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Benny Wakayama Obituary

Benny Kazuo Wakayama
Benny Kazuo Wakayama

September 1, 1935 - July 9, 2020
Born in Hollister, California
Resided in Salinas, Califorrnia
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Benny Kazuo Wakayama
September 1, 1935- July 9, 2020

When we think about our dad certain words pop into our minds- smiles, kindness, work ethic, loyalty, and love. My sister, our husbands, our children, and I are lucky to have been influenced by him and we are grateful for your love and friendship to him.

Benny Kazuo Wakayama passed away Thursday, July 9, 2020 after a relatively short battle with cancer at age 84. Benny was born in Hollister to Fusajiro Frank and Toshiko Grace Wakayama. He had an older brother, Bill and 2 years later his younger brother Larry was born.

In 1942, Dad’s father was one of the first Japanese-Americans taken under Executive Order 9066. As children, we heard how his mom almost went back to Japan. Thankfully she did not, and with my dad, 7, and Uncle Larry, 5, she awaited transport in a stable at the Salinas Rodeo grounds. They were interned at Poston in Arizona. Growing up I heard stories about him playing baseball, forming friendships, attending school, and eating in the mess hall, but never a complaint. Like many Japanese Americans interned, our dad focused on the positive and made the best of the situation he was presented with.

After the war ended, Dad, our grandparents, and Uncle Larry moved to Watsonville, living at the Watsonville Buddhist Temple. Dad told us that buses would come to pick up Japanese Americans to transport them to the canneries in Monterey to work. His father and mother went to work in the canneries, but his father quickly decided he couldn’t tolerate the smell and decided to be a gardener instead. When Dad told us the story, he laughed remembering how disgusted his father was with the smell. Dad’s family moved into a house with extended family and eventually moved into their own house on Elm street in Watsonville. I think all of the cousins recall that home with fondness.

As a child, Dad was often with his father, fishing, helping him with his gardening business, visiting friends or playing and getting into trouble with Uncle Larry. He and all of his family were very active at the Buddhist Temple in Watsonville.

After graduating from Watsonville High School and attending Hartnell College, Dad worked in agriculture. Dad was drafted during peacetime and served in the army at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. Only a few years ago, while eating at Sangs, he fondly recalled driving tractors in Soledad and coming into Salinas to eat at Sangs so many years ago. Dad was an unassuming guy, and rarely talked about himself, so whenever he told a new story about his younger years, it was always a surprise.

Dad had a few other jobs but spent the majority of his career at Naturipe Berry Growers serving in various positions including field inspector, running the freezer plant, and sales from which he retired in 2005. Laura and I loved going to see him at work where we would be treated to a ride on the forklift, a drive through the strawberry fields along with samples, or a twirl on the office chair. Dad knew everyone and I think he took delight in introducing us. Nothing made my dad happier than his family.

In 1963 he married our mom, Marti. They were married at the temple in Watsonville and resided in Salinas for the rest of their lives. They enjoyed their early years of marriage bowling, playing cards, and going dancing with friends. My dad also fished often. Once Laura and I came along, my parents both gave up their hobbies to devote themselves to us. Dad worked long hours and had incredible work ethic, but he always made time to be there for us for the important events. He rarely missed an open house or an awards ceremony. When we needed support to chaperone our activities, he was there. He worked so hard to make sure we had opportunities and lived up to our potential but never pressured us.

We think his most joyous years were during his retirement when he spent most of his time with his grandchildren. He retired in 2005 so he and Marti could care for Lindsay so she would not have to go to daycare. When Ryan arrived in 2009, he was overjoyed to have a boy but would never outwardly admit it. Ryan and Grandpa Benny would grow to be inseparable. Grandpa happily attended all of their open houses, school performances and sporting events. He would often pick them, and even their friends up from school. The birth of Jonah and Emi brought even more joy as he would try to spend as much time with them as possible.

Dad was an active member of the Buddhist Temple of Salinas. He served on the board, supported many temple events, and chaired iHelp, the service group that provided meals and housing to recovering homeless. Both our dad and mom instilled in us the value of community and the importance of giving back.

Dad was preceded in death by his wife, Marti, parents Fusajiro Frank and Toshiko Grace, and brothers Bill and Larry.

He is survived by his daughters Laura Wakayama-Lee, her husband Richard Lee, Andi Tachiki and her husband Jeff Tachiki, grandchildren, Lindsay & Ryan Lee, Jonah & Emiko Tachiki, his sister in-law Muriel Wakayama, and nieces and nephews- Carlene Tamichi, David Wakayama, William Crowe, Linda Byrd, Terri Huserik, Jeanne Wakayama, Frances Carmody, and Frank Wakayama.

Our dad was a supportive and caring husband, dad, uncle, grandpa, and friend. We will miss his smiles, laughter and love and thank you again for your love.

A virtual service will be held on Saturday, July 18, 2020 at 2:00 PM. A YouTube link will be posted once it is available.





Funeral Home
Struve and Laporte Funeral Home
41 West San Luis Street
Salinas, CA US 93901


Buddhist Temple of Salinas
14 California Street
Salinas, CA 93901