Frank C. Hirahara
Frank C. Hirahara’s Legacy is
Opening the Door for Others
to Tell Their Stories
When Frank C. Hirahara passed away in 2006, he could not have imagined that his family’s history would allow historians and museums to create photographic collections and exhibits across the U.S. that would tell the tale of the Japanese immigration into the United States, their history in America, and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII.
In 1909, Motokichi Hirahara made a decision that would change the destiny of the Hirahara family. Frank’s grandfather took the courageous step to leave his family in Japan to come to a foreign land, and ultimately raise three generations of the Hirahara family in the United States. After making preparations for his wife Sato and five-year-old son George, he brought his family to the Yakima Valley in the State of Washington. Speaking little English and doing what they could to survive, the Hirahara Family became pioneers of this region as farmers and a hotel proprietor. They began to collect items and documents, as well as take photographs that would be invaluable years after their deaths.
A graduate of Washington State University in Pullman Washington, Frank C. Hirahara lettered in track as a Freshman in 1945. He was a student elected member of the WSU Athletic Council from 1946 to 1947, Junior Manager of the Track Team, and graduated with a BS Degree in Electrical Engineering in 1948. After graduation, he was hired by the Dept of Interior’s Bonneville Power Administration in Portland Oregon, where he spent 6 years as a Design and Project Engineer working on substations located in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
Frank C. Hirahara moved his family to Anaheim in 1955, and they began their life in this community volunteering with local charities and raising their only child, Patti. Frank was hired by North American Aviation in Downey in 1954, to work on the Navaho Missile Program as an Electrical Design Engineer. He was next assigned to the Hound Dog Missile Program as a Systems Design Integration Engineer, and then transferred to the Apollo Space Program as Supervisor of the Systems Engineering and Test Integration Unit. After the Apollo Program was completed, Frank moved to the Space Shuttle Program as a System Research Specialist and was responsible for the Integration Testing of the Space Shuttle Vehicle. Next was a special assignment as Integration Specialist and Assistant Project Engineer on the Skylab Project, assisting NASA in Houston on integrating the SIRA Radar Project, then to the Phase A Space Station Proposal Group as Integration System Specialist. Frank was finally assigned to the Star Wars Project, where he was responsible for all ground operations until his retirement in 1988.
He developed many friendships during his career, particularly special were those with astronauts Ellison Onizuka and Sally Ride. His accomplishments are illustrated through the many commendations and awards he received from NASA and his employers, North American Aviation, North American Rockwell, and Rockwell International.
After retirement, Frank worked for GST, Inc. as Vice President for computer store development and celebrated his 50th Wedding Anniversary in December of 2003. He loved to play golf on Anaheim’s courses, and was always on his computer emailing friends and surfing the net. His commitment to service in this community is shown by the many activities he was involved in after his retirement. But many who knew Frank C. Hirahara throughout his life were not aware of the things he did during his early years that are now a part of history.
When Frank was incarcerated at a Japanese relocation camp in Heart Mountain Wyoming during WWII, he played trumpet in the famous Heart Mountain George Igawa Dance Band and was Spring ASB Commissioner of General Activities, as well as photo editor of the Heart Mountain High School Tempo annual during his senior year in 1944. He and his father, George Hirahara, took and processed over 2,000 photographs in Heart Mountain and these photos are considered to be the largest private collection of photos taken there from 1943 to 1945.
Photography was Frank C. Hirahara’s passion and he was a member of the Photographic Society of America, the Oregon Camera Club, and the Portland Photographic Society, and continued his craft here in Southern California. He would always have his camera by his side and he started Hirahara Photography when his daughter Patti took up the craft. This devotion to community continues with donations of many of the family’s documents, artifacts, and photos to create five Hirahara Family Collections: at the Anaheim Public Library Heritage Center, Washington State University in Pullman Washington, the Yakima Valley Museum in Yakima Washington, the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, and the Oregon Historical Society, both in Portland Oregon, as well as having his work featured in DENSHO's digital photo collection..
Beginning with the Hirahara Family’s 2009 Anaheim exhibit, “Four Generations and 100 Years in America”, Frank C. Hirahara is being remembered as a pioneer, not only here in Anaheim, but in the Pacific Northwest, and across the U.S. His foresight is now allowing other Japanese American families to tell their stories through his photographs, and for some, allowing them to discover a piece of history that they never knew existed.