Longtime Bainbridge farmer Akio Suyematsu died this afternoon. He was 90 years old.
His friend, Gerard Bentryn – who grew grapes next to Suyematsu’s Day Road berry fields – said Suyematsu passed away at a Seattle care facility surrounded by family.
Bentryn and other island farmers credit Suyematsu for keeping farming alive on Bainbridge.
“Though his sheer stubbornness and talent, he’s made farming keep going,” Bentryn told me in 2007, when Suyematsu was still farming at 85. “Akio’s the core of it all.”
You can read more about Suyematsu here.
He was born on Bainbridge in 1921, when the island was one of the state’s largest producers of strawberries.
He was sent to an internment camp with other Japanese Americans during World War II. Shortly after his release, he was drafted and then trained for the all-Japanese-American 442nd regiment, one of the most decorated in the history of the U.S. armed forces. The war ended when he was on furlough, and he was shipped off to Germany to serve as a military policeman.
He returned to the island in the late 1940s and has farmed ever since. Most of the island’s full-time farmers credit Suyematsu’s generosity and practical know-how for making them the farmers they are today. Mostly, they say, he led by example, putting in long hours without much rest and no complaints.
Bentryn said Suyematsu was in a great deal of pain shortly before he died. He was recovering from surgeries to treat problems with his heart and stomach.
“Nobody wants to die, but he didn’t want pain,” Bentryn said.
Bentryn expects a memorial service will be announced in the coming days.
“Not having Akio… it’s a big change for us,” he said.
PHOTO: Lenna Himmelstein, Kitsap Sun (2005)