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Wilbur (Will) Souza, founder of Babé Farms in Santa Maria, CA, died at Marian Medical Center in Santa Maria Jan. 21 following a long illness. He was 89. Mr. Souza was born June 23, 1921 in Santa Maria to Manuel Souza and Minnie Souza, née Freitas. He was raised on the Souza family farm in the Santa Maria Valley and attended local schools. Upon graduation from high school, he attended Cal Poly College in San Dimas, CA. In 1941, he joined the U.S. Navy and served as a naval aviator during World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. He received several presidential citations for valor while fighting in the Pacific.

After the war, Mr. Souza returned to Santa Maria to raise a family with his wife Marilyn (Lyn), whom he had married in 1943, and to work on the Souza family farm. With his partner, Loris Boster, he continued to farm in traditional produce commodities, including broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, celery and other vegetables.

In their leisure time, Will and Lyn Souza were avid world travelers. While in Europe in the early 1980s Mr. Souza noticed the popularity of delicate salad greens called mesclun and mini, so-called "baby-size," vegetables. An innovator by nature, he returned to the farm to capitalize on the idea of growing the European lettuce varieties and mini "baby" vegetables.

In 1986, Mr. Souza and his founding partners, Frank and Judy Lundberg and Greg and Cherrie Pedigo, established Babé Farms, which they characterized as a small innovative company breaking the mold of traditional farming. Babé Farms was one of the first to introduce packaged European salad mixes, mesclun, hand-selected specialty greens and a colorful array of baby vegetables to the United States.

Over the years Mr. Souza was recognized for his achievements as a prominent pioneer farmer. In 2000 he received Santa Barbara County's Farmer of the Year award. In addition to his outstanding work as a grower, he was a proud and devoted family man.

Mr. Souza is survived by his wife Lyn; his sister DeEtta Boster; daughters, Carol Ciavarelli and her husband Anthony of Lake Oswego, OR, and Lauren Souza of Boston; and three grandchildren, Alanna Herrick Hughes, Brendan Will Souza Hughes and Gina Chandler and her husband Greg; and two great- grandchildren, Katie Chandler and Jenny Chandler. In addition to the immediate Souza family, Mr. Souza is survived by a number of members of the Boster and Pedigo families.

A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Jan. 26 at St. Louis de Montfort Church in Santa Maria. Burial was private.

Memorial contributions may be made to Marian Medical Center Foundation at 1400 East Church St., Santa Maria, CA, or to the charity of the giver's choice.