Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Bob Y. Sakata Interview
Narrator: Bob Y. Sakata
Interviewer: Daryl Maeda
Location: Denver, Colorado
Date: May 14, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-sbob-01

<Begin Segment 1>

DM: Good afternoon, Mr. Sakata, it's, my name is Daryl Maeda, and we're here with the Densho project in Denver, Colorado. Today's date is May 14, 2008. And welcome. So just for the interview here, can you please state your full name?

BS: My full given name is Bob, initial Y is Yoshiharu, Sakata.

DM: And where and when were you born?

BS: I was born in Alameda County, that's the county we lived in, but I was the youngest and very fortunate to be born in a hospital, at San Jose Children's Hospital in April the 15th, 1926.

DM: And what are your parents' names, or what were your parents' names?

BS: My father's name was Mantaro Sakata, and my mother's name was Aki Sakata, but her maiden name was Aki Nishimura.

DM: I'd like to get a little bit of information from you on your mother's and father's stories.

BS: Very good.

DM: So where were your parents from in Japan?

BS: My parents were from Kyushu, Fukuoka, and I think the city or the town was called Kurume. And both my mother and father both were from there.

DM: And what year did they immigrate?

BS: As far as I know, my father came around 1904. I did have, look back into history, and he was eighteen years old and eight months when he came.

DM: And do you know the reason why they left Japan?

BS: It is my understanding that there was a... [coughs] -- excuse me -- there was a Caucasian entrepreneur that had a vision where he can grow rice in central California, but there was no one in the United States at that time that he could find that knew anything about growing rice. So he was given the permission to go to Japan to recruit workers that knew something about rice, and that's how my father came to the United States. But when he landed in the United States, I believe it was right during the time when San Francisco had that devastating earthquake. And so that whole crew that was gonna go to the rice field were asked to help rebuild San Francisco.

DM: So how long did he stay there, or did he actually move, then, on to the rice fields after that?

BS: No, he never did. He settled in Alameda County after San Francisco was rebuilt, and he permanently made his home there.

DM: And so that was your father's story. When did your mother come to the United States?

BS: Through "picture bride." As, as much as I know, it must have been somewhere in 1915, 1916, somewhere in there, she came as a "picture bride."

DM: So that means that your father had to, did your father then request that his parents or somebody set, set him up?

BS: Yes. That, I think they went through the old tradition where he sent his picture to, back to the community and had what you call some baishakunin to be the matchmaker, and that's how Mother was chosen.

DM: And you mentioned that your parents settled in Alameda.

BS: Uh-huh.

DM: How did they settle in Alameda? What drew them to that place?

BS: I think because there was a, there was a group of Japanese people that settled in Alameda. And right in Alameda was a well-known Buddhist temple, and I believe that is why they picked that area.

DM: And how many siblings did you have and where are you in the birth order?

BS: I'm the youngest one of four. My, my oldest brother, who is seven years older than I, his name was Harry Harumi Sakata. Then a year afterwards, why, my two sisters were born, who were twins. And their name were Fusako, Sally, and Mitsuko, Mitsie.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

DM: So what kind of work did your family do there?

BS: Well, going back to my father, he was very fortunate that he became a gardener for the Alameda County tax assessor. He had, his name was Emmanuel George, and he had a pretty good-sized estate with about maybe a thirty-forty acre orchard of cherries and apricots. And so my father became a full-time employee as a caretaker for the orchard and his estate.

DM: Did he continue to do that for a while?

BS: Yes, that's where really he got, he got his start. Mr. George really befriended my dad and saw how dedicated he was in growing things. So he offered Dad a ten-acre farm that he could sharecrop and go on his own. And still, even farming that ten-acre farm, he still helped Mr. George with managing his orchard and so forth.

DM: Oh, so he actually worked two jobs.

BS: Yes, yes.

DM: That must have been an incredible amount of work.

BS: Oh, it's amazing what he did.

DM: So tell us about life on your ten-acre farm there.

BS: Well, I think I could probably explain it this way. That after, after working on that ten-acre truck gardening farm, I said to myself, "I shall never be a farmer." [Laughs] But here I am. It was a very rewarding experience to really work so hard out in the field and see the rewards and the nice crops that were grown. And so it was a rewarding experience, but it was really one of the hardest work because agriculture then was all done by hand, everything. We didn't have the herbicides and the chemicals and so forth that we have today. So weeding would be everything by hand and everything by hoe and everything with horses. I walked miles and miles behind the horse, cultivating.

DM: What kind of crops did you grow? You mentioned that it was a truck farm.

BS: Yes. My dad had the ability to just grow anything when it came to vegetables. But I think, looking back, one of his major crops were tomatoes, celery, lettuce, cauliflower during the winter months, and that he was of the earlier pioneers of learning how to grow pole tomatoes, make tomatoes grow on poles. He was a natural farmer, just one of these natural common-sense farmers.

DM: Now, did your, did your father hire other people to help out on the farm?

BS: No, it was all done with mother and four kids.

DM: So mother and the four kids all out in the fields?

BS: All out in the field. My -- and I really, so much credit is given to the deserving Issei fathers, but I personally would give the Issei mothers a little more credit. For them to come to this strange United States without knowing who their spouse is going to be, but just knowing their reputation and having to come here and work so hard. Can you imagine, in our family, my late brother Harry was just one years old, just one years old, and right after that, my two sisters, who are twins, came following right after that. So really, you could say there was three with diapers, and with no modern facilities. No washer, no dryer, no hot water heat, but she did have running water. But the story is that when I was born, my baby crib was a Del Monte tomato box out in the field, and she would be out picking tomatoes. And whenever she heard my cry, she would come and breastfeed me until I would be relaxed, and go back and pick tomatoes again. That's sort of unheard of today. And of course, I can't remember that, but that's the story that my sister, who was six years older than I, have told me.

DM: Well, they would be the ones who would remember.

BS: Yes.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

DM: So what was a typical day for you like, once you could remember?

BS: The typical day for us was getting up at sunrise and going to work out in the field, and coming back home about seven o'clock to clean up and wash up and get ready for school. And then after school, we'd immediately, unwritten rule, we'd change clothes and go look for Dad, or Dad would come and tell us what we had to do, and we would be working out in field 'til, 'til sundown.

DM: Really truly a family farm.

BS: Oh yes, true. And you see, he grew, he grew commodities that would harvest twelve months a year. So every evening, we would be harvesting something for him to take to the market in the following morning.

DM: So who were your neighbors?

BS: My neighbors, we had some wonderful neighbors. We were surrounded by also truck gardeners and outstanding growers. There were Italian growers. To the north of us was Mr. Lagorio, and to the south of us was Mr. Orsetti, both Italian truck farmers, and they were perfectionists, they were good. And I learned a lot from (them). And then walking distance, maybe a couple thousand feet from us was a large dairy, and they were from Portuguese descent, and they were outstanding dairymen. And that's where I would, Dad would give me a nickel to go and get a half a gallon of milk for the family.

DM: So this community that you lived in was very much a multiethnic community.

