By  on April 30, 2007

NEW YORK — Josie Natori, chief executive officer of the Natori Co., was honored April 17 with the Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards' Peopling of America Award for her contributions to the fashion industry and community service.

The Ellis Island Heritage Awards are presented annually by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. The Peopling Award honors an immigrant to the U.S. who arrived at a port of entry other than New York.

This year's ceremony marked the 100th anniversary of the entry of a record-breaking number of immigrants to the U.S. in a single day — 11,747 people. The awards were presented by former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, a foundation board member, and Dirk Kempthorne, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Lynn Sherr of ABC News hosted the event at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

Natori said she was "overwhelmed by such a prestigious award….They had this picture of me and a time line of my life. My mother flew over from the Philippines, and I was crying. It was so beautiful and touching."

Natori was born Josefina Almeda Cruz in Manila on May 9, 1947. She was the eldest of six children of Felipe Francisco and Angelita Almeda Cruz. She said she loved being part of a close-knit family, and she thrived in the matriarchal Filipino culture.

Her earliest accomplishment was participating in a solo classical piano concert with the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of nine. But she also had a talent for business and began studying economics in 1964 at Manhattanville College in New York. She was just 17 years old. Natori joined Merrill Lynch in 1971 as an investment banker and became the first female vice president in investment banking at the firm. During that time, she met her future husband, Kenneth Natori, a third-generation Japanese-American and a managing director at Smith Barney.

The appeal of Wall Street wore off after the birth of their son, Kenneth Jr., in 1976, and Josie Natori soon embarked on a new mission: creating and selling hand-embroidered and appliquéd blouses from her homeland. With no fashion experience, she landed her first account at Bloomingdale's, and later sold her designs to the sleepwear and lingerie industry.

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