South county lost a patriarch of agriculture and community service on Feb. 11, 2013.
Bill Morem is writing a story to be published in the Tribune tomorrow and soon on Sanluisobipso.com.
Leslie E. Stevens wrote this biography published in the Tribune July 28, 2000.
Rooted in community
Arroyo Grande farmer recognized for lifetime of volunteerism
Kaz Ikeda is a farmer at heart. The son of immigrant Japanese parents, Ikeda is the 82-year-old patriarchal head of the three-generation Ikeda Brothers Arroyo Grande farm. In addition to his family and farm business responsibilities, those who know him say he has always been an active and willing volunteer in the community.
Thursday night at the Mid-State Fair, the SLO County Farm Bureau recognized Kaz Ikeda’s lifetime of farming and community service by naming him its 2000 Agriculturist of the Year.
“It is just an outstanding choice this year – it is particularly special, ” said Marilyn Britton of the Farm Bureau. “If I need someone to go with me to explain something, he is always right there, ” she said.
Ikeda has been there to serve as president of the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange, a co-op of Japanese vegetable farmers; he has coached and supported youth Babe Ruth and Little League baseball for more than 25 years; and he has served on flood control committees and more recently on the selection committee for the new South County high school.
Ikeda said he thinks it is important to be a good role model. “My dad was a real gentleman. He never drank or smoked. Since I am the oldest of the second generation, I should set the right example for the rest of the young people growing up, ” he said.
Ikeda applies that philosophy to the family farm business. “We have not gone into grapes, ” he said. “We are a non-drinking family. That doesn’t suit my nature, ” Ikeda explained. For now anyway, the 1,000-acre Ikeda ranch will remain in vegetable crops as it has since Ikeda’s father started farming in this area in 1929.
Today the ranch’s day-to-day operations are run by Ikeda’s sons Stan and Vard, his brother Seirin, and his two nephews. Ikeda’s brother Saburo also was involved with the family business until he died in February.
Ikeda described the ranch as fairly successful over the years, but the family also suffered major setbacks. In 1942 at the outbreak of World War II, Ikeda’s father was paralyzed in a farming accident. Shortly thereafter, the Ikeda family, along with other Japanese families in the county, was sent to relocation camps in Arizona. Ikeda was allowed to remain in Arroyo Grande for the two-to-three months his father was in the hospital.
During that time, Ikeda became lifelong friends with J. Vard and Gladys Loomis, who took him in and watched over his family’s property after Ikeda and his father were sent to Arizona.
Sandra Cabassi, the Loomis’s daughter, said her parents took care of properties for six Japanese families. “People threw rocks at us and called us names like ‘Jap lovers, ‘ ” she said. “It was awful for the Japanese people that had never done any espionage and for the people who knew and liked them.” Ikeda said the Loomises never said a word to him about the harassment they endured.
J. Vard Loomis was important to Ikeda in another way. He coached Ikeda’s baseball team for 10 years prior to the war. Ikeda has been passionate about baseball ever since his father bought gloves and bats for him and his brothers. Although Ikeda said his father never had time to play baseball, he learned English by reading the sports section of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Ikeda’s children and grandchildren still play baseball, but Ikeda said basketball is now their No. 1 choice. Ikeda’s sons both coach local youth basketball teams.
Ikeda’s nephew Tom Ikeda said that in addition to being a real sports’ buff, his uncle is “a real kind, soft-spoken gentleman. He is the one we all look up to.” And as Britton said, a worthy recipient of this year’s award.
Retired Cal Poly librarian Ken Kenyon interviewed Kaz Ikeda in 2000 and provided a link to this PDF Ikeda’s love of baseball was one of the topics covered in the Q and A story.