Ben Tsutomu Kunibe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Ben Tsutomu Kunibe

Ben Tsutomu Kunibe, (Ji-chan) the eternal optimist passed away April 30, 2011

He is survived by his wife of 63 years Teruyo Kunibe, brother Tom Kunibe, children Charlene Braun (Andy) grandchildren Ben Curley, Reggie, Tess and Ricky; Susanne Sharpnack (John) grandchildren Tomiko, Matthew, and Andrew; Phyllis Powers (Terry) grandchildren Zack and Tim; and Russell Kunibe grandchild Akemi. He was predeceased by his brothers James (Sonoko) and Henry. Ben loved and enjoyed life and his sense of fun was contagious. Ben was born November 15, 1917 in San Francisco, CA. He graduated from Oakland Technical High School. He had a natural talent for business and people. His first job was in a nursery, selling flowers purchased each morning in San Francisco. When he turned 21, he and his brothers opened the Yolo Fish Market in Woodland, California. During World War II he was interned with 120,000 other Japanese Americans and relocated to Amache, Colorado. After the war he worked in an ice factory and as a gardener in Denver, Co. He moved back to California to be near his family and opened a restaurant in downtown Sacramento. After his brother Tom graduated from college, the 4 brothers started the endeavor that would become his life’s work, they opened produce departments in five markets. They brought in more partners and developed one of the first supermarkets, the Garden Basket in Sacramento. They added fruit stands in three locations and expanded to Spot Market in Gardena, California.

When Ben was not working, he was an avid fisherman. He fished any water he could find: oceans, lakes or rivers. Even with an empty creel, he said he could forget everything when fishing. Ben loved all sports and followed his San Francisco Giants faithfully, even attending the 1962 World Series. His adventures also led to a short career in speed boat racing. After he overturned his boat, he wised up. He was introduced to the beautiful Teruyo Kimura by a family friend; they married a year later on June 15, 1947. Together Ben and Terry raised four children who they encouraged to graduate college and they continue to mentor their 10 grandchildren through college. During the last 25 years Ben and Terry hauled a 23 foot trailer up and down the west coast from Alaska to San Diego to revel with those grandchildren who are now his legacy. In 1952, Ben brought his family to South Lake Tahoe to run the produce section at Lampson’s Market. Ben made the move permanent in 1957, moving into a 600 square foot cabin behind Lampson’s Market where he worked 12 hour days. His time off was Sunday afternoons, when everyone would pack up and a family fishing picnic or a trip to the Carson City Hot Springs was the requirement. In 1974 he moved the produce department to Inks Bijou Market. He retired in 1984 to spend more time with his family, fishing and working for the youth in his community with the Optimists. Together with Terry, he taught his children and grandchildren the joy of life. His measure of success was his family. They got together every Sunday with a family meal. The youngest grandchild to the oldest child competed to be heard over his booming voice. He enjoyed the best of everything, from food to travel and any new adventures. In the last six months, he traveled to Costa Rica for his granddaughter’s wedding and to Arizona for spring training. Ben was a driving force in the South Lake Tahoe Optimist Club as a charter member. He kept the club on track organizing and preparing for their many annual events. Ben led by example, living a life of volunteering. Before outside plans were made, he would have to consult his Optimist schedule: pancake breakfasts, concessions stands at the many basketball tournaments, the annual duck race, and his beloved Christmas tree lot. He would be the first to greet friends and strangers with a hearty welcome and immediately make them feel at home. Within minutes he would have them volunteer to help in Club activities. After he retired, he and Terry made it their job to stay healthy by walking every day, exercising at the Senior Center, and cross-country skiing in the winter.

Ben always felt that he had a full life with no regrets. He will be missed by his friends and family and community.

Please join us in saying good-bye with a brief Buddhist service followed by a celebration of life on Saturday, May 7, 2011 from 1:00-4:00 P.M. in the Emerald Bay Room at the Horizon Casino, Stateline, Nevada. No flowers please. 530-541-2789 for questions or information.


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