Bainbridge farming icon Akio Suyematsu dies at 90

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)

5 thoughts on “Bainbridge farming icon Akio Suyematsu dies at 90

  1. Akio was my intellectual grandfather, the mentor of my mentor. We’ll miss him a lot.

  2. On behalf of the Board of Directors and members of Friends of Skagit County we send our condolences to the family, friends, farmers and neighbors of Akio. His vision and wisdom will continue through all of the food and farming work that you all do. The NW corner can only be preserved by people who speak out for the land, like Akio did so well.
    Ellen Bynum, Executive Director
    Friends of Skagit County

  3. Akio was a long time friend of my father, Martin Rico, previously residing on Tolo Road up to his passing in 1993. My father held Akio in very high regard. He was there when my father needed help or someone for my father to visit with. My father knew he could count on Akio. I did not personally know him, but my father spoke him of him on many occasions. I knew he was a friend also to many of the other Filipino farmers on the Island – they were lucky to have known him. I am proud that he was a friend of my father.

  4. A very kind man will sadly be missed. My first job ever, was working on his farm down the road from us. He stands as a role model in my life.

  5. It was one of the greatest honors of my life to know this wonderful man; a paragon of
    virtue, and an absolute example of integrity. Everything about Akio was beyond
    reproach, except maybe for the fact that he would give so freely and eagerly/ but to
    accept something for himself was not so easy for him. The world was certainly a
    better place because of this hard working, honest (little) GIANT of a human being.
    Akio may now be in that big (warm & sunny, weedless, without too much rain but
    plenty of great drainage) farm in the sky- but he will never be forgotten & will always
    be very, very missed by everyone and all that knew him, loved him and spent many
    an hour “talking story” story with him as Akio loved to do! Thank you for being our
    friend Akio; we are better people ourselves, having known you. Good bye dear
    friend with LOVE from Barbra (Boiser-Sax) and David (Lopez)

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