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A life of service: Remembering Paul Hirai

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | September 14, 2021 1:05 AM

MOSES LAKE — According to former Big Bend Community College President Terrence Leas, Paul Hirai epitomized the Rotary Club motto “Service above self.”

“Paul was such an important contributor to making the community better,” Leas said of Hirai, who died on Aug. 31 at the age of 92. “I can only aspire to do as well with my life.”

“We really lost a great one,” Leas added.

Born in Wapato in 1929, Hirai moved to Moses Lake in 1960 and farmed around 2,000 acres with his business partner Harry Masto, helping to host Japanese exchange students studying at Big Bend Community College’s Japanese Agricultural Training Program beginning in 1967 and serving on BBCC’s board of directors for 17 years beginning in 1982, the BBCC Foundation since then and with the local Rotary Club since 1972.

Hirai was also heavily involved in the Grant County Economic Development Council, the sister city program with Yonezawa, Japan, sat on board overseeing the Washington Potato Growers Association for six years, and was one of the first inductees into the Moses Lake Chamber of Commerce’s Ag Hall of Fame.

“Moses Lake has been exceptionally good to me, my wife and my family,” Hirai said in a January 2020 statement in which he was awarded the status of emeritus faculty at BBCC. “I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you.”

BBCC dedicated the college’s Fine Arts Building in Hirai’s honor in 2013, which Leas said shows just how important Hirai’s contribution to the community and the region was.

“He only talked about what great opportunities the United States and Moses Lake had given him and his family,” Leas said. “That speaks to the decency of the guy.”

According to John Townsend, a longtime friend, Hirai would help “almost anyone who needed help.”

Townsend said Hirai also worked hard at whatever he did, whether it was on the farm growing potatoes and onions, or for BBCC. Townsend related a story about a Grant County Sheriff’s Office deputy who came across Hirai walking through a field one night to make sure his irrigation equipment was working properly.

“That’s what it took to get it to work and to be sure it worked,” he said. “He was a very nice man, and I’m going to miss him.”

“I’ve known him since I was a child, and I knew he was an amazing man,” said Moses Lake City Council Member Karen Liebrecht. “He was humble, dedicated, never sought attention to himself, and he served diligently.”

As an example, Liebrecht said during one of her stints as mayor, Hirai rejected a proposal of the city council honoring him with a proclamation. However, he wore with pride a lapel pin he received in recognition from the Emperor of Japan.

“He was revered in Japan as well,” Liebrecht said.

“I can say without hesitation that Paul was always willing to go the extra measure to make sure things were done well,” wrote former Moses Lake City Council Member Jon Lane in a statement emailed to the Columbia Basin Herald. “Whether it was his farming practice or his involvement in raising money for Big Bend (Community) College, he left no stone unturned to accomplish and exceed his goals.”

Lane added Hirai may have been small physically, but “he was a towering example of citizenship and his commitment to family and community.”

Hirai is survived by his wife of more than 65 years Ginny and their three children Patty Laughery, Nancy Hirai and Susan Hirai, as well as five grandchildren Aila, Keira, Ella, Nyomi and Julian.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to the Paul Hirai Family Scholarship Fund at Big Bend Community College Foundation, 7662 Chanute St. NE, Moses Lake. A Celebration of Life ceremony will be at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, at the Paul Hirai Fine Arts Building at Big Bend Community College.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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Big Bend Community College/courtesy photo

Paul Hirai with Big Bend Community College Interim President Gene Schermer and Patricia Schrom at the opening of the Math and Science Building in 1994 or 1995.

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Big Bend Community College/courtesy photo

Paul and Ginny Hirai with family members at the dedication of the Big Bend Community College Fine Arts Building on April 1, 2013. Front Row are Anita Nakamura, Paul Hirai, Ginny Hirai and Joy Huckle. Middle row are Brian Hirai, Nancy Hirai, Susan Hirai, Patty Laughery, Phyllis Hirai, Denise Hirai, Stacie Hirai and Gail Stinnett. Back row are Michael Hirai, Ed Parsons, John Laughery, Mark Hirai and Ron Stinnett.