Tom S. Obata, age 93, passed away peacefully at his home in Gilroy, with his family at his side, on August 22, 2011.
He was born September 22, 1917 in Hollister, CA. He graduated from Hollister High School, where he played on the baseball and football teams. Tom briefly attended Hartnell College (formerly Salinas Junior College) before being drafted into the U.S. Army. He served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the much decorated 442nd Infantry during World War II.
On December 19, 1948, Tom married Hideko “Hedy” Kimoto of Watsonville.
Tom, son of a first generation Japanese farmer, farmed with his brothers Jack and Joe as the Obata Brothers. They grew garlic, tomatoes, sugar beets, bell peppers, and lettuce on nearly 700 acres. The Obata Brothers, along with 14 growers and business people, were founders of Gilroy Foods in 1958. Additionally in 1969, they partnered with a group of local farmers and Santa Clara County to create housing for migrant farm workers, now known as Arturo Ochoa Migrant Farm Worker Center.
A leader in the farming community, Tom served as director of the California Tomato Growers Association, California Sugar Beet Growers Association, Salinas Valley Independent Growers, and California Canners and Growers. In addition, he served the Gilroy community as a member of the Gilroy Planning Commission for several years. He was proud of his 55 year membership in the American Legion, and was Past Commander of Gilroy Post 669.
Besides spending time with family, the three things that brought him joy were fishing, gardening, and welding. Along with local spots, he enjoyed many trips to the Sierras and Alaska with his fishing buddies. During retirement, he always grew a large vegetable garden and enjoyed sharing the bounty with friends and loved ones. Tom was a creative and ingenious welder, giving away his fish inspired creations and large bells made from spent oxygen tanks.
Tom is survived by his children Robin Obata (John Hastings), Tom Jr. (Valerie), and Dalene Obata; grandchildren Aubrey Kendall (Tim), Kylee Nakamura (Gregg), and Emiko Hastings; great-grandchildren Kenzi and Maya; siblings Jack Obata (Atsuko), Joe Obata (Edna), James Obata (Donna), Tomi Kobara (Rod), and Bob Obata; and numerous nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. He was preceded in death by his wife Hideko; and siblings Ichiro, Yasuko, Katie, George, and Bill (Betty).
The family would like to thank the friends and family who provided support and caring during Tom’s last days, and a special acknowledgement to his constant companions and caregivers, Ellis and Amy, and his beloved cat Toby.
A Celebration of Life will be held at 12:00 noon, Saturday, September 24, 2011, at Gilroy Lodge on the Hill (Gilroy Elks Lodge), 2765 Hecker Pass Highway. Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.