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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : features : people, places & past April 29, 2016

9/3/2013 2:35:00 PM
A Finishing Touch: Army veteran landscapes through his 80s
Shig and Daveen Saimo at the entrance to Verde Santa Fe, where Shig landscapes the common areas.
Shig and Daveen Saimo at the entrance to Verde Santa Fe, where Shig landscapes the common areas.
Shig and Daveen Saimo with the children who lived at the Mexican orphanage.
Shig and Daveen Saimo with the children who lived at the Mexican orphanage.

Yvonne Gonzalez
Staff Reporter

At 86 years old, Shig Saimo straps weed killer to his ATV and sprays the common grounds of Verde Santa Fe in Cornville.

He and his wife Daveen have been married for more than 30 years. They seem to disagree on when he'll retire from landscaping, but agree that of the many places they've lived, they are lucky to have found their quiet home at the end of a dirt road overlooking Mingus Mountain.

Shig has owned his own business since the '80s, and Finishing Touch Landscape in Cornville keeps him and his son working outdoors.

"He likes to be outside," Daveen said.

The house is surrounded by green, with a garden that hosts squash, tomatoes, green beans, watermelon and cantaloupes, to name a few. 

Shig's parents moved to the United States from Japan in the early 1900s, and he was born in Livingston, Mont., in the late '20s. He worked with his dad on the railroad in his teens.

When the war broke out, Shig's father and the other Japanese employees were kicked out of the railroad workers' union. They ended up shoveling coal, which Daveen said was the most menial and laborious job on the railroad.

 "Since I was born in Montana, I was not sent to a relocation camp, which was on the West Coast," Shig said. 

Out of seven siblings, Shig and his three brothers joined the Army as soon as they were eligible. Shig wanted to join at 17, but background checks took about a year, he said. 

"We were at war with Japan and I'm Japanese ancestry," he said. "We joined the army to prove our loyalty. For our right to live in this country."

By the time Shig was old enough to join and placed in basic training, the war had ended. He was sent to Ally-occupied Germany as a quartermaster and was released after about a year.

"There were so many GIs at the end of the war that we got out early," he said. 

From there, he moved to California and did organic farming and some carpentry. Daveen grew up in San Diego and was living in the coastal community of Carlsbad.

"I was running a little macrobiotic restaurant out of my home," Daveen said. "He knocked on my door and wanted to know if this was the restaurant. And I said yes, it was just my kitchen. And that's how I met him."

The couple moved to an Indian reservation to help with gardening, then to a ranch in Cave Junction, Ore., before taking off for Canada in a van. Shig landscaped and Daveen taught art for a time at an orphanage in Mexico.

"We were basically hippies then," Daveen said. "We lived all over until we finally settled down and bought this house."

Shig and Daveen moved from San Diego looking for a small-town atmosphere.

"We lived on the Dead Horse Ranch before it was sold," Daveen said. "We lived all over the Verde Valley."

Shig began working on what was then a new Tlaquepaque shopping center in Sedona, Daveen said. 

"Abe Miller was the owner and hired Shig in early '70s to do some of the landscaping and maintenance," she said. 

The new resorts and developments gave Shig an outlet for his landscaping business until 1997 when the couple moved to their home in Cornville.

Daveen has two children from a previous marriage, and they live in Cornville with her and Shig's son, two dogs named Jamie and Lucky, and a cat named Fred.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2013
Article comment by: Brian Carlson

Shig was a familiar face when I lived in Verde Santa Fe. He was doing work that a lot of 50 year olds could not do. He is one of the good guys that make the world a better place to live.

Posted: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Article comment by: gary chamberlain

Shig is a "Role Model" and the kind we need.

I have known Shig for several years and I consider him my friend.

Shig is a living example of integrity and has a work ethic that is difficult to find.

Gary Chamberlain
Cornville AZ-USA

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