Manabi Hirasaki, Farmer and Philanthropist, Dies at 89

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Manabi Hirasaki (right) with Bruce Kaji, founding president of JANM, and Akemi Kikumura Yano, former JANM president and CEO.

The life and legacy of JANM Trustee Emeritus Manabi Hirasaki will be celebrated at a special public program on Saturday, Sept. 8, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum, 369 E. First St. (at Central) in Little Tokyo.

Hirasaki died peacefully on July 26 at his home in Camarillo at the age of 89. He is survived by his wife Sumi; children Mark and Marcia (Steve Messinger); siblings Hisashi (Jean) Hirasaki, Mineko (Lawson) Sakai, and Aiko Nakamura; and many extended family members. Siblings who have passed away are Michiko Sakamoto, Fumiko Maruko, Shinobu Hirasaki and Midori Oki.

A private family service was held on Aug. 3.

Manabi Hirasaki (right) with Yosh Uchida, San Jose Japantown community leader and chairman emeritus of JANM, at the museum's annual gala earlier this year. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

Owner of Manabi Farms Inc., in Oxnard, Hirasaki was a strawberry farmer who became the first non-family member to serve as a director of the prestigious Driscoll Strawberry Association. His cultivation of long-stem strawberries, known for their size and taste, was promoted when they were served to President Ronald Reagan and became highly sought after.

Born in San Jose in 1923 to Japanese immigrants Kiyoshi and Haruye Hirasaki, he grew up on the family farm in Gilroy. While he was a student at UC Davis, the U.S. entered World War II. After his father was picked up by the FBI, Hirasaki worked with his father’s business associates to relocate the family to Grand Junction, Colo. and to continue farming.

Upon his father’s release in 1943, Hirasaki volunteered to join the Army. A member of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, attached to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Hirasaki handled telephone wire for communications. The 522nd supported the 442nd through most of its campaigns, including the famed rescue of the “Lost Battalion” in France. Detached from the 442nd in 1945, members of 522nd were among the first to discover the horror of Dachau and its sub-camps.

Hirasaki, a generous friend of many local and regional organizations, began helping with the formation of JANM in the early 1980s and continued to be a longtime supporter. He was the founding member of the museum’s Legacy Society. In 1999, the Manabi and Sumi Hirasaki National Resource Center was established to ensure that the Japanese American story remains accessible to all.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that gifts be made to the museum or to the Go For Broke National Education Center. Contact JANM at (213) 625-0414 for further information.

Manabi Hirasaki, a veteran of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, receives a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal from Maj. Keith Horikawa at the Go For Broke National Education Center’s Evening of Aloha last November. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

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  1. Manabi is survived by sister Mineko (Lawson) Sakai and sister Aiko (Lawrence-Deceased) Nakamura, as well as brother correctly listed as Hisashi (Jean) Hirasaki.

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