Colorado agriculture pioneer Bob Sakata passes away at 96
Robert “Bob” Yoshiharu Sakata was born on April 15, 1926, in San Jose, Calif., to Aki Nishimura and Mantaro Sakata. His mother died of pneumonia leaving his father to raise 5-year-old Bob and three older siblings. Bob’s father farmed a small plot of land near Centerville, Calif., where Bob learned to love farming. Following the declaration of war against Japan, the United States government interned 120,000 Japanese Americans including Bob and his family. As a teenager, Bob was sent to an internment camp located in Topaz, Utah, in 1942.
With assistance from his former high school teacher willing to vouch for his conduct and character, Bob garnered an early release from the internment camp by working on a dairy farm located in Brighton, Colo. Bob lived in the dairy barn valuing the opportunity he was given. In 1944, the dairyman generously loaned him the money to purchase 40 acres of farmland in Brighton. This provided a way for his family to leave the internment camp and relocate to Colorado.
Bob graduated from Brighton High School and took a heavy coursework in math and science which he knew would be valuable for modernizing agriculture. He played the drums and made life-long friends through various school activities.
Bob endured numerous hardships as a young man including the untimely death of his father in a car accident, his brother to cancer, and a farming accident that burned 80% of his body. After a year in the hospital Bob was never expected to walk again but through determination and his faith in God, he relearned to walk with the help of crutches and leg braces.
In 1955, Bob was nominated by the Brighton Jaycees for the Outstanding Young Farmers of America award. 14,000 young farmers were nominated, and Bob was selected as one of only four national winners at a ceremony held in Pittsburgh, Penn.
He met the love of his life, a local farmer’s daughter named Joanna Tokunaga, and they were married in 1956 at the original First Presbyterian Church in Brighton. Together, Bob and Joanna grew Sakata Farms from 40 acres to over 3,000 acres producing sweet corn, broccoli, cabbage, onions, and beans. Bob’s innovation in seed development and consumer packaging changed the sweet corn industry in the 1980’s with the introduction of Sakata Farms Gourmet Sweet Corn.
Bob’s agricultural innovations garnered widespread recognition, including an appointment by President Nixon to the Advisory Board of the Commodity Credit Corporation in 1973 and an invitation to the White House honoring American agriculture. Among the many accomplishments, Bob and Joanna were inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame, Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame, and received the Colorado Proud Lifetime Achievement Award. Additionally, in 1994, Bob and Joanna hosted Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan and in 2001, His Majesty awarded Bob with The Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette, for his work in building mutual understanding and friendship between the United States and Japan. In 2004, the Sakata Family was given the honor of visiting Their Majesties at their private residence in the Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan.
Bob served on various boards and commissions including the 27J School Board, First National Bank of Englewood, Bank One Corporation, Cooperative Extension Advisory Board at Colorado State University, Adams County Economic Development Board, Colorado Food Safety Task Force, National Federation of Beet Growers, National Onion Association Board, Japan American Society, as well as local irrigation ditch boards. A true patriot, Bob helped lead a national capital campaign to build the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism located in Washington D.C. and attended the unveiling in 2000. In 2021, he attended the grand opening of the Bob Sakata Education Campus located in Brighton.
But more importantly, Bob believed deeply in giving back. In 1959, he joined a small group of Brighton visionaries to help raise local funds to build the community’s very first hospital. He was proud that no federal funds were needed and served on the board of directors for nine years. He was an advocate for local health care and continued to support Platte Valley Medical Center throughout his life. He was a long term member of the Brighton Rotary Club and participated in numerous civic activities. Bob was a member of Brighton First Presbyterian Church for over 65 years, and served in a variety of capacities including elder, capital campaign chair, and pastor search committee member.
Bob felt a deep gratitude to his employees and considered them family. His community of friends across the globe were diverse and he was thankful for them all. He loved spending time with his grandchildren and family and was a devoted husband. He was a man of many accomplishments, and his legacy of generosity, good humor, faith, and family will live on in all he touched. He often said it is “not how high up the ladder you get but who you take with you”.
Bob is survived by his wife Joanna, son Robert (Julie Kerr), daughter Vicki, daughter Lani (Don Dolifka) and grandchildren David Dolifka and Madison Dolifka, and his sister Mistie. He is preceded in death by both his parents, his brother Harry, and sister Fusie.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Platte Valley Medical Center Foundation, with a note in the memo line “in memory of Bob Sakata.” Checks can be mailed to 1600 Prairie Center Parkway, Brighton, CO 80601. Online donations can be made at https://www.sclhealth.org/locations/platte-valley-medical-center-foundation/donate/
A Memorial Service to celebrate Bob will be held at Brighton Presbyterian Church at 2 p.m. on Tuesday June 21, 2022. Out of respect for all attendees’ health, face masks will be required for all attendees and we thank you for choosing the on-line service option if you have had a significant COVID exposure or have any symptoms. The family appreciates your understanding in advance.
Immediately following the memorial service, Sakata Farms will be hosting an open house at 384 E. Bromley Lane in Brighton, Colo. There will be a link to view a live stream of the services at taborfuneralhome.com.
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