BS: Yes. It was a multiethnic community, and truly agriculture, very diversified agriculture, from poultry, dairy, cattle, vegetables, and greenhouses also.

DM: So there was Portuguese, Italian, Japanese all living side by side. How did everybody get along?

BS: Got along beautifully. We all respected each other, and when my mother passed away in 1934, I was, I think six years old. And why, all the Caucasian neighbors would come and help, and so it was very close-knit, respected friends at that time.

DM: So let's see. What, what elementary school did you attend?

BS: I went to an elementary school called Alviso District Elementary School. There were three big rooms, and it was, one class was from first to, first, second and third grade. The next room was fourth, fifth and sixth grade, and the principal taught the seventh and eighth grade.

DM: So a pretty small school then.

BS: Yes.

DM: And did the kids all play with each other, the Portuguese, the Italian, Japanese?

BS: Oh yes, yes.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

DM: As far as the Japanese American community is concerned, there in the small town of Alviso where you lived, and then the bigger town of Alameda that was close by, what kind of organizations existed?

BS: At that time, the only social organization, I think, was what was called Nihonjinkai that our parents had, which is just the Japanese Association. And for the older Niseis was the JACL, the Japanese American Citizens League. And from our town that we were farming in, Alameda, the Alameda Buddhist Temple was about twenty miles. So, so it would be anything that the church would be having. Those are probably the organizations and the social things we were exposed to.

DM: So were you raised Buddhist then?

BS: Yes, I was raised Buddhist.

DM: And were your parents active in the temple?

BS: Oh, yes, they were very dedicated Buddhist temple people.

DM: Do you remember what kinds of activities you did with the temple?

BS: You know, in the Buddhist religion at that time, there wasn't what you call an every Sunday service or none. But they would gather, I think they called it houji, there was a big gathering always once a month. And not only would there be a big sermon and a lecture, but also, also a feast. People would come with food, and so that I remember, at least once a month we gathered in the Alameda church, Buddhist temple.

DM: And did the Japanese Association or the Nihonjinkai also host social events as well?

BS: Oh, yes. And that's right, there's one more thing that I forgot. Even though I did not go, our parents were, were very dedicated in education. And as poor as they were, somehow or the other the community was able to gather enough money to hire a, hire a person that could speak, that could teach Japanese. So there was really a Japanese school, and I think my brothers and sisters were, it was called the Alvarado Japanese school, and then there was another one about five miles from there called the Centerville Japanese school. So that was a another, another opportunity to have some social gatherings, the school would have gatherings.

DM: So you said, you mentioned that you did not attend the Japanese language school, but did you speak Japanese?

BS: Yes, I spoke, I learned to speak Japanese. Fortunately, my mother and father had the wisdom to teach me to speak Japanese. And the way they disciplined it, and I was so proud of what they did that I wanted to do it to my children, but I didn't. What they did at that time was they, it was an unwritten rule that when we came home from school, that we all spoke Japanese. Because they said they wanted us to go to the American school and really learn English and learn American. But, "When you came home, why, I would teach you your heritage's language." And to show you the wisdom of my father, why, later in life it was pretty difficult to completely discipline four of us to be speaking Japanese continuously when he would catch us speaking English when he wasn't around. So he was in a posture of compromise, and he said that it was probably too, too strict in asking you to speak Japanese all the time when you're home, but, "Just at the dinner table, will all of us please speak just Japanese?" so that's what we did.

DM: So your family was completely bilingual, at least the children were.

BS: Yes, yes.

DM: Did your parents ever learn to speak English?

BS: Yes, my father, I don't believe my mother learned much English, but my father was able to communicate in broken English.

DM: Now, you had mentioned earlier that your father would take the crops that you had harvested to market.

BS: Yes.

DM: Where would, where was the market?

BS: He had an old Model T Ford truck, and he would take all of our harvest every evening to the Oakland and occasionally to the San Francisco market. And in those days, there were what you call a farmer's market. Not like you see today, where you sell the product to the end consumers, but there were brokers that you unloaded your produce to, and they would take a commission for selling your product.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

DM: Now, I want to move on to, I want to move on to the World War II years. So in December of 1941 you were fifteen years old. Do you remember anything about the day when Pearl Harbor was bombed?

BS: Yes. When, on December the 7th, I remember that distinctly because that's the morning I was at the doctor's office getting my tonsils out. And fortunately, the news of December the 7th came after the surgery was done, and that's where I was. And I remember the doctor giving me a scoop of ice cream with the radio blasting on about Pearl Harbor.

DM: So after that, did you then go home?

BS: Yes.

DM: And did you hear the adults talking about what might happen?

BS: Well, in Japanese, they would say, "Zannen no koto desu ne," which meant, "It's a drastic incident," and they were all very concerned what would happen.

DM: What do you think that they thought might happen?

BS: You know, that's something that... it is strange looking back. They did not communicate too much about the war with, with us as, as children. And I don't know whether it was to prevent us from worrying and fearing what could happen, and probably that is the reason why. But they were, they were not too vocal about it. And I know that his friends, they would meet together and talk about it, but it would be more in a private way. And they would, I remember a little about, about what they would be speculating, "God, what are they gonna do?"

DM: What were your feelings like at that time?

BS: It's a, it's a difficult question because I guess number one, I was fifteen years old at that time, and probably did not experience any kind of war before. But I think that I was more worried about my own personal welfare and how I may be looked upon by my friends. That's probably what I was most worried about.

DM: So in your teenage mind, you were thinking mostly about what this might do to you socially.

BS: Correct.

DM: And did you notice anybody treating you differently at school or out in the community?

BS: No, it's a strange thing, Daryl. Right after Pearl Harbor, I think all of our friends were really sympathetic and cared for us, and was... they tried to really console us, that, "Don't worry. Don't worry about it," until the San Francisco Examiner and the Oakland Tribune started to bring up headlines, "You Can't Trust the Jap." And it's amazing how, how the press could change a person's mind, amazing. And after all that bad press that we were having, accusing us of being "enemy aliens," why then you could sense that there was mistrust coming along. And I was terribly disappointed because everything that the press were printing on the front page were all wrong, it was all wrong. I know this is when my late brother Harry, who was very active with the JACL, tried to contradict all those. But he, the JACL at that time just didn't have the influence to do it. But from there, slowly, you could see tension.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

DM: Do you remember what kind of restrictions were first put on the family?

BS: Yes. The first restrictions were a curfew where we had to be home at nine p.m. to the morning. And then if we had to travel more than five miles, or ten miles, I forgot, then you had to get a special permit. And I remember one incident where we were out in the field harvesting with headlights getting things ready for the market for the following morning, and the sheriff came out with the blinking lights out in the field. So the only way that he would know is one of our neighbor friends, that were friends forever, had to call the police. So this is how the press could really change the minds of, of people that were good, good solid thinkers.

DM: So the, the curfew was, you had to be in the house by nine p.m., and then you couldn't leave until dawn?

BS: Yes.

DM: And it sounds like that was a real problem in terms of getting the crops in.

BS: Oh, yes.

