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January 14, 2009 > Tribute to Shig Nakamura

Tribute to Shig Nakamura

By Nelson Kirk

Shig first lived in Newark and attended Newark Elementary School as a young boy. He moved to Fremont and has lived there all his life. At the age of 27, Shig joined the army and was stationed in Germany from 1949 to 1951. After serving two years in the Army, at age 30, he entered the nursery business working for his wife's family nursery - Umeki Nursery - from 1952 to 1960. Shig was married and had a son Stacy and daughter Wendy.

Shig started his own Nursery in Castro Valley in 1960 on one acre raising liners and ground cover for merchandisers. He kept it open till 1962. Earlier, in 1958, Shig bought five acres of prime nursery land in Mission San Jose on Mission Blvd. between Driscoll and Las Palmas. I remember seeing women propagating flats of ground cover at a table under lath. One of the ladies was Cora Rodriguez who started out in Nelson's Nursery in Fremont. Cora now works for Reagan's Nursery. Another worker, Domingo Alcon, now works as a Parks Foreman for the City of Union City. His co-workers call him "Ming the Merciless." Ming also worked for the Meyers sisters in Union City. I call him Jack Olane as he reminds me of the fitness legend. An Urban Forester for the City of Fremont who worked for Shig is the late Charles Sparkman, active in the community as a volunteer who recently passed away.

Naka Nursery under Shig's guidance operated on Mission Blvd from 1962 to the mid1990's when it moved to the California Nursery Company Historical Park on a 20-acre site. The old Mission site was developed into a plush housing development. Shig had a nice 24" box Queen Palm next to his office door which still sits in a larger wooden planter next to the old packing shed at the California Nursery Company Historic Park. He also maintained 63acres of growing grounds in Sunol. Shig never knew he would be a part of history as one of the long term nurserymen at this site in Niles.

As a nurseryman for 52 years, I once asked Shig how much longer he planned to run his nursery business. He said he stayed open for the workers. I also knew he enjoyed working at a nursery site that had been operating since 1884 and was, at one time, the largest on the west coast, covering over a square mile of nursery and growing grounds.

Shig donated plants and trees to schools, hospitals, churches and our city parks. He even let us use a small section of his nursery for growing trees used today, saving the City of Union City, Fremont and East Bay Regional Parks hundreds of dollars.

Shig continued the propagation and sale of cold hardy palms in our region following earlier great nurserymen John Rock and George Roeding. I want to thank Shig and honor his memory for all the times he made a difference as part of the wonderful history of the California Nursery Company Historical Park in Fremont. Like other great nurseryman of our past Shig has matched them in over a half of century of service in supplying our communities with all the beautiful trees, shrubs, flowers, palms and vegetables that surround us today. Just think how many of Shig's plants have supplied shelter and food to our wildlife alone.

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