Barbara Hedani-Morishita, with her husband on the Hayward Campus, is ready to take on her role as CSUEB's First Lady — and continue her role as the president's "better half." PHOTO: MAX GERBER
Editor’s Note: The following story first appeared in Cal State East Bay Magazine. Read the most recent magazine from Spring 2012; view more photos; and check out back issues online.
After more than a quarter-century of public service — including years supporting abused and neglected children — Barbara Hedani-Morishita retired from Alameda County in March to pursue travel, flower arranging, language lessons, and other activities. She also gained a title: First Lady of Cal State East Bay.
She’s not certain where that volunteer position will take her. “There’s no book,” saying what to do, she notes. An easy laugh rattles her chunky silver jewelry as she adds, “Well, there probably is, at this point. I haven’t Googled it.”
Her dry humor — and the fact that she’s sansei, or third generation Japanese American — are just two traits Hedani-Morishita shares with her husband. But their childhoods were vastly different: He was raised on a Central Valley farm, while she grew up middle class in San Francisco with an optometrist father and civil servant mother — a background that exposed her to big city cultural offerings from the symphony to museums, outings that weren’t as common to Morishita’s rural upbringing.
“I’m much more laid back,” she says when asked to describe their relationship. “The first thing that threw me when we merged households was that he organized the spice rack alphabetically, while I just threw things up there.” Then comes the laugh again. “We’re very different, but we complement each other.”
The two met at a cultural retreat for Japanese Americans, and were soon drawn together over a love of tennis. She was then a child welfare worker for San Mateo County, going on police emergency calls involving abused or neglected children. It was stressful work, but she loved the challenge of helping families resolve their problems.
He was accepted into a doctoral program at Harvard a year after they married, but was also considering attending UC Berkeley. “I said, ‘Harvard!’” she recalls. “He didn’t even know where Harvard was! I said, ‘You’ve got to take this opportunity.’ So we moved there, and I found a job as a social worker for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” When they returned to the East Bay she resumed social work for San Mateo County, then moved to Alameda County. Raising two boys and fearing burnout, she transferred a few years later to an administrative position in the county’s General Services Agency — the job she retired from.
In addition to practicing ikebana — Japanese flower arranging — and taking creative writing and Japanese language classes at CSUEB, Hedani-Morishita hopes to participate in campus life as First Lady. “It’s a little gem,” she says of the University, adding she’d like to see the school’s cultural and athletic events better noticed and attended by the community at large.
But time will tell what specific responsibilities she takes on. “Leroy has warned me not to overcommit,” she confesses. “I tend to jump into things, to say yes when I’m asked to help. I really need to decide what my priorities are.” Chief among those priorities will be helping the president balance his busy life — through twice-weekly tai chi classes they take together, vacations (Hawaii is a favorite destination), and home time with family.
“She’s a great complement to me,” he says, echoing her words. “She’s my better half, and I think that will aid the University.”