DM: Did it present other problems as well?

BS: No, we had to adjust our time completely anymore. And I'll tell you a comical story because I went with my late brother Harry, at that time he was old enough to drive and I went to the market delivering the produce early in the morning, at three o'clock in the morning. And when we were stopped by a sentry prior to crossing the San Francisco Bay Bridge, the sentry looked at my brother and asked him, "You Chinese or Japanese?" He didn't say, "Japanese," he said, "You Chinese or you a Jap?" And my brother would ask him, "What do you think?" and the sentry would say, "Yeah, you look Chinese," he said, "Go." [Laughs] What that did was confuse my thinking more because much of the reasons for all this curfew and so forth was really for our own benefit because, "You never could tell; Japan could land in the West Coast, and all of you look alike. So sometimes it's for your own safety that you have this curfew and you'd be at home." But the thing that confused me was, look at all the other Asians, which were Chinese people, that were in that area. So that was rather confusing for me.

DM: So the logic that the government told you didn't quite add up.

BS: That's right.

DM: And do you remember how you found out for the first time that you were going to have to leave your home and farm?

BS: You know, I can't remember the first time, but there were, there were rumblings that we may, that may come about. And that so-called rumbling and rumors, as the pressure from the press would come about, where, "You can't trust any Japs." "The Japs is always a Jap." And when that became more and more in the forefront, we could sense that that may happen, that may happen. But there was nothing we could do about it but prepare ourselves mentally that this may happen.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

DM: So how did your family prepare to leave camp once you had found that you were going to be evicted?

BS: I guess the first sign was that people from the metropolitan area had to leave. And so we had a lot of friends in Alameda, Oakland, and the only people that, the only friends that they could rely on were us country people. So my dad did invite all of his friends that can, that we could house in our little home, to vacate their place to come. So that was the first move that the Japanese, like for instance, in Alameda or San Francisco or Oakland, close to the bay, had to leave. And so that was one indication that total evacuation could be happening.

DM: And did, in the cities, oftentimes, you would see the pictures of the notices posted up on telephone poles. How was it out in the country?

BS: We didn't see that out in the country. Well, I didn't, anyway.

DM: So how did the, the officials actually notify that you had to leave?

BS: Well, my brother was heavily involved, and so he would advise us and we would, at that time, the newspaper that he would have thrown on our driveway was the Oakland Tribune. So that, that's how we kept abreast of what was going on. And you know, that one thing that I, that one question I wished that Harry was still here where I could talk to him about it. But when, when we as a family knew that we had to leave, I don't quite know. Because we relied on my late brother Harry to advise us what was going on, and he's the one that really told us, certain date we're gonna have to leave.

DM: Yeah, he was the oldest son.

BS: Yes.

DM: Probably spoke better English than your father.

BS: Oh, yes.

DM: Now, as a farm family, did you have things that would be considered contraband, and were they ever confiscated?

BS: No. That was one fortunate thing, that you know, if my father was a leader in the Nihonjinkai or the Buddhist church, the FBI would be right there. Lot of my friends' parents who were leaders in the community were really crucified. And, but no, as far as I can remember, I remember the sheriff coming to the house and they were friendly, wanted to see whether we had any two-way radios or anything of that nature, but that was it.

DM: Oh, so your family actually in some way benefited from being a very humble farming family.

BS: Yes, yes.

DM: You didn't have any rifles or dynamite or anything like that?

BS: No, no.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

DM: So what did your, what did you do with all of your things?

BS: That's one place that you really have to give the Niseis and Isseis credit, where oh, I forgot the Japanese word they used, but one is, that they would all say is, "Shikata ga nai." We knew that when, when the press has advertised the fact that we had to leave our home within a given time, why, nobody in their right mind is going to offer you anything for what you gotta leave. So we didn't, we just left everything. Now, I know that we had some horses, and we certainly didn't want to let them starve to death, so I think my father gave the horses to our neighbors to take care of, and just told them to have 'em.

DM: So all the farm equipment that you had...

BS: Yeah, we just left it there.

DM: And cars.

BS: Yeah. I believe my brother somehow got something for our car, because we finally got ahead to the point where I remember us owning a brand new 1941 four-door Ford, brand new. And so I think he got something for it. But aside from that, we just left everything.

DM: Now, at this time, your family was still sharecropping?

BS: Yes. No, they were not sharecropping, they were what you call cash-rent farmers, where Dad would rent the farm directly from Emmanuel George.

DM: But, they didn't own the farm anyway.

BS: No.

DM: And so your, your possessions, you just left them at the house and --

BS: Left, left it all there.

DM: And what did you do with, with all the crops? Was your family...

BS: Just left it.

DM: But you were farming all the way up until the time you had to leave?

BS: Oh, yes. We, we tried to harvest everything we possibly could, because that's about the only cash we could have. And all the rest of the growing things, we just left it.

DM: So somebody else came in after you left?

BS: I'm sure, I'm sure. I didn't keep track of that. And frankly speaking, I didn't care to know.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

DM: So what assembly center were you sent to?

BS: Tanforan racetrack.

DM: And how did you get there?

BS: By bus. The, I think we were all supposed to meet in a given area, and the bus took us to Tanforan racetrack.

DM: And what were your initial thoughts when you saw where you were going?

BS: Well, I think as, as a country person growing up in the country, it probably wasn't near as alarming as the young kids that grew up in the city to, to be going into the stables. I grew up with horses and understood what a stable was and so forth, so actually, I was aware of the aroma of a horse stable. So it wasn't near the difficult transition that I had to make as compared to all the city boys, city folks that were stationed in Tanforan. But I could still remember vividly when we got off the bus, we were allowed to just have one suitcase per person, and then we were given a duffel bag, and then we were directed to a, directed to a big pile of straw. And we filled our duffel bag with straw, 'cause that was going to be our mattress, and then were assigned a stall, a horse stall.

DM: Tanforan is a racetrack, so that's why there were all these horse stalls available.

BS: Yeah, all horse stalls. And you could actually see the horse manure in between the boards, and it was whitewashed, just whitewashed over it.

DM: So what was, what was daily life like for you and the family there in Tanforan? Were there, was there a school or were there organized activities?

BS: It was such a temporary, we were told that it was such a temporary thing before we were moved somewhere else, that I don't think that the leadership felt it was worth organizing really anything. So it was, it was sort of a lonely feeling, very lonely feeling.

DM: And were you still able to be in touch with the community people that you knew from Alameda?

BS: No.

DM: So you were kind of isolated from the rest of them.

BS: Yes. We were completely isolated. The only communication we had was people within the camp.

DM: And how long were you there in Tanforan, do you remember?

BS: I believe it was from February to April, about three months, I believe.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

DM: And then where did you go after Tanforan?

BS: After Tanforan we were loaded again on a bus to a train depot, and loaded on a train to a place called Topaz, Utah.

DM: What was that train ride like?

