Robert Bongiorno, A Good Friend of Mine

Kaz Takeda just let me know that Bob Bongiorno has died.

I love what Kaz wrote about Bob because this is EXACTLY the Bob Bongiorno that I knew. Please read what Kaz wrote, and my note at the end, if you knew Bob.

“Robert Bongiorno, whom I called Bob, my fellow koi-lover and a friend of over 30 years, has recently passed away. My deepest sympathy goes out to the family and friends. As many of you share the sentiment, I am very saddened to hear of his passing. Our history is long and heart-warming.

Not a fabulous picture.

When I first met Bob, I was selling koi along with another Japanese koi breeder Mr. Nagata in a store in Maryland. I have also worked in Bob’s store selling koi. Bob had an unusually large size koi collection, in those days, which was 60 cm. Inside a large green house, Bob had a lot of US bread koi swimming in his pond. One day, after work, he took us (Mr. Nagata and I) to an amazing Italian restaurant. He was very serious about his koi business and was asking a lot of questions to Mr. Nagata, as I interpreted for them. Bob was so interested in learning about koi from Mr. Nagata, he didn’t even notice that the food had been served to the table. At one point, after about an hour and the food was cold, I had to ask if we could stop the conversation so we can eat the delicious dinner that’s been sitting there cold. Bob’s dedication and passion for koi was second to none, and it not only impressed people like Mr. Nagata, but it was well known through the koi breeders in Japan.

Bob was very serious about koi business and hosted koi shows in his store and also in Long Island, as he invited well-known koi judges from Japan. I have accompanied Bob to Niigata 4 times through the years. He is a very serious and disciplined businessman. His schedule usually looked as follows:
1st day: Visit all the koi breeders in Niigata. He would take detailed memos from each breeder.
2nd day: Bob goes back to the breeder he liked and ask them to pick 20 of their favorite within the category of 2 years old 8”-10” koi. He would ask the breeder questions about each koi, including the price.
3rd day: Bob would go back and look at each one again and about the price of each koi and he choses only 3, but doesn’t make a purchase. When I asked him at night why he never purchased any, Bob stated that breeder wants to sell high and he would obviously purchase if the price were low, so he is hesitating.
4th day: He would finally negotiate and finally purchased 13 out of 20.
In my experience, there are people who would purchase just because they are 50% off, however, the way Bob purchased was a very reasonable and smart way to purchase the best koi at a reasonable price for both the buyer and the seller.

Initially, 20+ years ago, the only flight to east coast was via Korea and Korean Air went to New York direct. The arrival time was after midnight and due to scarcity in employees working, the earliest Bob was able to pick up koi was 4AM. With tax and over time for the brokers to work, the price of koi became very expensive. After the initial experience, we decided to ship koi through LA. That way, in LA, I can change the oxygen for each koi, and ship to New York with no problem and arrive at a decent time, where he was able to pick up the koi immediately upon arrival.

The third time that he had shipped koi from Japan through LA, I was out of town and asked a broker I’ve know for years to assist with the transfer. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed and was shipped directly onto the New York bound flight without replacing the oxygen. 20 boxes of the 45 boxes shipped had koi dead on arrival. This was a major loss of money. I was responsible. I called Bob to apologize. His words made tremendous impact in my life and taught me a lesson regarding not only the tremendous confidence that he placed upon me but also his grace and mercy. He stated to me, “In business, especially dealing with live stocks, there are risks that can not be helped at times. From now on Kaz, all I ask is that you must be there to take care of the shipment and no one else.” Nothing more was said regarding this incident and we remained great business partners as well as friends.

He was a life-time student in everything that he did. He started his business as a young man and through over 50 years of his life, he built a solid business starting with landscaping, building ponds, koi, and bonsai. I’ve seen his work, creating a beautiful landscape and ponds, with clear water, as he developed his own filtering system, over 30 years ago, before the UV lighting was used.

I consider Bob as my life-saver. In October 2000, I encountered an unfortunate situation where I lost 3800 koi which were all contaminated with KHV infection. At the end of 2000, I had a plan to retire and transfer the ownership Takeda’s Koi Dojo to another aspired koi-lover. However, the deal failed through after the loss of all those koi.

I was devastated. I didn’t know how I was even going to come close recovering the loss. My long time friends and well-established koi breeders from Niigata, Mr. Atsushi Suda and Mr. Kazuto Ikarashi, sent me 100 8” koi to help me recoup some of the loss I encountered. I was so touched and I appreciated their kindness to help me and my situation. Unfortunately, no one would buy from me after the incident. However, Bob, purchased all 100 koi for $2000 from me. That $2000 felt like $2,000,000 to me and I will never forget his kind heart he showed me.

Bob was a very keen businessman, however, had a heart of gold and would help anyone in need. We lost an amazing human being from this world.

Bob, I can’t thank you enough for the years of business we conducted with one another which turned into a wonderful friendship that I cherish forever. I pray for peaceful rest forever.

I love and miss you, Bob.”

From Doc Johnson:
“Bob was actually a very good friend to me and my family, having been to my home on a couple of occasions and hosting me in Long Island numerous, numerous times. He knew me in my drinking days, he knew me for years while I was sober. He put up with me when I was hung over, he dealt with me when I was irritable. Always, we were scheming about business. We had running jokes, about “Uncle Leo” and his trusty violin case. So many memories. What a great guy. Kelly and I are really upset. My prayers go out to Lorraine and Michael and Frank. Thank you Bob wherever you are, for all the Italian slang you taught me, most of what I know about New York diners, abrupt wait staff, all the Italian cursewords, the fish you gave me, the advice we traded with each other, and the business sense you gave to me including “left pocket“. I am so sad. Just so upset. Vicki told me a month or two ago that he was having some health issues, I guess I didn’t see it as his impending End. Now I am left wishing I had gone up to see him. Why didn’t that asshole let me know that he was checking out. I don’t want any of my other friends to do that, please.”

Dr Erik Johnson is a Marietta, Georgia Veterinarian with a practice in small animal medicine. He graduated from University of Georgia with his Doctorate in 1991. Dr Johnson is the author of several texts on Koi and Pond Fish Health and Disease as well as numerous articles on dog and cat health topics.