Pasadena Civitan Club recently presented its longest serving member Min Higa the Civitan International Servant’s Heart award at its annual awards event. The award honors an extraordinary  life of service and accomplishment that deserves extraordinary recognition. This award and Pasadena City recognition were presented by Pasadena Civitan president Suzi Hoge and Pasadena mayor Victor Gordo.

During the ceremony, fellow Civitan Don Nollar shared these remarks during the presentation, “You have strengthened the organizations you served. You have inspired so many. It is my honor to give to you this small token of our appreciation – The Servant’s Heart award.” Nollar reviewed Min’s amazing history.

Humble Beginnings

Born in Fresno, California, Minoru Higa, now 92, was one of eight children in a family who made a living as farm workers. Being of Japanese ancestry, Min and his family encountered terrible obstacles. But his humble beginnings provided him with the courage and perseverance  that would lead him to later success.

During World War II, his family was separated and incarcerated in Japanese-Amerian relocation centers. His family was eventually reunited and sent to a relocation center in Colorado. During the war his two older brothers were in the army.

Min also went on to serve in the Army in the latter part of the Korean War. Serving at an Army base in Korea. He made a very big impression on his Army superiors during a very short time. After serving for 1 year and 11 months he was awarded a bronze star for meritorious service.

Min is also very accomplished academically as well. He attended UCLA and received a BA and MA in accounting and went on to pursue his career as a CPA. Min became a partner in a new firm in Pasadena. One of those CPA’s was Buzz Martin a long-time member of the Pasadena Civitan Club. This relationship would be one that poured into both Civitans in more ways than one.

A Defining Moment

As time went on, Min and his wife Joanne had a baby girl, Lynn,  and soon learned of her disability – Down’s Syndrome. This is when a many decades long association began with Villa Esperanza Services, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering children, adults, and seniors with special needs.  Lynn was a resident of one of Villa’s homes in Pasadena.

Wanting to give back, Min began a non-paid career in support of local service agencies that serve persons with I/DD. He has been a member of the Boards of both Villa Esperanza and Foothill Vocational Opportunities. For these agencies he was a generous financial supporter and recruited board members and many financial contributors. He received an award from Footshill Vocational Opportunities for being that organization’s top fund raiser for 2012.

He was instrumental in the beginning of the annual Villa Esperanza Golf Tournament, The Tournament of Hope, and served its committee for twenty-five years.

Welcome to Civitan

Having met Buzz Martin through his professional career, he also made the decision to join the Civitan family. He joined the Pasadena Civitan Club in 1971, which was over 52 years ago. He served three times as the club’s president.

As a Civitan member, he gave crucial support for Civitan’s gift of properties to Villa Esperanza and Foothill Vocational Opportunities. It was not an easy decision but a necessary one. These were both important projects of the Pasadena Civitan Club.

Servant’s Heart Award

In 2012 Min received recognition from Mayor Bogaard for his volunteer efforts. The mayor described Min as a person who has made a difference in providing employment opportunities to the disabled. Min was selected because of his continuous and significant involvement with FOV Solutions and Villa Esperanza Services over a period of many years and his steadfast support of the cause throughout the community.

The Servant’s Heart award is just one of the many honors Min has received throughout his years of service.

Below is an excerpt from Don Nollar’s remarks about Min during the recognition ceremony:

“Min is the first to say “Why me. I’ve only done what others do and what naturally must be done. I’m not so special.” Well, I’m here to say that no one I know has done so much for so many and for so long. From humble beginnings to professional excellence and to a life of distinction and truly extraordinary service. Your devotion to the cause has influenced so many, including myself, to try to follow in your footsteps.”

The award was presented by Susan Hoge and Pasadena mayor Victor Gordo who presented Min with a lapel pin naming him honorary mayor for a day.

Writer’s Note: Pasadena Civitan Club played a critical role in the founding of Villa Esperanza Services and Foothill Vocational Opportunities

Update: Since the start of this spotlight article, Civitan International is saddened to learn of Min Higa’s passing on May 16th, 2024. The Pasadena Club honored his legacy at a previously set gathering on May 17th, which was planned to celebrate the club’s 95th year. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of Min’s family and friends.