BS: We were, it was no, I can tell you, it was no modern Pullman. [Laughs] Narrow chairs, but we were, all I remember is we were instructed to close the shades of all of our windows, and we didn't know where we were going. And we don't know whether the, close the shade meant that they didn't want us to look out, or they didn't want people to look in, or I don't know. But we didn't know where we were going.

DM: And how long was that train ride?

BS: The train ride was about three days... two days, about two-and-a-half days.

DM: The mood in the train must have been very somber since you're heading off into the unknown.

BS: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it was somber. And I, I must have, as a young kid then, I must have somehow just slept most of the time or something. I can't remember that train ride, all I remember is is getting on, closing the shades and the windows and arriving at Topaz.

DM: So you arrived at Topaz, I guess they must have told you you could step off the train or open the shades or something, and what did you, what was that like?

BS: From, from Topaz, we got on a bus. We still didn't know, I don't know what city it was that we got off, and it was, it was... and then we got on a bus, and then the bus took us to the camp, and it was middle of nowhere.

DM: What did it look like?

BS: Well, the first thing that came to my mind that was very disturbing was there were four sentries in this barbed wire camp, and if they were, if the government were, built these camps for our own protection, the four sentries that I saw up there would have had their rifles facing outside. But no, they were facing inside, and that disturbed me a little bit.

DM: So when you arrived at Topaz, was there a barbed wire fence already erected?

BS: Oh, yes. Big, tall barbed wire fence erected all the way around.

DM: So what do you remember most vividly about the living conditions at Topaz?

BS: I, I would say that it was... if anybody was asked to live in that condition today, why, it would be described very humiliating and almost a torture, yeah. All you had was four walls and a window, and no insulation, tarpapers as the insulation. But we made it work somehow. At least, at least it was built new, so there was, it was a complete different aroma to the Tanforan horse stall. It was aroma of fresh tarpaper and fresh lumber.

DM: What was the climate like in Utah?

BS: At that time when we got there in April it was still cold. Cold and the wind, dust blowin' every day.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

DM: Did you or your brothers, or your brother and your sisters go to school?

BS: Oh, yes. We, well, my brother was out of school. I think my sisters were also graduate of high school, and I believe they, they volunteered and taught kindergarten or taught the young ones.

DM: So you went to high school then.

BS: Yes, yes.

DM: And what was your school experience like there?

BS: I, I have to say that you have to give our parents a lot of credit, because at least what it did is it kept our mind busy, and it kept our mind busy, and for something to keep us busy instead of just wasting our lives there.

DM: Did you have classes, for example, in U.S. government?

BS: You know, I don't remember that. I have to admit that when I went to school in California, we had, we had an option where we could take eight solids and graduate high school in two years. And so knowing that my father needed help on the farm as soon as I can get out of school, I took eight solid subjects from eight to four at Washington Union High School, when I went to high school in Centerville, California. And so I really had enough credits to graduate high school, even get a diploma. So I did not attend school, but there was an opening, we were, the people in the camp were all mostly from the city, the San Francisco, the Bay Area. And there were very few farm people there. And so they were, the camp officials were recruiting anybody with agricultural experience so that we could start attempting to be self-sufficient and start some farming in that area. So I volunteered and got recruited immediately. And a government agency called the Soil Conservation Service were there and had an office there that I was recruited. And instead of going to school, I went to, I went to work.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

DM: I mentioned this quote when we spoke the other day, but I found a quote from George McHolm, who was a farm supervisor at Topaz, and he had this to say: "My very best young men that showed the greatest ability with vegetable crops was a fifteen-year-old by the name of Bob Sakata. Bob Sakata become my right hand man."

BS: How did you find that quote, Daryl?

DM: I was looking up information on, on you on the Internet.

BS: Is that right?

DM: Yes, and this was in an oral history that he had given.

BS: Is that right? Now, until you brought that up, I almost forgot George, but he was a tall, outstanding fella, and very caring, and very, he was like a teacher to me also. But he also knew that I was interested in the study of soil, and I probably taught him almost everything as far as the common sense part of the dirt. But he taught me the scientific end of the, of the soil. So, yes, I worked with him almost every day. [Coughs] Excuse me. And it was common for both of us to be working every night, eight, nine o'clock in the evening in the lab. So I'm glad you were able to locate old George.

DM: So you would take soil samples and then analyze them?

BS: Yes. During the day, we would walk the fields and analyze them and stake it, and then in the evening I would work in the lab testing the soil.

DM: So the War Relocation Authority wanted each of the camps, basically, to raise a lot of its own vegetables and some livestock, too.

BS: Right, yes.

DM: And so this was an attempt to assay the conditions there at Topaz and see what would be a good farming...

BS: Right. And once we discovered that we could grow the crop, and allocated the amount of water that was available, as a young kid, I was assigned to create the budget of what we can grow there and how many -- [coughs] excuse me -- and how many acres and what kind of equipment we need and so forth...

DM: That's an incredible amount of responsibility for a young man.

BS: Yeah, yeah. But I enjoyed it, at least it kept me busy.

DM: I want to discuss in a minute how you yourself got out of camp. But before that, I want to talk about your parents and your siblings. How did your brother Harry get out of camp?

BS: He went on a... you know, all the capable men in the camp were recruited to do farm labor wherever farm labor was shortage, short. And they needed workers on the farm in Idaho, Oregon and so forth. And he was recruited to go with a group to the state of Idaho, sugar beets and potato growers. So that's how, but that was a temporary, seasonal help. And then, naturally, when their work was over, he came back to Topaz. And my sisters, why, they just stayed there at the camp.

DM: Did your father ever leave to do agricultural labor?

BS: No, no.

DM: And did your sisters stay at camp in part to take care of your father, do you think?

BS: I'm sure, now that you bring that up, I'm sure they felt that somebody should take care of Dad.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

DM: And then, so how did you yourself get out of camp?

BS: Well, as much as I enjoyed the responsibilities I had in the camp there, and George helped me, too, 'cause I would, I would consult with him also, that somehow or the other I had to legally find a way to leave the camp. And so I did search every possible way, and finally found someone to endorse my citizenship where I could just leave the camp. And that took about... April to... that took about six months of communicating and working. I finally was able to leave the camp in December of 1942. I think it was the end of November, yeah.

DM: Well, when you say that you found somebody to endorse your citizenship, what does that mean?

BS: Oh, that meant that you had to have an American citizen, a "respectable American citizen," vouch for, vouch for your behavior and so forth. And this fellow that endorsed my citizenship was completely responsible of me. It's just like being on a parole from being in prison. But he trusted that I would be worth, I would be worthwhile endorsing. And that's how I left. And even from Utah, I left for the state of Colorado because I was impressed, two reasons. Governor Carr, who invited all the Japanese from the West Coast to Colorado, and also I was impressed with Colorado State University that I thought someday I would like to attend.

DM: Just to follow up on, you mentioned Governor Carr, during the early part of 1942 when Japanese Americans were still free to leave the West Coast quote/unquote "voluntarily," there was a groundswell of opposition in many of the different western states.

BS: Yes.

