Richard Peter Aoki, fondly known as Sumo, died suddenly on Sept. 7, 2006, in Austin, Texas. He had just completed a lengthy bike ride in Zilker Park when he collapsed and was gone. In true Sumo-fashion, he was dressed in his orange Crocs, Austin City Limits Festival bandanna, Costa Rica T-shirt, shorts, and lady-bug pins clipped in his beard. He was 64 and resided in Austin, Texas, with his wife Margaret Becker Aoki. Sumo was a unique spirit who brought laughter and joy to his friends and family.
Richard was born in Murray, Utah, and graduated from South High School where he excelled at football, wrestling and track. He was on the Alta Ski Patrol in Utah and loved to ski, fish, run rivers, hike, rock climb and camp. He thrived in the outdoors. In his early years, he would cut Christmas trees for wholesale with his dad and three brothers, with whom he formed Aoki Brothers Landscape and Maintenance in Salt Lake City, and later, Aoki Brothers Construction Company in Alaska. He skied Park City when it had one rope tow.
Sumo had many trades in his lifetime, but he consistently turned to landscape design, art and cooking for true fulfillment, and he was the creator of whimsical organic sculptures. He worked in art galleries in Park City, and was also on the culinary staff for several restaurants, including Stein Eriksen’s Glitretind. He was a partner with his parents, Jim and Martha, in the Ayame (Iris) Restaurant in Sacramento, Calif. and owned Treebeard’s Forest – a specialty plant store. In Waxahachie, Texas, he designed much of the initial landscaping at the Scarborough Faire, and returned to add new gardens. He was affiliated with many aspects of the Faire for 26 years and met his wife, Margaret, there. They resided on Chalk Creek in Coalville, Utah for 20 years.
Richard served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War in the 101st Airborne (ABN) Division (alongside his brother Larry) and the 49th Special Forces Company in Thailand. He was honorably discharged in 1968. Like many of his generation, the war made a lasting impact on his views and served to shape his full embrace of life and nature. Sumo was a free spirit who brought zest and an exuberant joy to his family and friends. He was forever curious, full of wonder and brimming with creativity. He is greatly missed.
In addition to his wife, Sumo is survived by his mother, Martha Aoki (Gary Beard); children: Robin Marie Aoki, Megan Reiko Aoki and Richard Jason (Jennifer) Triptow; siblings: James T. (Rene) Aoki, Robert P. (Carmen) Aoki, Lawrence S. Aoki, Beverly K. Aoki (Jim Wheelwright), and Carole I. Aoki (Fred Schultz), and many nieces and nephews. His father, James T. Aoki, died in 1976.
A farewell celebration and memorial took place in Round Rock, Texas, on Sept. 13, 2006. At a later ceremony, the family will scatter Sumo’s ashes in his beloved high mountains. In lieu of flowers, the family is establishing a fund to benefit the Taniguchi Gardens in Zilker Park. For information regarding donations, contact Margaret Aoki (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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The Park City lodging industry in recent weeks experienced an uptick in projected occupancy numbers during the dates of the Sundance Film Festival, but the figures remain depressed from a typical year during the largest special event on the city’s calendar.