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1935 - 2019

Ben Abatti, 84, of Holtville, California, passed away peacefully at home on Friday, November 8, 2019, with his wife, Loretta and family, by his side. Ben was born on January 4, 1935, to Italian immigrants, Antonia Scalvini and Battista Abatti. Ben was devoted to his Catholic faith, his family and his community. He spent most of his childhood working on the family's small dairy in Heber. He attended Heber Elementary School and graduated from Central Union High School in 1953 where he was involved with FFA and was a member of the wrestling team. After graduating from high school, Ben joined the Army National Guard where he served as a Sergeant and as Tank Commander. He continued to serve until he was honorably discharged in 1961. Ben loved agriculture and he began working on farms for Jack Vessey, John Jackson and Matt LaBrucherie when he was a teenager. In addition to learning more about farming from these men, Ben had the opportunity to be mentored by Earl Nielson. In 1956, he formed Ben and Tony Abatti Farms with his brother. Through hard work and perseverance, they developed a diversification of commodities including cantaloupe, mixed melons, onions, honeydew, and asparagus. Ben enjoyed every part of the growing process and often remarked that the melons "looked like diamonds." In 1967, Ben and Tony formed Abatti Produce, Inc., at one point farming over 24,000 acres and employing 7,000 people. He was an advocate and key spokesperson for the Imperial Valley agriculture industry and represented farmers and ranchers at the state level in meetings with Governor Brown and Governor Wilson. Ben was a founding member of the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association, served as Treasurer of the Imperial Valley Sugar Beet Growers Association and served on the Board of Western Growers Association. He believed in doing what was right and felt it was important to stand by your principles. In 2016, he was selected as Farmer of the Year by the Imperial County Farm Bureau and presented with the National Philanthropy Lifetime Achievement Award by the Imperial Valley Community Foundation. Although he never abandoned his old flip phone and was suspicious of the internet and email, he was a trailblazer in using technology in his actual farming operation. He was the first grower to plant trial seedless watermelons, the first to transition from packing cantaloupes in wooden crates to cartons and the first farmer in the Imperial Valley to use the 1-ton baler. While he loved farming, his faith and his family were the most important aspects of his life. In 1958, Ben fell in love with a beautiful Swiss girl, Margaret Loretta Studer and they were married on January 23, 1960 at St. Mary's Church in El Centro. Over their 59 years of marriage, they welcomed 5 children and 14 grandchildren. Ben considered his family to be his greatest accomplishment and he took great pride in the fact that his children and grandchildren shared his love of agriculture. All five of his children have continued the Abatti farming tradition in Imperial Valley. Nothing brought him more joy than spending time with his grandchildren. He was an enthusiastic fan at their sporting events, an excited spectator at their performances and a wise mentor when they sought his advice. Ben was an avid hunter and enjoyed going hunting with his children and grandchildren. Ben was a loyal friend who was always willing to help others. He believed it was important to be involved in the community. He was an active member of St. Mary's Catholic Church where he served as one of the first Eucharistic Ministers in Imperial Valley. He was instrumental in the planning and construction of the new St. Mary's Church and supported other Catholic churches throughout Imperial Valley. In addition to his church involvement, Ben contributed to countywide youth programs including 4-H, FFA, high school and youth sports. He organized the first 4-H BBQ in Imperial Valley in 1976 and began a tradition of helping a wide variety of organizations raise funds by serving his famous deep pit BBQ. His support of 4-H and FFA members at the Junior Livestock Auction has provided a means for students to pursue their own educational opportunities. Ben will be deeply missed by the many people he touched throughout his life including his friends, workers, farming colleagues and especially his family. He was preceded in death by his parents, his brothers, Joe, Alex and Tony Abatti and his brothers in law Albert and Fred Studer. He is survived by his wife, his children Ben (Judy), Michael (Kerri), Jimmy (Deborah), Jennifer (Todd Mitosinka), Anna (Joseph Dhalliwal) and his grandchildren, Sarah Jane, Ben, Jordan, Braden, Cameron, Madison, Michaela, Matthew, Mary, and Audrey Rose Abatti; Loren and Ava Dhalliwal, Annika and Maija Mitosinka; his sisters Margaret Studer and Agnes Poloni (Louis) and numerous nieces and nephews. Services will be held on November 29, 2019 at St. Mary's Catholic Church in El Centro beginning with Rosary at 10 am followed by Mass at 10:30 am. Lunch will be served during a Celebration of Life in the St. Mary's Parish Hall after Mass. The Ben and Loretta Abatti Scholarship Fund has been established through the Imperial Valley Community Foundation. Donations can be made at ivcommunityfoundation.org or mailed to Imperial Valley Community Foundation, PO Box 2739, El Centro, CA 92244. Donations may also be made in Ben Abatti's name to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association, Greater San Diego Chapter at www.ALSASD.org.
Published in Imperial Valley Press Online from Nov. 19 to Nov. 25, 2019
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