DM: And the governors of several western states tried to bar Japanese Americans from entering their states. My understanding is that in Colorado there was some opposition as well, but Colorado governor Ralph Carr made his very famous statement welcoming Japanese Americans. He said, "They are as loyal to American institutions as you or I." And so you had heard this...

BS: That's correct, yes.

DM: ...when you were still in Utah, in Topaz.

BS: Yes.

DM: And that had a big impact on your decision.

BS: Yes, that had a big impact, especially after leaving California during the hysteria sort of time, where newspapers just completed misread all of us and called us all kinds of names that we didn't deserve. And to find a governor that said that's unconstitutional, that really, at a young age, I really was very, very impressed.

DM: Were there any other ways that Governor Carr supported Japanese Americans during the war, do you remember?

BS: I remember one incident, Daryl, where there were a few very successful West Coast Japanese American farmers, which was in in the Salinas area and Guadalupe... Salinas and... where they settled in Colorado temporarily. And they brought their big heavy equipment on by rail car to Colorado. And a lot of the local farmers saw that and became quite concerned that, "We didn't want those people to become competitors." So there was three farmers there that went to the state legislature and had one of the senators introduce a bill barring, banning any Japanese Americans from the West Coast in prohibiting them from purchasing land in Colorado. And when Governor Carr found that such a bill was going to be introduced, he told the legislature, "You go ahead and introduce it if you want, but that's unconstitutional. If it comes to my desk, I'm vetoing it." So that was one particular thing I remember.

DM: So he was very staunch in defending Japanese American rights.

BS: Oh, yes, yes.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

DM: So you, you mentioned that you thought Governor Carr's stance was very heartening and courageous, and Colorado State University, so you were drawn to the state of Colorado. But what drew you to the place that you eventually settled? Where was that, first of all?

BS: Well, every, every time, I guess, on every person's life there's some kind of a break that really comes. And when I, I batched and worked for a farmer over there, his name was Bill Schluter, S-C-H-L-U-T-E-R. And he and I became very, very close friends, very close friends. And somehow or the other he really was impressed with whatever I did, and he would, he invited me to dinner. He said, join Mrs. Schluter and invited me in his house, and boy, that was a feast. And he, he started to ask questions -- he was a man of few words. He started to ask questions where, "You really like farming, don't you?" I said, "Yes, I do, Mr. Schluter." Then the other question was, "What is your family gonna be doing?" I said, "You know, I really don't know, but there is one thing that we've decided, that we don't think we will be going back to California." And that was about it, was the conversation, was about it.

And then a few months later, why, he called me in again for dinner, and he said, asked, he said, "Well, how much money does your whole family have if you put it all together?" I said, "I really don't know, but I think, I think we have probably about, about $1,200 that we were able to save." And that was about it that day. And then the next time he called me up for dinner, why, he said, "I'm gonna buy you a farm. Call your, call your family to Colorado." And he showed me the forty-acre farm that he wanted to buy, buy for us, and that's how it all started.

And that forty-acre farm was six thousand dollars, 150 dollars an acre. And he said, "I'll loan you that, and I bought it, and you just pay me back whenever you can." And that's how we started in Colorado. And so I immediately called my brother and told him what was going on here, and he said, "That's great because he got news that the camps will be closing because the war was ending. And so that's how the whole family came to Colorado.

DM: So this was, this, when he bought the farm, must have been in late 1944?

BS: Yes.

DM: Let me, let me back up just a little bit and... so how did you, how did you hook up with Bill Schluter?

BS: It was just the grace of God, I guess. [Laughs] That I needed a place to go, and I knew some friends that said, "He's a good man, he can probably use you." So that's how we got together.

DM: Was that, had you already come to Brighton at that point?

BS: Yes.

DM: Okay.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

DM: So what, what initially drew you to Brighton as a town?

BS: There was a lot of... there were some Japanese, we used to call them Coloradoans, you know, "Colorado-jin," that's what we used to call 'em, Colorado-jin. And there were a lot of Japanese Americans that were born and raised in Colorado that I became friends with, and then I went to school. I went to school in Brighton High School, I enrolled in Brighton High School in December of 1942 and stayed there for a semester. And when I enrolled in Brighton High School, I met a lot of friends, Caucasian friends, Japanese American friends. And I was in, in a chemistry class and I was called to the principal's office, so I thought, "Oh my goodness, what happened?" So I went to the principal's office, and his name was David Kyle, and he told me, he said, "Bobby, why do you want to go to school?" And I said, "Dave, Mr. Kyle," I said, "I need an education. But why do you ask?" He said, "Well, if you just wanted to get a high school diploma, I got all your records from Washington Union High School in California and you got more, you got more credits than you need to graduate high school. So I can give you a diploma right now." So I said, "No, Mr. Kyle, I'd like to get a diploma from Brighton High School, and I would like to brush up on my algebra, chemistry, trig., and because I would like to eventually have enough credits to go to Colorado State University." So that's, and then I commuted from Mr. Schluter's to school every day.

DM: So where were you living during that time?

BS: I, I was living in with Mr. Schluter's farm, batching, yeah.

DM: What do you mean by "batching"?

BS: Well, there was a little shack there that he allowed me to stay in and cook, and myself, took care of myself.

DM: You were just a teenager.

BS: Yeah, oh yeah. But going through camp, that was a palace. [Laughs]

DM: So it must have seemed familiar, living in, out on the farm and getting up and working, going to school and coming back.

BS: Yes. It was just like back home where I was growing up.

DM: And how did you find the community treated you in Brighton?

BS: Outstanding. Oh, they, they welcomed me with open arms, and that's where I, that's when I told my late brother Harry that, "This is such a fine place, I wouldn't want to even think about going back home."

DM: And how about the, what did you call them, the Colorado-jin?

BS: Yeah, Colorado-jin, and they were very supportive.

DM: They were supportive, and the hakujin as well?

BS: Yes, yes, very supportive. And I know I had a, I was given sort of a reputation that, "This guys' different." I wanted to succeed so badly academically, that at noon, why, I wouldn't go for lunch, I'd go to study hall and be studying.

DM: You must have been somewhat of a novelty for all these Japanese American kids in Brighton, being from California.

BS: Yes, yeah.

DM: Did they, did they treat you differently, did you think?

BS: No, they sure didn't. And, and I did ask 'em, "How come you guys treated me so nice?" Well, they, their answer was, "You just looked like a genuine guy that wanted to just work hard." I was taught by my parents to always, their favorite word was enryo, to be humble.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

DM: So in the, when you came to Brighton during the war, and then in the early postwar years, what constituted the Japanese American community in Brighton? What kind of organizations or institutions were there?

BS: At that time, there was, again, just like in California, there was this Nihonjinkai that the Isseis all organized. Because strangely, in Colorado was the same as California, the only social activities they could have was within the Japanese group. We were not accepted to join any of the Caucasian organizations at all. So at least our parents were sharp enough to recognize that they should form some kind of an organization so that there would be some social event. So they had a Nihonjinkai. Then after, after the Second World War, and it was about the time I got there, Isseis there were, were, had a vision where they knew that having a Nihonjinkai, Japanese Association, was not a good thing for the community. So some of the older, some of the Issei parents brought in some of the older Niseis and handed over the money they had accumulated and asked them to start a different organization. And that's when they called it the Brighton Japanese American Association, and that was one of the associations I immediately joined.

