Tomio “Tom” Ito, who was active in many community organizations, passed away on Feb. 1 at 7:45 a.m. at his home in Westminster. He was 98.
Services were held on Feb. 20 at Orange County Buddhist Church in Anaheim.
Ito was born on Oct. 22, 1924 in Venice to Japanese immigrant parents, the second of four children. The family moved to Gardena and made a living as farmers.
His parents came from Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture,
and in January 1941 at the age of 16 his parents sent him there to finish his education. He lived with relatives in Yokkaichi and attended Kawaharada Agricultural School. Later that year as tensions rose between the U.S. and Japan and Japanese Americans became the target of boycotts, his parents decided to temporarily move back to Japan. Within a year, war broke out between the U.S. and Japan.
In 1944, Ito enrolled in the Army Air Corps Mechanical School in Gifu Prefecture and completed a six-month course. Due to his English ability, he was assigned to work in the information department. In 1947, Ito became the special interpreter for the president of Victor Auto Co. in Fuchu City.
Ito and his wife, Chizuko, were married in 1949. Preceded by his parents, Ito returned to the U.S. in 1958 at the age of 33.
After Gardena, his parents farmed in Long Beach and then Westminster. Land in Gardena had become more expensive after the war, but in Orange County it was still possible to buy large parcels of land at low prices. In Westminster they cultivated strawberries along Sugar Avenue, now known as McFadden.
Ito Farms’ strawberries were prized for their consistent sweetness. His wife was strict about only selling good strawberries, and it is said that she managed the quality by examining each and every strawberry.
Each member of the family working on the farm excelled in their respective fields. Ito, with his outgoing personality, belonged to various organizations and worked on PR and sales expansion while assisting his parents and siblings. Ito Farms’ strawberries were so popular that customers would wait in long lines at their local produce stand.
In the 1960s, Ito Farms joined Naturipe Berry Growers Inc., a shipping co-op, and Ito served as a board member from 1966 to 1988 . He was also a board member of the California Strawberry Advisory Board (now known as the California Strawberry Commission) from 1981 to 1987 and was active with the Orange County Farm Bureau.
In the Japanese and Japanese American community, Ito was extremely busy as president of the Nanka Mie Kenjinkai (1985-1989), the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai (1997), and the Orange County Japanese American Association (1993-1995); a member of the Orange County Japanese American Coordinating Council (now OCJAA); and vice president of the Orange County Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (1996), among other positions.
He was a leader or active in many other organizations, including Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California (vice chair), Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s Ambassadors Society, Japanese Community Pioneer Center (vice chair), Japan Society of Southern California, Nisei Week Executive Committee (vice president), Japanese American National Museum (board member), North America Hyakudokai (vice president), Ikenobo Ikebana Society of L.A., Omotesenke Domonkai SoCal Region, and Orange County Buddhist Church. He raised funds for community causes and received numerous honors for his efforts.
Ito was known for his contributions to U.S.-Japan relations in the area of agriculture. He provided Japanese agricultural leaders with guidance and support when they visited the U.S. and educated them about American agriculture.
In later years he was cared for by his daughter Kathy. During the pandemic, he spent time at home reading newspapers and magazines or watching television, and got light exercise, going outside with the help of a walker or wheelchair.
Predeceased by his wife, Chizuko, and brothers, Kensaku and Yonejiro. Ito is survived by his children, Bill (Peggie) Ito, Dolly (Rick) Oishi, Edward (Caryn) Ito, Kathy Ito, and Carol (Jeff) Sakamoto; grandchildren, Michelle (Rick) Hatsushi, Willie (Alexis) Ito, Jonathan (Danelle) Oishi, Allyson Oishi, Alysa Ito, R. Masa Ito, Kara Ito, Jessica Sakamoto and Tyson Sakamoto; four great-grandchildren; sister, Tomiko (Tatsuo) Ando; sisters-in-law, Suzuka and Tsuyako Ito and Ineko (Hidekatsu) Ogata; and many nieces, nephews and other relatives.
Biographical information from OCJAA’s monthly newsletter, “Orange Network.”