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$500,000 gift to UHH honors professor

When second-generation Hilo dentist Dr. Patsy Fujimoto, 63, attended the University of Hawaii at Hilo in the 1970s, it was a very different place.

“I always laugh and say to people, that when I went to UH-Hilo for two years, it wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. Now, I really marvel at all the buildings, the expansion of the university. To me, that’s been a real plus for this community,” she said Tuesday.

While the campus may not have been as impressive as it is today, she added that there was one particular professor who really stood out. Fujimoto says that she took many classes in Asian history from David Purcell, who always managed to inspire her love of the subject, and always expected the best from his students.

“Right now, I’m teaching dental hygiene at UH-Manoa, and when you become a teacher, you think about all the teachers you had — the ones you want to emulate. He was one of those, I can honestly say. … He just knew his material, inside and out. He knew what he was talking about. He had researched and read deeply into it, and he held you to a higher standard,” she said.

So, when Fujimoto recently decided she wanted to give a gift to the university, Purcell was an obvious choice as someone she wanted to honor.

The David C. Purcell Jr. Endowed Visiting Chair in History in the College of Arts and Sciences is the first such endowment for the Hilo campus, and Fujimoto says she hopes it will inspire others in the community to support UH-Hilo, just as Purcell inspired her.

Fujimoto’s $500,000 gift will be used to bring distinguished historians to campus, and increase the campus’ amount of expertise in American, Asia/Pacific and European history, as well as other fields.

“UH Hilo is grateful to Dr. Fujimoto for her generosity in establishing this endowment,” said UH-Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney. “Knowledge of history enriches our communities and strengthens society, and I’m pleased the inspiration Dr. Purcell imparted to his student years ago will benefit UH Hilo students for years to come.”

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Randy Y. Hirokawa added that Fujimoto’s gift was “transformational.”

“… for the first time, we will be able to bring to our campus some of the best scholar/teachers in the field of history to bolster our already outstanding faculty in the History Department,” he said. “How truly exciting it will be for our students to be able take courses from world-renowned history professors whose work they may only have read in textbooks or journals articles. Great universities like Harvard and Stanford are able to do that for their students; and thanks to Dr. Fujimoto, UHH will be able to do that for our students too!”

Purcell, who retired in 2001, said he was overwhelmed by Fujimoto’s gift in his honor.

“It’s not every day that someone endows a chair in your name,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed, but I’m grateful.”

Fujimoto says that she started the endowment with an initial gift of $100,000, and has pledged to give the rest over a period of time. She said that she was happy to be the donor of the campus’ first endowed chair, but added that she hopes she’s not the last.

“I hate to say this, but I think Hilo kind of takes a back seat to Manoa when it comes to things like this. … I just wanted this to be a nice addition for the school. And I hope more people will get involved. … I want other people to get inspired and do this for UH-Hilo. This is our local university,” she said.

Fujimoto and her brother, Alan, have run their private dental practice in Hilo together since 1981. They inherited the building from their father, dentist Edwin Fujimoto, who built it in 1964. Her ties to Hilo are deep, she said, and that made giving the gift an easy decision to make.

“This is where I live, and it’s probably where I’ll die. I felt that I owe it to the community to give it to UH-Hilo. It can only make the school better,” she said.

Those interested in making a contribution to the David C. Purcell Jr. Endowed Visiting Chair in History Fund, or supporting the student at UH-Hilo, may contact the UH-Hilo Development Office at (808) 933-1945, or by visiting

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-


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