DM: So the, calling the organization the Brighton Japanese American Association was a little bit more palatable.

BS: Yes.

DM: And what kind of things did that group do?

BS: Well, the first thing they did, I remember my late brother Harry was one of the pioneers, and one of the earlier presidents, I think he was the second president of that organization. And that's, I distinctly remember that's when the Walter-McCarran act was passed where our parents could become citizens. So he was the one to organize English schools for all the Isseis to study so they could pass the naturalization test. And that was one of the big, big projects that the Brighton Japanese American Association accomplished. And there's pictures of it where they had a big, big class. And fortunately, in Brighton, there was a very educated bilingual person by the name of... oh, I forgot, I think it was (John), but his last name was Hori, H-O-R-I. And so he, he advised the organization what books to buy and so forth, and he was the teacher and taught all the parents before. And when, when they graduated, and when Mr. Hori felt that they were ready for, for the test, they had a great big test there at the Brighton Buddhist Temple where all of them were awarded citizenship.

DM: Big day.

BS: Yeah, big day. And I still remember the big banquet they had. [Interruption] And that again is the, a tribute should be paid to the JACL - the Japanese American Citizens League and Mike Masaoka, who really did so much lobbying to allow our parents to become citizens.

DM: Did the Brighton JA Association have social functions as well?

BS: Oh, yes. They had social functions. The big, big event was the New Year's Inaugural Ball installing the new officers. And one of the most important, one of the most important cabinet member of that was the civics chairman. And the civics chairman is the one that really would do all the public relations work with the community to see what the need of the community was and to contribute towards it. And we celebrated, I think it was about five years ago, we celebrated fifty years of the existence of the Brighton Japanese American Association. Our big money-making event in those days for now over fifty years was, was a shrimp and chow mein dinner that we had. And with the proceeds of that money is what we distributed to the community. From, from, one of the biggest, the biggest contribution that that organization made was the first one, and I happened to be the, the vice president of the Brighton Community Hospital that we built without any Hill-Burton funds. And we did it all by contributions, and the Brighton JA was one of the biggest contributors at that time. And that was big money back in the '60s, we donated one thousand dollars towards it, and that really brought a name.

DM: So the, the Brighton JA Association really helped to kind of smooth relations and integrate Japanese Americans into the fabric of the community.

BS: Oh yes, really did. Now, we're being... we had to change our bylaws. It was all, we didn't think that society would change, but you know, with intermarriage going on and so forth, so we had to change our bylaws to include Caucasians to our membership. And it's one of the major respected organizations in Brighton. We donate to Meals on Wheels, to the elderly, to the homeless, to every cancer drive, scholarship for students. And so it's been a very good organization. This, this last one was two years ago, we'd outgrown our original hospital, and we built another brand-new hospital. And I was asked to help on the special fundraising, and I encouraged the Brighton JA to contribute heavily towards that, and JA contributed fifteen thousand dollars toward the new hospital.

DM: That's very generous.

BS: Yeah. A three-year pledge, five thousand dollars a year for three years.

DM: Earlier you had mentioned also the Brighton Buddhist Temple. And was that an important institution in the postwar years?

BS: It was, but that was a sad thing. As the families passed away and the family moved on, the temple had decreased in membership to where I think a couple of years ago they finally closed the temple down. But that's where the Brighton JAA was always meeting, right there at the temple. Now, (...) now they meet in our meeting room on the farm.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

DM: How tightly connected were the different Japanese American communities in Colorado to each other?

BS: Very competitive. But when the chips were down, everybody had to work together. [Laughs] The Mile-High JACL was the big organization, and I couldn't convince the Brighton JAA to become a JACL. There was a Fort Lupton JACL, and every community had a local JACL organization. And very competitive, but always working together.

DM: So what all communities can you think of in Colorado that have a significant Japanese American community?

BS: Let's see. There, let's start off with way up north. Why, in Sedgwick County, there was a cluster of Japanese where, and all became leaders, too, all in agriculture. And then if you came down on Highway 76, then there would be Fort Morgan, Colorado. And then, then you go on Highway 85 up north, then you skip... oh, yeah, Highway 85, then you would hit Greeley. In Greeley there was a big Japanese community, I think there was a JACL in Greeley. And then it went all the way down to Fort Lupton and Platteville, and then to Brighton. And then when you went on I-25, it's strange, there wasn't one in Fort Collins or Loveland or -- oh yes, there was one in Longmont, the Kanemoto family. And that's where a very well-known Mayeda family were leaders there. And that's where a big farm called Tanaka Farms were from the Longmont area, but they, they do not exist anymore. They had some tough times.

DM: What about further out from the front range where, are there Japanese Americans in other parts of the state?

BS: Oh, yes. And in, then you go further south, and a big congregation and well-known Japanese were in Rocky Ford and Lamar and La Junta. And they were all agriculture, and they were known for really growing cantaloupes, melons. And then you went to the San Luis Valley, which is the Blanca area. There were several well-known Japanese families in that area, and the Blanca and the San Luis Valley, and then even in Grand Junction. So in the state of Colorado, the Isseis and the Niseis really made a, made a great economic contribution in agriculture.

DM: So it's fair to say that outside of Denver, all of these other communities were primarily, including Brighton, were primarily agricultural?

BS: Yes, yes. And it's amazing where it is today, almost zero in agriculture. They all became professional men and very few stayed on the farm.

DM: Why do you think that is?

BS: Well, it's a change. Let me just put it to you this way on statistics. Okay, when, when the Sakatas started the farm way back in 1944, '45, twenty-seven percent of the American public were farmers to produce food for the other seventy-three percent. Today, there is less than two percent of the public that are engaged in farming, and the most impressive, dramatic thing is two-tenths of one percent of that two percent, two-tenths of one percent produces over eighty percent of the food. So, so I can't, I cannot use the remark that it was too much hard work and so forth so they left the farm, it's just the change that has come about in society. And it is very fortunate that many of the farm kids did broaden their scope or their vision into other professional life.

DM: Yeah, there would have been no place for them had they wanted to stay on the farms.

BS: That's right.

DM: So in the early years, getting back to Brighton in particular, you had mentioned the Brighton JA Association and the Buddhist Temple, what other organizations did you belong to in those early postwar years?

BS: Well, I was sought out to be members of the... in the chamber of commerce, and also at that time, for the younger men, there was what you called the junior chamber of commerce. And we had a very active group, and I was heavily involved in the junior chamber of commerce. Let's see... but you were able to join even at that time, now, the organizations that did not allow any Japanese Americans were the Elks. Now, every organization.

DM: But back in the '50s, the Elks would not admit Japanese Americans?

BS: No, no. Elks, the Rotarians... but today, we're all sought out.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

DM: Well, can you tell me a little bit about, about your family? How did you meet your wife, for example?

