Empathy and gratitude define Hiratas’ legacy at Pacific
Henry and Alice Hirata can relate to today’s students. Though they completed their own degrees nearly six decades ago, the couple remembers what it was like to work hard and have limited means.
“It’s not easy to go to college. You need money, you need support. We have that background of need, and so we understand some of the challenges students go through,” Henry Hirata said.
Today, their empathy motivates the Hiratas to give back generously to University of the Pacific. The couple have endowed two scholarships, supported several building projects and have been athletic boosters for more than 40 years.
Henry Hirata is a 1964 graduate of the School of Engineering and Computer Science who grew up in Linden, northeast of Stockton. As the oldest child and only son of a Japanese farming family, tradition dictated he would one day assume the family business.
Following a tour of duty in the Army, however, he recognized that the farming industry was changing, and he needed to keep up. He enrolled in Stockton Junior College (now San Joaquin Delta College) where, faced with a lack of farming-related courses, he was drawn to engineering. He later transferred to Pacific, where faculty welcomed him with open arms.
“Here was a farm boy trying to be an engineer, and that made no difference to them. They made me feel wanted,” he said.
Henry met Alice, a nursing student at Sacramento State University, at a church dance. She also came from a farming family, and the couple bonded around that shared experience. Years later, they still remember date nights on a college student’s budget: drive-in movies with 19-cent hamburgers and cheap seats at Tiger football games. The couple married in 1962 and had two daughters and two grandchildren. Their grandson is currently studying biochemistry at Pacific.
“The university made it so easy and welcoming for me here...It’s very high on my heart, Pacific.” - Henry Hirata
Henry went on to enjoy a successful career as an engineer, working his way up to director of public works in San Joaquin County, a position he held for 18 years.
In 1996, the Pacific Alumni Association recognized him with its Distinguished Public Service Award; in 2000, he received the engineering school’s Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award.
Camilla Saviz, professor and chair of civil engineering at Pacific, illustrates concepts in her classes using design specifications bearing Henry Hirata’s signature as director of public works. People like him, she says, are a living example of the difference alumni can make in their fields and on the public good.
“When students encounter people like Henry, they see where their career path could take them,” Saviz said. “Becoming aware of alumni as people and seeing their names in different contexts can help students identify career paths they wouldn’t have imagined possible.”
Henry Hirata has served on the Engineering Dean’s Council and the Pacific Athletic Foundation board of directors since 1982. No longer limited to the cheap seats, the Hiratas are season ticket holders for men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball.
Balancing a sense of responsibility to the School of Engineering and Computer Science with a love for athletics, the Hiratas established two scholarships for student-athletes majoring in engineering.
“We like to support scholarships, especially with the caliber of Pacific students. They’re top notch, and they’re so nice,” Alice Hirata said.
These top-notch students include basketball player Josephine Millard '24, a civil engineering student from France. Millard receives the Lori Hirata Memorial Athletic Scholarship, named for the Hiratas’ late daughter.
“I was really honored to receive the Hirata Scholarship, especially because Henry used to be a civil engineer here in Stockton, and I’ve seen his signature on things we’ve studied in class. He’s one of our boosters. He’s one of my mentors, I would even say,” Millard said.
She continued, “Without a scholarship, I would not even be here at Pacific. It changes everything—to be able to get an amazing degree, to play the sport I love, in one of the best environments in California. It’s a privilege, and I’m very grateful.”
The Hiratas have also made significant gifts to the John T. Chambers Technology Center (which houses the School of Engineering and Computer Science), the Fletcher Jones Foundation Makerspace, and the forthcoming Student-Athlete Center, along with numerous other sports programs and scholarship funds.
Alice Hirata emphasizes how much the couple’s involvement at Pacific has impacted them in return. “It’s give and take,” she said.
Henry Hirata agrees. “The university made it so easy and welcoming for me here. And we like the way that students are treated today, taught to become both good athletes and good citizens. It’s very high on my heart, Pacific.”