Honoring a legacy: Produce giant George Tanimura dies at 100


George Tanimura. photos courtesy of Tanimura & Antle

George Tanimura. photos courtesy of Tanimura & Antle
George Tanimura. photos courtesy of Tanimura & Antle

SALINAS, Calif. — George Minoru Tanimura, widely known as the family patriarch of Tanimura & Antle produce, died peacefully in his Salinas home April 15, 2016. He was 100 years old.

Known for his humility and generosity as much as his success, Tanimura’s passing is a loss to the agriculture industry, Salinas Valley and Japanese American communities, and countless friends and family who knew him.

Tanimura was born into farm life in San Juan Bautista July 2, 1915. His parents, Eijiro Kimoto and Yukino Tanimura, were among the early Issei to settle in the Salinas Valley area, growing iceberg lettuce and strawberries on a small farm, the company’s blog states.

When his mother passed from childbirth complications, Tanimura, the eldest son of numerous siblings, helped support and care for them. He stopped going to school to help his father on the farm, and quickly learned farming techniques and the value of hard work. According to “The Issei of the Salinas Valley: Japanese Pioneer Families” by Mae Sakasegawa, after his father died, Tanimura continued to run the farm with support from his brothers and sisters.

Like other Japanese American families, Tanimura and his family were forced to leave their home to live in a concentration camp during World War II. They were sent to Poston, Ariz. As a result, the family lost the family farming operation they had worked to maintain and grow. While incarcerated, Tanimura met his wife, Masaye Yamauchi, and they were married Sept. 21, 1944, the blog states.

After the war, Tanimura and his siblings had to completely rebuild. Together, they worked in the fields of Gilroy and farmed small plots of land, saving their earnings and pooling them together. Through hard work and perseverance, they were able to purchase their own land and continue building a successful farming operation.

The Tanimura & Antle brand is the culmination of two families with rich farming backgrounds. The partnership between the Antle and Tanimura families started in 1948, but became official in 1982, when the first box of lettuce was shipped under the Tanimura & Antle name, the company’s Website states. Multiple generations from both families have been actively involved in the family business, including Tanimura’s brothers Charlie, Johnny, Tommy, Bobby, and nephews Gary and Keith, as well as Bob Antle’s sons Rick and Mike. (Bob Antle’s father was Bud Antle). This helps explain the slogan printed on today’s T&A packaging: “Grown with family pride for three generations.” George Tanimura and Bob Antle served as co-chairmen of the board of a family business that flourished into a recognized industry leader.

Besides serving as co-chairman of the board at T&A, Tanimura was active in the community. He was involved with the Salinas Buddhist Temple and Buddhist Churches of America. Tanimura also founded the Tanimura Family Foundation, which supports nonprofit organizations in the Salinas Valley, including local libraries, hospitals and colleges.

A funeral service was held for Tanimura at the Buddhist Temple of Salinas, April 24. A live feed was broadcasted in Spanish at the company’s Salinas headquarters, and additional parking and shuttles to the temple were available from Rabobank Stadium. More than 800 people attended the funeral, including several notable attendees: Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Salinas Mayor Joe Gunterm, Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Jun Yamada, state Assemblyman Luis Alejo, state Senator Anthony Cannella, and former cabinet secretary and state Assemblywoman Anna Caballero. Various recognitions and resolutions given to Tanimura were displayed.

Tanimura’s nephew and executive vice president of T&A, Gary Tanimura, told the Nichi Bei Weekly, “It was a really nice send-off for George. There were many people who came from all over, and 33 floral arrangements were donated from people who knew him.” The Tanimura family also had arrangements made using T&A produce, including “George T’s Special Colossal Romaine Heart,” a lettuce hybrid named in George’s honor.

Several members from the family and from his T&A family gave eulogies, sharing fond memories of the patriarch and businessman who they described as being humble, kind, hard-working and passionate about farming. Gary Tanimura described Tanimura as “always a very curious guy, and he could just go into a crowd and introduce himself. He was very open minded and liked to mingle with other people.” But farming was his one true passion in life, Gary Tanimura said. “Growing crops was his joy … he was a fortunate man in that he really enjoyed what he did, so he tried to be the best at it.”

Donations may be made to the Tanimura Family Foundation, P.O. Box 4070, Salinas, CA 93912.

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