Floral entrepreneur and philanthropist Toshikiyo “Andy” Matsui, who passed away Dec. 11, will be long remembered for higher education support that transformed the lives of scores of hundreds of Hartnell College students and will benefit countless more for decades to come.
Matsui was a multimillion-dollar founding scholarship donor to the Computer Science in 3 (CSin3) program, a degree partnership between Hartnell and Cal State Monterey Bay (CSUMB). That groundbreaking initiative, begun in 2013, is acclaimed for its success in graduating women and minority students, who have long been underrepresented in computer science and other STEM-related fields.
In 2017, the Matsui Foundation gifted 215 acres of northeast Salinas farmland to the Hartnell College Foundation. The property’s estimated value in excess of $20 million makes it the largest gift to a California community college and among the largest ever across the United States. The land’s farm lease income continues to benefit CSin3 students, and its eventual sale for housing development promises to make a historic impact on the college and its future students.
The Matsui family shared the news that he died peacefully at The Cottages of Carmel. He was 85. They said they plan to hold a celebration of life “when it is again safe to gather.”
“Our hearts go out to the Matsui family for their loss,” said Dr. Raúl Rodríguez, interim superintendent/president of the Hartnell Community College District (HCCD). “Andy Matsui has made an enduring impact, not only at Hartnell, but in so many ways across the Salinas Valley and beyond. Our college will be forever grateful for his incredible support.”
Aurelio Salazar Jr., president of the HCCD Governing Board, added, “Andy Matsui was a pioneer in agriculture and education in his own right and laid down the foundation for others to achieve their dreams.”
Matsui’s generosity has not only benefited Hartnell and CSUMB students but also such organizations as the foundation for Natividad Medical Center and the Community Foundation of Monterey County. His philanthropy has been widely recognized, including with an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the California State University and CSUMB in 2011, the Spirit of Rotary Award from the Downtown Salinas Rotary Club and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Keizai Silicon Valley in 2016. Hartnell College nominated Matsui for two of his most noteworthy awards, 2011 National Philanthropy Day Philanthropist of the Year and 2012 Salinas Valley Chamber Citizen of the Year.
Matsui also is featured in the 2005 book “Why Do I Love These People?” by Po Bronson, which devotes 16 pages to his life story. He was known for sharing signed copies with new acquaintances, old friends and scholarship recipients.
‘What a legacy he left for us all’
Erica Padilla-Chavez, a member of the HCCD Governing Board whose Area 6 district includes Matsui Nursery, said Matsui “worked diligently, and in turn he was blessed with abundance, which he then chose to share with others.”
“Hartnell students of today and tomorrow will have the opportunities to, like him, work diligently to achieve success in life thanks to his generosity to our college,” Padilla-Chavez said. “I ask our community to join me in thanking Andy for reminding us of the importance of paying it forward. What a legacy he has left for us all.”
Judy Sulsona, president of the Hartnell College Foundation board, said Matsui’s philanthropy was about more than sharing his wealth to help others, as important as that is.
“It’s important for people to know that other people believe in them,” Sulsona said. “With his support, Mr. Matsui let the students of Hartnell College and other people in our community know that he believed in them and their potential, and that his gift was a recognition of the potential that he saw in the young people of our community.”
Matsui’s particular focus on helping Salinas Valley farmworkers and their children was noted by Alfred Diaz-Infante, president and CEO of the Salinas-based affordable housing corporation, CHISPA, and a member of the Hartnell College Foundation Board of Directors.
“I cannot think of anyone else in our community who has been as generous as Andy Matsui and has impacted the lives of so many people,” Diaz-Infante said.
Matsuis came to California in 1964
According to the family’s published obituary, Matsui was born into a traditional farm family in rural Nara Prefecture, Japan. He immigrated to California in 1964 with Yasuko (“Mary”), his wife of 62 years, and the first of their four children after having earlier visited the state on a yearlong farm training program. The couple worked as laborers in Japanese-owned Bay Area flower nurseries until they were able to start their own operations in leased greenhouses.
The Matsuis established their own nursery outside Salinas in 1969 and went through several floral product transformations over the decades, culminating in a move to orchid production in the mid-1990s. Working with national chains such as Trader Joe’s, Andy Matsui pioneered the sale of potted orchids in grocery stores and became one of the world’s largest potted orchid farmers. The company maintains 2.4 million square feet of greenhouses.
All of the Matsui children graduated from Harvard University, and daughter Teresa has been president and CEO of the Matsui Nursery, Inc., since 2015, when Andy Matsui stepped back from day-to-day management.
In 2004, the family established the Matsui Foundation to support the educational aspirations of underserved students in the Salinas Valley and Monterey County. Starting with the grant of a single scholarship to a graduating senior from Gonzales High School, their two daughters’ alma mater, it has distributed more than $8 million in college scholarships, the family said.
Belief in the value of education
Andy Matsui was known for his fundamental belief in education as an essential companion to hard work.
“I think No. 1 is education,” he told Carmel magazine in 2008. “It’s the only way to change anything in this world.”
His first scholarship in Gonzales expanded into a $40,000 scholarship awarded to at least one student at every high school in Monterey County, and again with an additional pair of scholarships to students at Hartnell and Monterey Peninsula Colleges, recalled Dr. Willard Lewallen, who in 2019 retired after seven year as superintendent/president of Hartnell.
With an eye toward helping students and encouraging them to live and work in the Salinas Valley, Matsui sparked establishment of CSin3, the three-year computer science degree pathway at Hartnell and CSUMB.
CSin3 is rigorous, diverse and successful
CSin3 began its eighth yearly cohort of 30-35 students in the fall of 2020. Half of the coursework is completed at Hartnell and the other half at CSUMB. Students are provided such resources as tutoring, professional development workshops and priority registration.
CSin3 has a 72% graduation rate in three years, double the national average for four-year graduation. Thirty-five percent of students are women, 93% are from underrepresented minority groups and 76% are in their family’s first generation to attend college. About three-quarters complete an internship between years two and three, working with such companies as Adobe, Facebook, Intel and, closer to Salinas, at the Naval Postgraduate School, HeavyConnect and Driscoll.
Dr. Lewallen said Matsui’s support, which funded full scholarships for every qualifying CSin3 student, was essential to the program’s launch and success.
“Without that, there’s just no way that those students could work to pay for school with the commitment they had to make to meet the rigors of that program,” Lewallen said. “Because the three-year program was year-round and so intense, the only way for them to be able to complete it was for them to be free of those financial burdens.
“That scholarship that he provided really was the linchpin, as far as I’m concerned, in making that program a reality.”
‘Thankful from the bottom of my heart’
One of the first CSin3 scholarship recipients, Leticia Sanchez, agreed that she would not have been able to complete her degree on time without the financial help.
“With Mr. Matsui’s generosity, I was able to focus on my studies without thinking about ‘do I have the money to pay for my family’s food or other type of expenses?’” said Sanchez, who has worked as a software engineer and data analyst and is now a full-time staff member for the K-12 STEM program at Hartnell.
“I’m really, really thankful from the bottom of my heart,” she said, “because without his help, it was going to be hard.”
Matsui never lost sight of how good fortune and the support of others helped him become successful, the obituary said.
“His life and achievements far exceeded anything he could have imagined as a young farmer in rural Japan,” the family wrote. “You can honor his memory by supporting another striver.”