hospitals in New York and New Jersey, then did the same for Sanford.

Gifts from Tommy John

“We reached out to a friend here at Sanford and we donated about 2,000 undergarments, pajamas and loungewear to the health care heroes,” Fujimoto said. “That kick-started our relationship with Sanford.”

That gesture ultimately led to a request to become part of the Sanford International Board, which includes Cindy Rarick, a five-time winner on the LPGA Tour who was part of Monday’s Women’s Day, and Bernhard Langer, a two-time Masters champion with 113 pro victories.

“It was such a huge honor,” Fujimoto said. “To be a part of the Lorraine Cross Award — it was such an amazing experience to interview all these medical mavericks and the innovation they’re bringing to the medical world.”

Closer to home, Fujimoto has seen the support this PGA Tour Champions event, in its fourth year at Minnehaha Country Club, gets from the community.

“I’ve seen the excitement this tournament generates in Sioux Falls,” Fujimoto said. “It’s incredible. Having something like this come to Sioux Falls — people are just really grateful to have a week to come out and enjoy and relax at a nationwide event.”

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Posted In Community, Foundation, Sanford International, Sioux Falls

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