"An extraordinary person who lived an extraordinary life."
"A man who was dearly loved."
Those were some of the tributes for Brighton resident and farmer Bob Sakata, who died earlier this month at the age of 96. The speeches were part of a June 20 memorial service at Brighton Presbyterian Church, where Sakata was a member for more than 65 years.
"Bob was a good friend of mine," said former Brighton physician Dr. Rod Fair. "When I think of Bob and the hours I spent with him, I think of how fortunate I was to have known him."
Fair recapped the early stages of Sakata's life, which began in 1926. He was just five years old when he lost his mother to pneumonia.
"He was led by his sisters, his brothers and his father. He learned the art of farming, and it's one he learned well," said Fair, who retired in 2011.
When the Second World War broke out, Sakata – like others of Japanese ancestry – was taken from California to an internment camp. His was in Topaz, Utah.
Sakata earned an early release by working on a dairy farm in Brighton where Sakata lived in the dairy barn. In 1944, the dairyman loaned Sakata the money to buy 40 acres of farmland in Brighton. Today, the farm spreads out over more than 2,400 acres.
Sweet corn innovator
Colorado's former agriculture commissioner, Don Ament, called Sakata "an innovator."
"He knew how to pick sweet corn without hand labor," Ament said. "He knew. He had different preps for the ears of corn so they were ready to eat."
Ament was the emcee for the Colorado Agricultural Hall of Fame ceremonies in 1999 when Sakata and his wife, Joanna, became members. The same year, the Sakatas were inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame.
"As I sat at the agricultural hall of fame ceremony, looking through the program, I realized that the Sakatas were the only people of Asian-American culture to be inducted into the business hall of fame." Ament said. "Rest in peace, Bob. You certainly earned it."
Former Platte Valley Medical Center President John Hicks said Sakata served several agencies – the 27J board of education, First National Bank One Corp. and the Colorado Food Safety Task Force, among others.
"He didn't want to be a politician," Hicks said. "But this guy could influence a lot of things. He and his family believed in the good old-fashioned 'Get 'er done and be responsible once you do it.'"
Sakata was a major force behind two fundraising drives for the medical center, including the one that allowed the facility to move to its present location in the Prairie Center in 2007.
"He looked over the top of his glasses and said, 'You want to do what?'" Hicks said. "Bob was not afraid of trying something. He dreamed big."
"Over the years, he told me, 'People can take material things. But knowledge is the one thing that can never be taken away,'" said his son-in-law, David Dolifka. "It's with me. It's with you. We laugh. We talk. That's what we are here to celebrate."
In a series of letters that began in 2010, Lani Dolifka said her father explained to her why she became what she is.
"Dad loved to laugh," she said. "He said I got 100 percent of my beauty from my mother and zero percent from him. I was grateful for that. He never washed his hair. He said I got 75 percent of my intelligence from my mother and 25 percent from him.
“He gave himself 5 percent credit for being a good mother."
Sakata sustained burns over more than 80 percent of his body, the result of a farming accident.
"When he walked away from you or toward you, you heard the clip-clap of his braces," Hicks said. "It's a sound families have heard from sons, daughters, wives, friends, loved ones. For me, that sound cries out persistence, determination, grace."
Survivors include Sakata's wife, Joanna, his sister, Mistie, a son, Robert (Julie Kerr), a daughter, Vicki, a daughter Lani (Don Dolifka) and grandchildren David Dolifka and Madison Dolifka.
Robert Sakata told his mother, "This has been the hardest on you."
"I'm sure he wondered several times what he did so well to deserve someone as special as you," Robert Sakata said.
His parents, his brother, Harry, and a sister, Fusie, preceded Bob Sakata in death. In lieu of flowers, send donations to Platte Valley Medical Center Foundation in memory of Bob Sakata, 1600 Prairie Center Parkway, Brighton 80601. Make online donations at https://www.sclhealth.org/locations/platte-valley-medical-center/foundations/donate/.
"Dad didn't share his personal life," said Lani Dolifka. "Parts of it were painful. You look at his upbringing in a traditional Japanese home. He persevered through difficult times. There is no rug big enough to brush it all under. He needed hope, forgiveness, love. And he found it through God. That's how he reconciled his past with his present."
"He helped me for the years I knew him," Hicks said. "Bob .. thank you for making a difference in our community, for showing me how to make a difference in my life, my community."
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