Two Generations of Hirahara Family Honored at Washington State Pioneer Power Show

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Patti Hirahara served as grand marshal of the Washington State Pioneer Power Show. She is pictured with Tammy Ayer, features/reader engagement editor of the Yakima Herald Republic, with whom she worked on a year-long series about the Yakima Japanese pioneers.

UNION GAP, Wash. — This year’s Pioneer Power Show & Swap Meet offered something different to attract old and young to this major event, which is held each August in Central Washington.

According to one of the main coordinators, Kent Blomgren, it had a nice combination of new and traditional ties to local history.

“We were thrilled that Patti Hirahara of Anaheim, Calif., and a fourth-generation descendant of the Hirahara family, was the 37th grand marshal of the Washington State Pioneer Power Show. Having her available throughout the weekend to answer questions about the Japanese pioneers in this area gave us a personal history lesson that many never knew,” Blomgren said.

Hirahara is perhaps best known for donating to Washington State University more than 2,000 photos that were taken by her father and grandfather while they were imprisoned at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming during World War II, along with more than 1,000 Yakima Valley residents of Japanese ancestry.

She is the granddaughter of George Hirahara, who played a large part in the continued development of the agricultural museum here. He had a passion for single-cylinder engines, also known as “hit-and-miss” engines, and began collecting them and sharing his interest. George was a member of the group that started setting up the popular Agricultural Museum exhibit at the Central Washington State Fair with several hit-and-miss engines always on display.

Blacksmith demonstration by Lowell Romfo at the Pioneer Power Show.

He donated several of these engines to the Central Washington Agricultural Museum, which is the largest agricultural museum in the Pacific Northwest. He also worked with a friend and donated a 1950s farm truck that has been restored and is in operating condition. All were featured at this year’s show and the volunteers recently got his Fairbanks Morse “big boy” engine running, a 25-horse single-cylinder engine that created perfect white smoke rings in the air as it ran.

The Hirahara family came to the Yakima Valley in 1910 and contributed to the local community as farmers. They also were the owners of the Pacific Hotel on South First Street in Yakima, which closed in 1942 due to the incarceration of Japanese Americans.

“I was honored to be named grand marshal of this year’s Pioneer Power Show,” said Hirahara. “To me, the Yakima Valley has become my second home since two generations of my family are buried at Tahoma Cemetery and my family’s American roots began in this valley. In bringing attention to this area of the country, it has been a wonderful opportunity to share the history of Central Washington and to be able to promote the Pioneer Power Show to future generations.”

Bill Mclaughlin giving demonstrations on an early 1930s vintage sawmill.

After World War II ended, the Hirahara family returned to Yakima in 1945 at the urging of local residents and remained here until 1992. Upon retirement, George Hirahara became active in establishing the Central Washington Antique Farm Equipment Club as a charter member and was the 49th member of the national Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association. In 1988, he was named a Pioneer of the Central Washington State Fair.

Upon his death in 2000 and his son Frank’s death in 2006, Patti Hirahara was left with the responsibility to place family artifacts in Hirahara family collections at the Yakima Valley Museum, Washington State University, the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center and the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, and the City of Anaheim, as well as being active in promoting the legacy of the Japanese pioneers of the Yakima Valley to a national audience.

Last year, she worked with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History to put two Hirahara family artifacts on display as well as being a featured speaker at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y., in October.

Hirahara worked with the Yakima Valley Museum in 2009 to initiate its current award-winning exhibit “Land of Joy and Sorrow: The Japanese Pioneers of the Yakima Valley,” and was a guest speaker at the museum’s first Day of Remembrance event in February 2018.

“With many Yakima Valley alumni, in the agricultural field, graduating from Washington State University, it is also an honor to be named an Honorary Alumna from the Washington State University Alumni Association,” Hirahara said.

“The Central Washington Ag Museum keeps ag history alive,” said Paul Strater, museum administrator. “We have over 148 tractors and innumerable other farming implements. These historic items, many of them restored and on parade at the annual Pioneer Power Show, give an idea of how farming was done in the past. The presence of Patti Hirahara added the most important factor of agricultural history — the people.

“We need to preserve and share the history of all the agricultural pioneers in Central Washington. Her family is an important part of that history, and we thank her for sharing their stories with everyone.”

Rod Hodel plowing with his pair of Percheron draft horses, Bud and Bill. Several demonstrations were given by working horses during the Pioneer Power Show in addition to plowing, including operating an antique hay press and corn grinder.

Photos by JEANENE SUTTON

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