By Scott Osborn ’94
2015 “O” in Life Award recipient Dennis Hirota ’58 arrived at Punahou in 1953. “I was just a hanabata kid from Mo‘ili‘ili parachuting into Tom Metcalf’s class in eighth grade,” he recalls.
Hirota quickly became known among his classmates as the class photographer. To this day he is avidly interested in the evolution of photographic equipment and maintains a collection of photographs from his years at Punahou.
His interest in journalism drove him to work on the 1958 edition of the Oahuan during his senior year. Notable for its bright yellow cover, Hirota is proud to say that “when you look at the bookshelf of Oahuans at the Alumni House, the Class of 1958 stands out among all of the other classes.”
It might seem that Hirota was destined to become a journalist but, thanks to Bill Greenwell ’30, he found a love for geometry and mathematics in the classroom.
“He made math interesting,” Hirota says of Greenwell’s teaching. After graduating from Punahou in 1958 he attended the University of Michigan and pursued a career in civil engineering.
Hirota enrolled in the Air Force ROTC and after earning a doctorate in civil and sanitary engineering, Hirota joined the U.S. Air Force. After working for a number of years at the USAF Weapons Laboratory in New Mexico, he returned home to the family’s engineering firm, Sam O. Hirota Inc., eventually becoming its president. The Hawai‘i Society of Professional Engineers named him “Engineer of the Year” in 2009.
Hirota has remained very close to Punahou over the years. He served as a member of the board of directors of the Punahou Alumni Association from 1972 – 1979, including a term as president. He is a lifetime director of the Punahou O-Men Club, has participated in his Reunion class gift committees, generously supports Punahou’s priorities and is a member of the President’s Council and Founders’ Circle.
A supporter and mentor to Punahou’s FIRST Robotics Team since 2008, Hirota recalls with a wry laugh, “I didn’t know what FIRST robotics was, but I came to learn that one of the requirements was that I had to get up and be at McKinley auditorium the first Saturday in January at five in the morning.”
Hirota has been very active in both the business and nonprofit communities as well. From 1980 – 2010, he was a member of the board of directors of Central Pacific Bank and, starting in 1985, its publically traded holding company. He was a trustee of Le Jardin Academy from 1977 – 2002. Hirota was appointed as a member of the University of Hawai‘i’s Board of Regents from 2008 – 2012, and was installed as vice chairman from 2009 – 2011. He has also served as a member of the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council since 2007.
Hirota’s two children, Maile ’86 and Dan ’88, both attended Punahou. His four grandchildren, three of whom are currently enrolled at Punahou, bring much joy to his life: Emily ’22; Kate ’25; Kathryn ’28; and Georgia (age 1).
Maile had the opportunity to introduce her father at the “O” in Life luncheon on May 21, 2015, where she elegantly summed up why Hirota was the perfect choice for this award – “the values he tried to instill in me as I was growing up are the same values that the ‘O’ in Life Award honors: service to Punahou and to the community at large.”