Howard R. Friesen—an alumnus and philanthropist of the University of California Berkeley—is a retired engineer and former owner of G. J. Yamas Company, Inc., which became one of the largest independent businesses in California and Nevada that specialized in building automation, controls systems, and related equipment for commercial and industrial buildings. Howard was born on October 18, 1927 in Reedley, California; earned an engineering degree from UC Berkeley in 1950; and helped expand and later owned G. J. Yamas Company before his retirement in 1986. In this interview, Howard describes working on his family’s central California farm during the Great Depression and, in the early 1940s, leasing a farm from an interned Japanese family. Howard discusses his radar training and travel around the Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago and in Jim Crow-era Mississippi before earning his engineering degree at UC Berkeley, where he met his wife, Candy Penther. Most of this interview recounts Howard’s career with G. J. Yamas Company, which he helped expand to five locations across California and Nevada. Howard’s career in the building industries from 1950 through the mid-1980s witnessed growth and change across California, from constructing new schools amid the Baby Boom to evolving relations with organized labor, and from high-tech manufacturing in Silicon Valley to expansion of California’s prison system. Howard discusses his retirement and travels abroad with Candy, often flying their own plane, before Candy’s death from Parkinson’s disease in 2015. Howard also addresses his and Candy’s generous philanthropy to UC Berkeley for student scholarships, endowment of research chairs, and large contributions to The Bancroft Library and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA).




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