In Memoriam: Tatsuaki Nakato

September 14, 2016

Tatsuaki Nakato holds mussels in the Mississippi River

Tatsuaki Nakato was passionate about reintroducing endangered Higgins Eye mussels into the Mississippi. He is shown here near Cordova, Ill.

It is with great sorrow that we share the news of Tatsuaki Nakato’s death on Saturday, Sept. 3, surrounded by his family. He was 74 years old.

Tatsuaki, a native of Japan, came to the University of Iowa for PhD studies, which he completed in 1974. After his graduation, then-Director John F. Kennedy offered him a position as a postdoc and later as a research scientist at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering (then the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research); he was also an adjunct faculty member in the UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Tatsuaki stayed on at IIHR for more than three decades. He was a cherished member of the IIHR family, and will be fondly remembered by all who knew and worked with him.

Tatsuaki had found an ideal academic and personal home in Iowa. He enjoyed fieldwork and spent many happy hours taking sediment samples on the Mississippi River. At Tatsuaki’s suggestion, IIHR built a research station focused on inland rivers on the Mississippi River. Tatsuaki played an important leadership role in developing the research station and finding a site for it near Muscatine, Iowa. The research station, now known as LACMRERS (Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station), opened in May 2002.

It was the realization of a dream for Tatsuaki, who served as the first director of the research station. It was also the beginning of a new research focus for him: freshwater mussels. Nakato became fascinated by mussels, and participated in efforts to reintroduce endangered Higgins Eye mussels to the Mississippi River near LACMRERS. He also volunteered with successful mussel propagation projects on several Midwestern rivers.

In 2002, Tatsuaki was awarded the Iowa Board of Regents Staff Excellence Award for his vision and tireless work to make LACMRERS a reality, as well as his service to IIHR, the state of Iowa, the Midwest, and the international community.

After his retirement in 2008, Tatsuaki dedicated much of his time and energy to tornado-related volunteer work.  In 2008, Parkersburg, Iowa, was hit by an EF5 tornado on Memorial Day weekend. Tatsuaki volunteered countless hours helping the people of Parkersburg clean up and begin the rebuilding process. Later, he traveled to the Deep South, which was hard hit by several early-season tornadoes. He also completed many home improvement projects, translated a book on Hans Albert Einstein into Japanese, walked many miles with his dog Hurley, and traveled with his wife Sharon.

Although Tatsuaki regularly traveled to Japan to visit family and present academic papers, he called Iowa home. Tatsuaki said he was fond of the friendly and open-minded people here.

“Iowa has been really great for us,” he said. And he was great for Iowa — we will miss his ready smile, his dedication to his work, and his kind heart.

Tatsuaki is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their three children: Ken, Misa, and Kimi. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made at www.gofundme/ or in person at the Celebration of Tatsuaki’s life, scheduled for 10 am on Oct. 22, 2016 at the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS).

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