Kaz Ikeda, Arroyo Grande farmer and philanthropist, dies at 94

Kazuo “Kaz” Ikeda in 2002.
Kazuo “Kaz” Ikeda in 2002. The Tribune

A pillar of the South County, Kazuo “Kaz” Ikeda, died Monday in Arroyo Grande — a community he loved and nurtured for decades as a philanthropist and farmer. He was 94.

Ikeda was born in King City to Juzo and Sei Ikeda, and the family moved to Arroyo Grande in the 1929. It was there that the Ikedas became well known as a multigenerational farming family, setting down deep roots in the soil as well as the social fabric of the community.

Ikeda graduated from Arroyo Grande High School and then pursued a lifelong love of baseball, playing on the Cal Poly team. And then World War II broke out, and the Ikeda family suffered the hardship of internment.

The family was ordered to report to Gila Relocation Center in Arizona in 1942; however, Ikeda’s father had suffered injuries during a farming accident and wasn’t able to immediately make the trip. For three months, J. Vard and Gladys Loomis took care of Ikeda and his father. And, later, after the father and son had joined their family, the Loomises looked after the Ikedas’ farms for the duration of the war. It was a generosity of spirit that the Ikedas never forgot. Indeed, Ikeda named one of his sons after Vard Loomis.

Because of Ikeda’s love of baseball — playing in his younger days and then coaching and supporting Babe Ruth and Little League — sports fields at Paulding Middle School and the Soto Sports Complex were named in his honor.

Velma Harris remembers when Ikeda was the president of the Babe Ruth League, and the team traveled to Ohio for the Babe Ruth World Series in 1977.

“He was just a great man,” she said with emotion on Wednesday.

His community involvement earned him an Agriculturist of the Year award by the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau at the 2000 California Mid-State Fair, and he was named Farmer of the Year at the 2003 Santa Barbara County Fair. He was a founding member of the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange, and a 60-year Rotarian.

Other honors included marshal of the Arroyo Grande Harvest Festival, Arroyo Grande Citizen of the Year, Nisei Week Pioneer, and induction into the Arroyo Grande Eagle Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame.

A man of quiet strength and a self-effacing nature, Ikeda’s greatest pride was in his family. Husband to wife Mitzi for 62 years, he was especially proud of his children, Julie, Stan, Patricia and Vard.

“Sadly we lost one of Arroyo Grande’s favorite sons as Kaz Ikeda has passed away,” wrote KC Hubbard, a longtime friend of Ikeda’s, on Facebook. “Anyone involved in sports at any level in this area knew of Kaz and his countless contributions to local athletics. Thank you Mr. Ikeda for influencing my life in so many positive ways. RIP My Old Friend.”

Ikeda is survived by his wife, Mitzi; children Julie Nishioka (Forrest), Stan Ikeda (Terri Ann), Patricia Kawaguchi (Patrick) and Vard Ikeda (Terri Lea); and 10 grandchildren.

He is also survived by his sister in-law, Marion Ikeda, and many cousins, nieces and nephews.

“Kaz was the patriarch of the Ikeda family,” says Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara. “He was one of the pioneers of agriculture in Arroyo Grande and Oceano.

“But more than that, Kaz was very devoted to the community and youth athletics. He was one of the first Babe Ruth baseball coaches and also served as president of the Arroyo Grande Rotary Club. Kaz had a gentle demeanor, a smile, and a kind word for everyone. We will miss him.”

Viewing will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Marshall-Spoo Sunset Chapel, 1239 Longbranch Ave. in Grover Beach.

A memorial service will be held at noon Saturday at the Arroyo Grande Cemetery.

Donations in Ikeda’s honor can be made to the Arroyo Grande Eagle Athletic Foundation, 495 Valley Road, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420; and Mustang Athletic Fund, Cal Poly, 1 Grand Ave., San Luis Obispo, CA 93407.

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