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Ag legend and innovator Bob Sakata was 96

Robert (Bob) Yoshiharu Sakata, a lifelong member of the agriculture industry and founder of Sakata Farms, died June 7 at the age of 96.

Mr. Sakata  was born April 15, 1926, in San Jose, CA, to Aki Nishimura and Mantaro Sakata. His mother died of pneumonia leaving his father to raise 5-year-old Bob and three older siblings. Mr. Sakata’s father farmed a small plot of land near Centerville, CA, where he learned to love farming. Following the declaration of war against Japan, the United States government interned 120,000 Japanese Americans, including Mr. Sakata and his family. As a teenager, Mr. Sakata was sent to an internment camp located in Topaz, UT, in 1942.

With assistance from his former high school teacher willing to vouch for his conduct and character, Mr. Sakata garnered an early release from the internment camp by working on a dairy farm located in Brighton, CO. Mr. Sakata lived in the dairy barn valuing the opportunity he was given. In 1944, the dairyman 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.

Mr. Sakata 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.

Mr. Sakata endured numerous hardships as a young man, including the untimely deaths of his father in a car accident, his brother to cancer and a farming accident that burned 80 percent of his body. After a year in the hospital Mr. Sakata 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, Mr. Sakata was nominated by the Brighton Jaycees for the Outstanding Young Farmers of America Award. Of the 14,000 young farmers nominated, Mr. Sakata was selected as one of only four national winners at a ceremony held in Pittsburgh.

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, Mr. Sakata and Joanna grew Sakata Farms from 40 acres to over 3,000 acres, producing sweet corn, broccoli, cabbage, onions, and beans. Mr. Sakata’s innovation in seed development and packaging changed the sweet corn industry in the 1980s with the introduction of Sakata Farms Gourmet Sweet Corn.

Mr. Sakata’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, Mr. Sakata and Joanna were inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame, Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame, received the Colorado Proud Lifetime Achievement Award, hosted Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan, and in 2004 were given the honor of visiting them in their private residence at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan.

Mr. Sakata 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, Mr. Sakata helped lead a national capital campaign to build the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism located in Washington, DC, 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, Mr. Sakata 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 their first board of trustees. 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.

Mr. Sakata 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.”

Mr. Sakata is survived by his wife, Joanna; son, Robert (Julie Kerr); daughters Vicki and Lani (Don Dolifka); 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 Mr. Sakata will be held at Brighton Presbyterian Church at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 21. Out of respect for all attendees’ health, facemasks will be required for all attendees and the family thank you for choosing the online service option if you have had a significant COVID-19 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, CO. 

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