BS: I have to say that that was probably the greatest blessings in my life, to have had Joanna as my wife. And she was, in fact, she was heading to be a professional woman. She worked for the famous Minoru Yasui in the law office, and, but when she decided to accept my proposal, why, she came back to Brighton and really not only become my wife, but also became my partner in the business. And that's where we were able to make it. I would always say that if Joanna and I were not compatible in, in our vision and our thought and our thinking, Sakata Farms could never be where it's at today. That was our greatest blessing. And of course, the greatest thing I owe her is for our three outstanding children who all became great contributors to our society, and that's the thing that I'm mostly proud of. That's the greatest legacy that I could leave.

DM: So Sakata Farms, just like your father's ten-acre farm, was really a family endeavor?

BS: Yes, yes. And our, all of our brochures is, it's called Sakata Farms, but it explains that it is a family farm.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

DM: And Sakata Farms is really one of the most highly praised agricultural businesses in Colorado, and maybe even in the United States. So can you tell me how you built it up from this, what is it, a forty-acre farm to what it is today?

BS: There was one thing that I've learned as a youngster, that if you stay in one area all your life, sometimes you miss the opportunities that are around you, and I learned this by reading a book. And when I came here to Colorado, I could instantly see that Colorado was behind fifty years in agriculture compared to what my dad was doing in California. So I was able to see all the opportunities that was there in agriculture. Nobody except for a small area in Colorado ever thought that Colorado could be a prime vegetable-producing area, and this is where our family concentrated. And so Sakata Farms is here today to where it's at not only because of Joanne and I, but also we've got to remember that we started here with my late brother Harry and my two sisters who were twins, and my father. So it was really a family effort on that forty-acre farm. And we instantly grew. In fact, talking about Mr. Schluter, where he said, "Pay us back anytime you can," we paid him back in the second year. And his comment to my late brother Harry was, "Which bank did you rob?" [Laughs]

But so we... and things continuously changed. I would have to say that the vision... well from there, many things changed. One of the big setbacks on the farm was where my late brother Harry passed away at a young age of thirty-five, and everything fell on my shoulder. Then naturally my two sisters were marrying well and left. So then my father passed away in a terrible auto accident that, where I was driving the automobile, and that was disastrous. That was one of the toughest things for me to bear. Then during that time, as we were getting ahead, I remember my father giving me so much wisdom. And when we started the farm and work, he became a little worried, and he called me in one winter day in the pot-bellied stove, and he said, "Yoshiharu, I want to talk to you." And in Japanese I asked him, I said, "Gee, what happened, Dad? What did I do wrong?" He said, "That's what I wanted to talk to you about." He said, "Everything you do, you do right. Everything you do you do right, and you work hard. And not only that whatever you do you do right," he said, "everything you touch turns to gold." So he said, "I'm worried about you," and he said, "I want to let you know that the real true test of a man is that someday he may fall. And when you fall, the true test of a man is to be able to bring yourself up." And I remembered those words. And it was soon after those words where I was driving and was involved in an accident and my father was killed, and I was survived. Then I got involved in this explosion in the shop and I was burnt and in the hospital for over a year. So those little things that Dad had the wisdom of explaining to me, his thinking, had a lot to do with where I'm at today.

DM: So you really credit the Issei generation's way of raising you.

BS: Oh, yes, yes. And the one thing that I hope that, people that listen to this, I hope that there is one thing that my father did that I think we lack today. Is, you know, my mother passed away when I was six years old, so Dad had to raise the whole family by himself. And he was so busy trying to, just working so hard to put food on the table, so he would always lecture to us at the dinner table. He didn't have any other time to do this. And the one thing that still rings in my mind which I passed on to my children is he, he would discipline us by a plain, simple lecture: "Don't you kids ever do anything that would shame the Sakata name." And you know, that tells it all, that tells it all. And it really struck me when I read Colin Powell's book. And in his book, in his book, he said that he will not want to run for the President of the United States. But if he did, what he would like to do is restore, restore shame back into our society. And so I hope whoever listens to this would pass that on, because that's the thing that I'm most concerned about, is the weakening of, the weakening of the... weakening of... oh, my words all got locked. [Laughs] The weakening of, really, the moralities and so forth in our society. Like to bring that back.

DM: Because you can't have a sense of shame unless you have a very clear sense of right versus wrong.

BS: Right, right.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

DM: Well, I do want to hear a little bit more about Sakata Farms today, and maybe some of the transitions that it underwent.

BS: Yeah, right, that's right. First, let me tell you this: that all the decisions that Joanne and I made when we got started, and all the things that we saw changing, and all the things we did, we did right. We did right. And there's one thing that I do have as far as my own philosophy is concerned, is that you have to be a visionary and see the changes, but you can't just see it, you gotta be a doer. And I've always maintained that, that you cannot be a trend-follower, you gotta be a trend-maker, and that's what we did up to this point. Now, when I go back and tell you the changes we made, let me tell you today, that if my son, who has taken over the company, if he asks me today, "Dad, what's the vision? What do you see?" Why, I don't know. I wouldn't be able to give him the vision that I think he needs. I, I would answer, I would answer that question that, "You're smart enough to figure it out, you do it." But in my days, when we got started, it was very easy to see the trend. The trend naturally was efficiency and increased production. And you could see the consumer side change where we always go to a farmer's market, and the farmer's market was disappearing. Where the big purchasers became chain stores. So what did that do? That, that forced you to, to expand so you could attract the chain store, the big purchasers.

DM: Let me interrupt you for just a second, if I may. What did you start out growing on that first forty-acre farm?

BS: Oh, on the first forty-acre farm, we tried to grow everything you could think of to follow Dad's footsteps, and we were able to do it. But we did find out from the, some of the old-timers that there is such a thing called hail here in Colorado, so you better have, always grow some sugar beets. And so out of the forty-acre farm, we grew ten acres of sugar beets, and the rest were in vegetables. But we quickly recognized, Daryl, that growing vegetables in Colorado, you could not grow high input crops. In other words, like pole tomatoes, celery, where you have to wrap every one to bleach it. You could not afford to grow high input crops and vegetables because in five minutes, a hailstorm could ruin it. So you had to, number one, pick out a crop that would fit the climate in Colorado and that takes the least input to grow it. Because once you grow it, then all the input would be in harvesting. So that's how, that's how we have our four major crops we grow today in vegetables, are sweet corn, onions, cabbage, and broccoli, those are the four. Of course, we grow beans, beans, winter wheat, and ethanol corn and alfalfa for rotation. But that's where we're at today.

DM: So you mentioned that one of the trends was that you had to, to grow more crops.

BS: Correct.

DM: Or to produce more crops, I mean.

BS: Right. You, you had to... let me put it this way. Okay, I learned a long time ago that there was about four criteria you had to meet. Number one, you had to have the best quality, or you could not open the doors of the major buyers. And no matter how good of a quality you had, once you opened the door to the major buyers, you had to have continuity of supply, that's very important. 'Cause you could have the best product you could have today, but if you didn't have it tomorrow, then, "We'll find it somewhere else." So quality, continuity of supplies, and service. And the very last thing, that I've trained our sales staff. That you have quality, continuity of supply, service, and you gotta be competitive in price. Just because you have all that, you can't, you can't think that you could overcharge.

