The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library is pleased to release our life history interview with engineer, entrepreneur, and alumnus and philanthropist of UC Berkeley, Howard R. Friesen.
Howard R. Friesen earned his engineering degree from UC Berkeley in 1950. He eventually worked to own 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. As told in this interview, Mr. Friesen’s career in the building industries from 1950 through 1980 contributed to influential developments across California, from the construction of new schools amid the Baby Boom to evolving relations with organized labor, and from the rise of high-tech manufacturing in Silicon Valley to the expansion of California’s prison system.
Mr. Friesen also describes childhood memories working on his family’s farm in Reedley, California during the Great Depression, including leasing a farm in the 1940s from an interned Japanese family. He discusses his travels around Chicago and through Jim Crow-era Mississippi during his Naval training for World War II. Upon the war’s conclusion and with support from the G. I. Bill, Mr. Friesen then earned his engineering degree at UC Berkeley, where he met Candy Penther, his wife for more than sixty years. Most of this interview recounts Mr. Friesen’s career with G. J. Yamas Company, which he helped expand to five locations across California and Nevada. Mr. Friesen also addresses his and Candy’s generous philanthropy to UC Berkeley for student scholarships, endowment of research chairs, and significant contributions to The Bancroft Library and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). Candy passed away in 2015 after a difficult battle against Parkinson’s Disease.
Mr. Friesen’s interview reveals how a farm boy from Reedley participated in several of the twentieth century’s great events—from World War II to the Microelectronics Revolution—and, with his wife, came to donate millions of dollars to UC Berkeley so others might pursue their own dreams of success.
— Roger Eardley-Pryor, PhD (November 2018)
Howard R. Friesen, “Howard R. Friesen: Engineer, Entrepreneur, and Philanthropist of UC Berkeley” oral history interview conducted by Roger Eardley-Pryor in 2018, Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2018.