The family of Jesse Hiraoka sadly share the news of his passing at the age of 85. Jesse died on November 17 at Swedish Hospital, from complications of red blood cell aplasia, with his wife, his four children, and two of his grandchildren by his side. Jesse was born in Fowler, California, in 1927, the eighth child of Sakino and Tomojiro Matsuo Hiraoka who emigrated from Japan to California. A lifelong student and teacher, after spending part of his youth on his family farm and later in the WWII
relocation camp of Gila River, AZ, he spent his final years of secondary education in Swarthmore, Penn., and went on to study at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University
. Jesse had a Ph.D. in French Language and Literature.
Jesse spent his professional life as a professor. He began his career at Roosevelt University in Chicago, went on to teach at Portland State University, California State University in San Bernardino, and came to Western Washington State College (now WWU) in Bellingham, WA, in 1972, where he was a founder and Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies, and later Chairman of the Foreign Languages Department. He also helped develop and was editor of The Journal of Ethnic Studies, a journal of interdisciplinary scholarship, opinion, and creative expression. Upon his retirement from Western, Jesse and his wife, Dr. Louise Kikuchi Hiraoka, moved to Japan where Jesse was an administrator of the exchange program at Asia University in Tokyo for three years. Jesse remained professionally active until the very end of his life, giving courses and lectures and serving as a guide at the Seattle Japanese Garden in Washington Park Arboretum.
Jesse was preceded in death by his first wife, Jane, who died in 1971, and he is survived and profoundly mourned by wife Louise, his sons Scott and John, his daughters Kristin and Erin, and his seven grandchildren. Ceremonies for Jesse will be private, and in lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Seattle Japanese Garden.