DM: How many farm -- or excuse me, how many acres do you have under cultivation now?

BS: Little over three thousand acres.

DM: All from that forty-acre farm.

BS: Yes. And the other thing that we've learned, which I'm blessed with today, was in order to attract the major chain stores, why, you had to have control, they knew. And the only way you could have control is to own your real estate, own your own farm. So every time there was an equity, my poor wife Joanna sacrificed a new couch or a new stove, but we went in debt and purchased more farm every year. That's how we accumulated.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

DM: Now, I was just looking at the list of positions that you gave to me the other day and I saw you've had an incredible number of organizations that you've been involved in.

BS: Oh, yes.

DM: But one thing that I wanted to just ask you about is that you were president of the National Sugar Beet Growers Association.

BS: Oh, yes, uh-huh.

DM: And are there any sugar beets still cultivated today in Colorado?

BS: Yes, but that has decreased. There's only, there were some twenty-six or twenty-eight mills, there's only one left in Fort Morgan, that's gone.

DM: So that's a real example of, that you saw that as an opportunity --

BS: Change.

DM: -- and then, and then the market changed?

BS: Yeah, changed. And ownership, I saw the vision of ownership changing, and then that crop moving to South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and the cane crop becoming more predominant.

DM: So I was wondering if you could tell me some, about some of the leadership roles that you played in the agricultural industry.

BS: Well, the, I guess the... I was heavily involved in, in the Soil Conservation Service, but one of the more rewarding contributions I think I made was where I was asked by President Nixon to be on the Commodity Credit Board, Department of Agriculture, and that's the board that really guides much responsibility in agriculture. And, and that was, at the time when I joined -- and that had to pass approval of Congress at that time -- but at that time, it was, Secretary Butz was the Secretary of Agriculture, he was, I think he was professor at Indiana University. Then, then after President Nixon, I was asked to serve again from President Ford, and I served about six months after that with President Carter, and finally I was relieved of that position. But I think that I probably did most for agriculture at that time, because I was, I was an advocate of the free enterprise system, and it was between Secretary Butz and I that made the trade agreement with Japan to purchase all the wheat and grain and soybeans from the United States. And it was also during that time that I was the one that advocated that the U.S., the U.S. agricultural philosophy should change, and that farmers should not depend on the agricultural program to make a living. And there's a lot of debate even today on the ag. program on subsidies. So those years that I were in there, I was in there in Washington, the history would tell you the farmers made the most money at that time. And one of the problems we had was surplus and not selling, moving all the surplus of food. So it was very simple, the U.S. government owned much of all the fabulous grain storage bins all over the United States. And I was the one that recommended to Congress that we sell those bins, but we sell them to farmers at a very low interest rate, and sell it to farmers. And then they would adjust their growing according to the way the bins look. Common sense. And that's one of the big contributions that I made.

DM: And you've also been involved in water planning, isn't that right?

BS: Oh, yes, yes. And that's the biggest challenge we face today, is water. And that is a challenge for all over the United States: shortage of water, increase in population. And society just is not sensitive enough to really come with a compromise to share that water with the metropolitan area and agriculture. But the day will come that -- I won't live long enough -- but the day would come when I would be saying, "I told you so," where water... today, you see, I could probably mention it in a simple way. Today, many of the water planners are saying there's plenty of water here. Because agriculture uses eighty-five percent, owns and uses about eighty-five percent of the water. And I followed the speaker and I said, "The previous speaker is correct, we as agriculture own eighty-five percent of the water." But I asked the audience, "Don't you all like to eat?" There was a pause. [Laughs] So really, society owns that water, but it is a big struggle at this point right now on how to conserve water. And one of the biggest, biggest problem is I can't quite find a reason for it, but the environmentalists are completely against reservoirs, where that's what we need, we need reservoirs to store the water. That'll be a fight 'til I go to the grave. [Laughs]

<End Segment 21> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

DM: Well, it sounds like, in some ways, a political fight, which is something that brings me to another topic. You've been a very public figure, and I'm sure that you've been, become well-acquainted with many politicians and dignitaries from other countries. So I was wondering if you could just share some highlights of some of those acquaintances and friendships that you made.

BS: I've been, yeah, I've been very blessed as far as, as far as the White House is concerned. Let's see, I've met President Nixon, President Ford, President Kennedy, President Reagan. I didn't see President Carter, but I met President Clinton and also President Bush. But the ones that I think that I had the most learning experience, and I think that maybe they, they asked us for advice, was way back from the Colorado governor, Governor Romer, and following Governor Romer was Governor Owen, and now Governor Ritter. But, and then being on several committees that all these governors have appointed me in the Department of Agriculture. But now, why, I am tapering off unless they call me for any advice. I'm very proud that my son, Robert, Robert T., we call him RT, he has been asked to serve, and he's been well-respected in the state legislature. And he's been asked by Governor Romer many, many years ago to take, to be on the State Water, the State Water Quality Commission, and was appointed to chairman for many, many years. And when Governor Owen took over, he thought that that'd be, he'd be gone. But they reappointed him again, and Governor Ritter reappointed him again. So he's been, he's been more involved than I have been now in the political scene. But I do, I am flattered by the fact that I'm still asked.

Now, now overseas, one of the greatest blessings that ever been bestowed upon our family was when the emperor and the empress of Japan wanted to visit our home where we hosted them. And, and they, in return, they invited our family to the Imperial Palace about three years ago. So that was probably one of the greatest, prestigious things that ever been bestowed to our family.

DM: That's a real honor and something that not very many people can say.

BS: That's right.

DM: Are there any other things that you wanted to get down in the interview, things that you wanted to raise, issues or memories that you wanted to mention?

BS: No, I just want to congratulate this organization for doing what you are doing because, you know, as I tell my children, "One of the greatest legacy that I could leave is what I taught you and where you have become great contributors to society." And I think what your organization is doing is trying to preserve some of the great things that the Isseis and Niseis have done, especially our Isseis. And that history is too valuable to just lose. So I congratulate you for going through all this exercise in trying to preserve the history of the contributions that the Isseis and Niseis have made to the American society. Thank you, Daryl.

DM: Thank you so much, Bob. You know, it's a real pleasure and an honor to be able to talk with you today, and I just wanted to close by saying you've had an incredible journey.

BS: Yes.

DM: From ten acres in Alviso to three thousand acres in Brighton, and I agree with you completely that this history is too valuable to lose. So thank you for sharing it with us.

BS: Thank you, and there's one thing that -- I know this is a very sensitive subject to talk about, which is religion. But I know that my journey could not have come to this point, because I recognized early that without faith -- I don't care who -- but for me, without faith in God, there is no meaning and purpose to human life, and that has helped me carry on, all the challenge that faced me.

DM: And it's been many, many challenges.

BS: Thank you.

DM: Thank you.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.