Yoshimi Shibata, a floral industry pioneer and beloved former president of Mt. Eden Floral Company in San Jose, California, died peacefully in his sleep over the weekend.
“He was at home, with family present,” said Robert Shibata, one of “Shimi’s” sons and the current president of Mt. Eden. “We are grateful that he had a distinguished and fulfilling career in the flower industry that he loved so much.”
Last spring, friends and family gathered in Palo Alto, California, to celebrate Shibata’s upcoming 100th birthday. According to a Mt. Eden web page commemorating the event, “The celebration was a heartfelt reunion of people from various walks in Shimi’s life, some connected by family ties, others through friendships forged in the earlier days of working in the floral industry. But all have been similarly touched by Shimi’s life, career, and friendship.”
Shibata was born in Oakland, California, to Zenjuro and Koyuri Shibata. In 1918, his father, Zenjuro, purchased the Mt. Eden property. Shibata attended both UC Berkeley and Ohio State, but after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, his family relocated to Marysville to avoid internment.
There, they worked in fruit fields. After eventually being interned at Tule Lake War Relocation Center for a year, Shibata moved to Des Plaines, Illinois, to work for Premier Rose Garden. He returned to the Mt. Eden Nursery in 1945, but was soon drafted into the U.S. Army.
Among his many professional accomplishments, Shibata started the Salinas Greenhouse Company in 1963 with eight partners from Kagoshima Prefecture. The 540,000 square feet of greenhouse was built for the cultivation of carnations and mini-carnations. He was elected president of WF&FSA in 1972 and planned the organization’s first trade show the following year.
Shibata, who became active in the Civil Rights Defense Union after his honorable discharge from the Army, received many lifetime honors, including the Order of the Rising Sun, Fourth Class in 1987 from the Japanese government. It is the highest civilian award given by the Japanese government. This year, he was awarded the CalFlowers 2015 Distinguished Service Award. Honorees of this award are recognized for the highest levels of leadership, strategic thinking, and contributions to the floral industry in California.
In 2006, Shibata released his memoir, “Across Two Worlds: Memoirs of a Nisei Flower Grower.”
Last month, Robert Shibata continued his father’s legacy of industry leadership and service, as he took on the role of WF&FSA president during the group’s annual conference.
In 2014, The Tribune in San Luis Obsipo told the story of how Shibata and his wife, Grace Eto, met, fell in love and married in 1947. The charming article includes pictures from the couple’s wedding day.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015 at 2 p.m. at the Buddhist Temple of Alameda, 2325 Pacific Ave., Alameda, California, 94501.
Shibata is survived by his wife, Grace; his sister, Yayoi; his three children, six grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Find out more about Shibata’s life and watch a touching video created for his 2015 Distinguished Service Award.