The story was vintage Jean Hirano: She and husband David Miller delivered dinners to South Bay residents in need on Thanksgiving Day seven years ago—a project Hirano, 51, had initiated in conjunction with the .
"It makes me cry," Hirano said, her eyes glossing over at the memory. "The people were so grateful, [mainly] because they had nobody to visit them. It's really heartbreaking, but at the same time it's very rewarding."
The community spirit of the ebullient Redondo Beach wife, mother and property manager is what motivated close friend Kristie Davidson to nominate Hirano for Patch's new Greatest Person series.
"Jean gives her time and patience to Meals on Wheels for the Salvation Army, and is always the first person to help out, especially on holidays when people really need it," wrote Davidson, a Redondo resident who lives in one of eight South Bay apartment buildings Hirano manages. "She has really inspired me and my family, and now we deliver food every Thanksgiving to disabled veterans ... I feel that I am a better person for getting to know Jean."
She chalks up her popularity with tenants who live in the 35 units she oversees to good communication and prompt service.
"If they have an issue with plumbing, I call a plumber," Hirano said during an interview on Saturday. "They are good people. We just all have a great relationship, you know?"
As she sat at the dining table in the two-story, Mediterranean-style home she shares with her husband and young son, Hirano was busy—as usual—doing something for somebody else. That day she was stuffing goodie bags with Halloween candy she had purchased for a child's party.
Hardly taller than the 9-year-old she was making the goodie bags for, Hirano said she found her advocate's voice more than 17 years ago when she was asked to conduct a survey on senior housing for the Redondo Beach Salvation Army.
Hirano said that she was deeply influenced by her late father, who led scout troops and volunteered in soup kitchens. When she was invited to join the Salvation Army's advisory board, she was motivated to work for "seniors and children," Hirano said.
Even if she didn't have a 4-year-old preschooler, Jackson, racing around the house and a husband who commutes every week between Redondo and Toronto, where he is a vice president of Alliance Films, a Canadian film financing and distribution company (The King's Speech was one of its films), Hirano would seem to have enough on her plate with her Advantage Real Estate Management company.
Instead, she has joined an effort to renovate Perry Park and chairs community services for the Redondo Beach Rotary. As part of the Rotary, she is coordinating efforts between and the Salvation Army to collect clothing and canned food for South Bay residents. (Those who would like to donate to St. Paul's clothing and food drive should contact Project Needs Director Adrianna Romero at 310-370-4319.)
This November, she will host inner-city kids and their chaperone at her Palm Springs home during a "big Rotary International Peace Conference," she said.
So the "children don't have to pay for a hotel," Hirano invited them to stay at the 3,000-square-foot vacation home that she and her husband of 10 years describe as an investment property. "We love to entertain," she said with a beaming grin.
During our conversation, Yvette Illumanardi and her daughter, Joya, 9, arrived to collect the Halloween goodie bags.
When the 47-year-old single mother and her daughter heard that Hirano had been selected as Patch's Greatest Person for the month, Joya exclaimed, "She is the greatest person!"
The two women became friends in 2010, after Illumanardi's guidance counselor told her Riviera Property Management was looking to adopt a family for the Christmas holidays.
Hirano, who was working for Riviera as a contractor at the time, called Illumanardi to see what she needed. "Jean didn't want to go out and just buy something without knowing," Illumanardi said. "She was just amazing."
When Illumanardi called to thank her for the Christmas gifts and mentioned she was looking for work, Hirano said, "We go out a lot. You could baby sit."
Their relationship progressed to the point that Hirano entrusted Illumanardi to look after her home and help with tenants when Hirano, her husband and son spent five months in Canada earlier this year.
"The giving keeps on giving," Illumanardi said Sunday during a trip to the Long Beach Aquarium with Hirano and her family. Such outings, she said "are things, unfortunately, we couldn't do ourselves."
Good deeds don't go unrewarded. In Hirano's case, the best gift imaginable came in the form of her son, Jackson, a high-energy, tousle-haired blond Hirano and Miller adopted in 2007—from her nephew.
The unusual situation occurred after an expensive agency-arranged adoption in Illinois fell through.
Hirano's nephew, who lives in Illinois, had planned to visit his aunt when she and Miller came east for the birth. "I called to let him know the adoption fell through, and he was very disappointed," Hirano said. "That's when he reminded me that his girlfriend was pregnant and asked if we wanted to adopt the baby."
The Illinois couple had two other children and knew they couldn't afford a third. Hirano had been sending boxes of new clothes a couple of times per year to her nephew's kids.
"Plus, they knew David and I would be very good parents," Hirano said.