UH Med Now

JABSOM in the Genes: An opportunity to join anonymous donor, ʻohana in honoring Dr. Yoshitsugi Hokama

Date: August 2nd, 2017 in Breakthoughs, Faculty, Giving, JABSOM News, Research    Print or PDF

Above: Son Jon with Yoshitsuge Hokama, PhD in Honolulu.

By Tina Shelton, UH Med Now

An anonymous donor has stepped forward, offering to “match” individual gifts to the Hokama fund up to $25,000

Jon Hokama didn’t choose academic medicine as a vocation. But from early childhood he was exposed to the field. His father, Yoshitsugi Hokama, PhD, is an award-winning scientist and Professor Emeritus of Pathology at the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) at Mānoa.


Dr. Yoshitsuge Hokama

Dr. Hokama was lured away from the faculty of UCLA in 1966 to help build the first medical school in Hawai’i. Born in Kohala on Hawaiʻi Island, Dr. Hokama attended UH from 1943-45 before heading to California for his undergraduate and graduate work and a career in Pathology. He knew what he was getting into by returning home at that stage. All of those recruited to the nascent medical school did. The John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) was a small school in its infancy, but these first professors had a fiery determination to build a strong foundation for their students.

That determination was nearly all consuming. Jon, now the Senior VP/Owner of American Business Advisors Hawai’i, remembers working as a teenager in his father’s lab during a summer while he attended ‘Iolani School. What Jon doesn’t say is that was one of the few ways, at that time, to spend time with his dad. Dr. Hokama, mentor to budding scientists and future physicians, considered his position a calling. He spent long days in the lab, talking story with students, reading or doing lab research, or engaged after hours in social or sporting events where the crowd were all students, faculty or staff.

“Education was everything to my parents, and my dad lived in a way that you could readily see that,” said Jon Hokama. “I remember as a junior high student being aware of pathogens and how the body reacts to them,” he recalled with a chuckle. “Wherever Dad was, he was always waxing eloquently about his research projects, and my sister and I were his youngest students.”

Eventually more than 200 MD and grad students passed through Dr. Hokama’s lab. During his four decades with UH, Dr. Hokama became the world’s leading authority on fish toxins. His research helped develop the first ciguatera fish poison detector kit and he followed that by connecting doing related research in Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction.


“Hoagy’s Heroes” honor Dr. Hokama at a 2012 banquet.



In 2012, students trained by Dr. Hokama came together to celebrate his retirement. They called themselves “Hoagy’s Heroes,” using a nickname Dr. Hokama acquired during his service in the U.S. military, when fellow soldiers struggled to pronounce a name that seemed unusual to them. Soon “Hoagy’s Heroes” established an endowment in Dr. Hokama’s honor. Every other year, the Hokama Award is presented to a college undergraduate studying biosciences or engaged in medical research. But son Jon wants to see the Hokama fund grow to allow a scholarship to be presented annually. There is a touch of urgency to his quest.

Now 90, Dr. Hokama’s health is waning. Jon’s business advising firm, American Business Advisors, recently opened a branch in Honolulu. An anonymous donor has stepped forward, offering to “match” individual gifts to the Hokama fund up to $25,000. That donor has asked ABA Hawaiʻi to help promote his matching offer. To qualify for the match, interested donors are asked to initiate their gift through the ABA Hawaiʻi website.

To give to JABSOM:
To contribute to JABSOM, contact Elaine Evans or Julie Inouye , the JABSOM Development team.

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