Rod Tochihara

September 16, 1948 - February 26, 2019
Thursday, May 9, 2019

On Feb. 26, after 25 years of quietly and courageously managing heart disease, Rod Tochihara passed away after returning home from a brief stay at Pioneer Medical Center and enjoying dinner with his wife, Christine, and grandchildren, Landon and Keira.

Rodney Kazuyoshi Tochihara was born in Denver, Colorado, on September 16, 1948 to Tom Kazuyuki and Midori (Millie) Terada Tochihara. He spent his first several years in the big family farmhouse with his Tochihara grandparents, his parents and several aunts and uncles in Brighton, Colorado, where the family grew market vegetables, as well as sugar beets. The firstborn son of her firstborn son, little Rodney was the apple of his Grandma’s eye, and he learned first to speak Japanese and sit with his beloved and devout “baachan” in meditation at her home altar. Visits to Denver and Grandma Terada introduced him to her love of Japanese dance, and the music of the shamisen, both of which she performed and taught. Rod and his parents welcomed a brother Jeffrey to the family in 1953, and a sister, Eloise (Ellie), on Jeffrey’s fifth birthday in 1958.

Later years and one too many Colorado hailstorms brought the family to Thousand Oaks, California, when Rod was a high school junior, and where the extended family pursued landscape gardening. Rod graduated from Thousand Oaks High School in 1966, and received an associate of science degree in landscaping from Ventura College. He taught himself to play the guitar while recovering from minor surgery, and later became fluent in the Spanish language from conversing with his landscape crews.

In 1975, Rod married Lori Richards and was welcomed into her family by daughter Angie and son Jerry. They welcomed a new brother, Darin, in 1978, all of whom survive him, and remain part of Rod’s extended family.

While raising his family, Rod took up the sport and art of fly fishing, naturally progressing from amateur to teacher and guide, and starting and leading the Conejo Valley Fly Fishers in 1983, a club that remains active to this day with upwards of 100 members. Fly-fishing also gave Rod the best excuse to make regular visits to Montana and his brother Jeff’s family, first in Butte, then in Absarokee. Added to fly-fishing came encouraging and pursuing Darin’s passion for bass fishing. The family developed, produced and marketed a bass lure called the T ‘n T, and Darin won tournaments and became a teenaged bass fishing star with his dad’s guidance.

A move to Portland, Oregon in 2000 brought the end of Rod and Lori’s marriage, and seven years as a residential landscape supervisor with Dennis’ Seven Dees, a large family-owned full-service landscape and nurseries business serving the greater Portland and Vancouver, Washington areas. It also brought a revival of Rod’s interest in music, both teaching and performing. He taught some Spanish language pesticide classes at a local college, as well as participating in master gardener programs, and teaching hobby gardening.

In 2006 Rod married (Mary) Christine Rowland, and became stepfather to Christian, Brian and Ian Rowland. Rod and Christine joked that their meeting on eHarmony was kind of a modern-day version of his Tochihara grandparents’ experience, as his grandma was a picture bride nearly 100 years earlier. They enjoyed their local Hillsboro Farmer’s Market, sushi at a local Izakaya, creating a garden after crazy buying forays at the many local plant sales and frequent foodie trips to as many new restaurants as they could find, as well as camping and fishing trips when they could manage to get out of town. Increasing changes from agriculture to hi-tech land use in Hillsboro where they lived prompted their move to Big Timber two years later. They had both dreamed of living in Montana long before they met, had visited Big Timber on their honeymoon, and decided Christine’s family roots there, and Rod’s brother in Billings were good enough reasons to give it a chance. Rod was grateful he and his dad had been here long enough to spend quality time with his brother Jeff before his untimely death in 2011, followed by his dad’s death two years later. Rod’s only nephew, Joe Tochihara, passed away in 2015. They had lost sister Ellie to Type I diabetes complications in 2005, and Rod’s mom, Millie, in 1983.

He was a hard and dedicated worker. In Big Timber, Rod created another landscaping business, specializing in irrigation installations and repairs, and pruning of ornamentals, which was a specialty of his. During the winter months, he worked for Big Timber Grade School as a custodian, and often worked with children who needed some assistance and encouragement in learning anything from reading to work skills. Whenever he had the opportunity, Rod actively encouraged everyone he knew to follow their aspirations and dreams.

He loved being outdoors on a quiet stream casting a line — that was his meditation; the fish were really only incidental! He loved his Japanese American culture, and the Mexican American language and culture of many of his crew members. He loved a good meal, especially Japanese, Chinese, Mexican and Italian, and of course the perfect steak or cut of prime rib, and he and Christine made many trips to Columbus just for some Chinese food, or Livingston just to get Mexican.

Music was such a huge part of Rod’s life, it’s hard to believe a clarinet teacher told his parents after a few lessons at age 10 that he had no musical ability and that they shouldn’t waste their money. He listened, he played for pleasure, and he played to share with others, audience as well as fellow musicians. Self-taught, he had a wonderful ear and sense of rhythm, and always challenged himself to try harder and harder pieces. He loved the best of most genres, but probably jazz, show tunes, and soft rock and easy listening from the 50s through the 70s were his favorites. Sprinkle in a little classical, big band, and mariachi, and you have the wide range of his musical world.

Spiritually, Rod was first and always Buddhist, doing his best to follow the Middle Way of Jodo Shinshu (or Pure Land) Mahayana Buddhism of his birth and early childhood. When he wished to join Big Timber’s First Congregational Church, he did so only with the understanding that he would not renounce his Buddhism. The best of Christianity, family values and loving, not judging, your neighbor, had always been part of his spiritual life, and then the twelve steps of Al-Anon also found their way into the mix, and the whole of it was something Rod just lived from the very center of his being. Daily, he set out to be the best man he could be for his family and his community, and for the natural world, and felt that honored Buddha and Christ sufficiently.

Rod’s greatest love was for his family, and he did everything possible to help them all whenever he could, without question. He was very proud of them all, and loved them all, without conditions and with no reservation. Rod is survived by his wife Christine; his six children: Darin Tochihara, Brian (Jenny Ling), Christian (Beth Huth), and Ian Rowland, Jerry Logan and Angie Terraza; grandchildren Landon, Keira, Jesse, Peyton and Micah Tochihara; Tatum Griffin; Michael, Gabriel, Daniel, and Ariel Cox; Aunts Grace Tochihara and Katherine Doi; nieces Ariel, Elizabeth and Cassandra Spencer; and many cousins.

A memorial service for Rod will be held at 3 p.m., Saturday, May 18 at Big Timber Grade School gymnasium, followed by a reception at First Congregational Church. Rev. Dr. Timothy Shirley will officiate. Cremation has taken place; arrangements are being handled by Stenberg Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be given to Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, Memory and Justice Endowment, 1539 Road 19, Powell, WY 82435.