Gilroy loses two ag stalwarts

Charles Gubser

For decades the Charles Gubser and Tom Obata played incomparable
roles in the success of South County’s agricultural communities,
friends and family said. Gubser, 95, and Obata, 93, died a little
more than week ago, just two days apart. Obata succumbed Aug. 22 of
lung cancer at his home in Gilroy. Gubser died Aug. 20 under
hospice care in Fresno. Full story
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“The year was 1960. The place was the floor of the House of Representatives, and Charles Gubser, Republican congressman from Gilroy, had a problem.”

So begins the first chapter of “The San Felipe Story,” a 1987 book penned by Harry Farrell and published by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which details the local congressman’s eventually successful efforts to wind water from the San Luis Reservoir to Santa Clara and San Benito counties.

It was there that Tom Obata and his three brothers had been growing garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, sugar beets and lettuce on nearly 700 acres. The Obata Brothers, as they were known, eventually teamed with 14 other growers to found Gilroy Foods, which become an area staple.

For decades the two played incomparable roles in the success of South County’s agricultural communities, friends and family said. Gubser, 95, and Obata, 93, died a little more than week ago, just two days apart.

Obata succumbed Aug. 22 of lung cancer at his home in Gilroy. Gubser died Aug. 20 under hospice care in Fresno.

“Can you imagine what Santa Clara County would look like today (without them)?” said Sig Sanchez, 90, former Gilroy mayor and Santa Clara County supervisor who befriended both men. “They were both very successful. Sorry to lose them.”

Gubser, born in Gilroy in 1916, served Gilroy and South County for 22 years as a Congressman, much of his time spent fighting to get water pumped from the reservoir to the two counties through what became known as “Gubser’s Pipe,” Sanchez recalled.

“I think that probably over the years we’ve been pretty fortunate that we’ve had excellent representation,” Sanchez said. “Charlie stands out somewhat because of his efforts on the San Felipe Project. Maybe because he was a local man.”

Don Gage, former Gilroy mayor and current water district chair, said Gubser’s idea made him a visionary.

“He had a lot of foresight, knowing that water was going to be extremely important,” Gage said.

Before his Congressional terms, Gubser attended San Jose State Junior College and the University of California, Berkeley, and later taught at Gilroy High School.

Obata, born in 1917 in Hollister, was the son of a first-generation Japanese farmer. Sanchez, who lived in Hollister as a young boy, remembers a nearby family who always grew strawberries.

He later learned, happily, “That was the Obata family.”

Several months into his tenure at nearby Hartnell College, Obata was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served as a second lieutenant during World War II.

Obata never went back to school, as he and his brothers took over the family farming business, heading it for nearly four decades.

“We got along surprisingly well. It’s unusual for partnerships to get along that well,” said Obata’s 91-year-old brother, Jack.

Sanchez called Tom Obata “a very successful farmer,” a rare description during the Obata Brothers’ early years.

“It was just good, hard work,” Sanchez said. “In those days, there weren’t too many successful farmers, money-wise.”

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