NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Masaru Oshiro

Specific Pioneering Contributions

In 1975 Masaru Oshiro, MSW, ACSW,  was appointed by the Governor of Hawai'i to be the Deputy Director of the Department of Social Services and Housing (DSSH).  Oshiro’s responsibilities included corrections, parole and criminal injuries compensation programs. This was a natural succession from his position as Chairman of the Board of Paroles and Pardons. Some 20 years later, Oshiro would be appointed as Deputy Director of Behavioral Health at the State Department of Health. 

Oshiro first became known and highly respected for his action to voluntarily resign as Deputy Director of DSSH because he could not support the Governor’s position to endorse capital punishment. In his own words, “killing is not right.” As Tom Coffman wrote about Masaru Oshiro in his book How Social Work Changed Hawai'i (Watermark Publishing, 2022), “…his quiet voice became a great moral voice. To this day Hawai'i does not have capital punishment.”

After retiring from his state government positions, Oshiro continued to practice social work as a volunteer for the American Red Cross. He served on the American Red Cross Board of Directors and helped to structure a statewide Disaster Mental Health Committee to meet the mental health needs throughout the state. He provided mental health services at local disasters, assisting in evacuation shelters impacted by high surf and flooding, and during tsunami and hurricane alerts.  He also provided mental health services to victims in national tragedies including the 9/11 New York World Trade Center attack, the California Central Valley Flood, the Korean Airlines Flight #801 crash in Guam, and the TWA flight #800 crash off the coast of Long Island. 

Oshiro drafted the first Aviation Annex of the American Red Cross Disaster Response Plan and helped provide training to other disaster mental health volunteers in the field of aviation response. He also assisted the Hawai'i Chapter of the American Red Cross with disaster preparedness presentations for older adult programs throughout the island of O'ahu.

Oshiro gained respect and admiration from his peers and was recognized in 2011 as a Living Treasure of Hawaii by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. This award recognizes and honors individuals who have demonstrated high achievement in their profession and who “through continuous growth, learning, and sharing, have made significant contributions toward enriching our society.” 

Career Highlights  

Before becoming Deputy Director for DSSH, in 1967 Oshiro was the Executive Director of the Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center (QLCC), a private operating foundation established in 1909 for the benefit of Native Hawaiian orphan and destitute children through direct services and collaborations with community partners. It was unusual for an Asian to be the director of a Native Hawaiian agency. During his tenure, Oshiro was instrumental in providing assistance to produce and publish the book, Nana I ke Kumu-Look to the Source, by Mary Kawena Pukui, a seminal work which identified and documented Native Hawaiian healing practices such as ho’oponopono and is regarded as classic reading for Native Hawaiians. 

In 1978 Oshiro was the Administrator of the O'ahu Intake Service Center and in 1981 he became the Administrator for the O'ahu Community Corrections Center, the largest prison in the state.
In 1982 Masaru was a medical welfare specialist in the Health Care Administration Division and in 1988 he became the chief executive officer of Alu Like, a nonprofit agency established to address the social and economic needs of the Hawaiian community. In 1991, Oshiro was appointed to be the Deputy Director of Behavioral Health at the State Department of Health. In 1992 Hurricane Iniki devastated the entire island of Kauai. As Deputy Director, Oshiro sent mental health and other support services to assist in the island’s successful recovery. 
Biographic Data

Masaru Oshiro was born July 7, 1928, to Taru and Yoshi Oshiro. His father was a truck driver for Oahu Sugar Company, and his mother worked in the pineapple cannery. Later his dad and uncle bought land near Pearl Harbor and turned it into a piggery. They also grew beans and cabbage. The Oshiro family was doing well until December 7, 1941. Everything changed. Oshiro was only 13 years old but he vividly remembers the day of the attack and the years that followed when his parents (who were “aliens” and not U.S. citizens) struggled economically because the government confiscated their farm and refused to compensate them adequately. They were forced to sell what they had to survive. The Oshiros moved in with other families and made the best with whatever they had until after the war. Oshiro’s parents were eventually able to return to work at the O'ahu Sugar Company and pineapple cannery. Oshiro’s father had an opportunity to purchase some property and returned to raising hogs, turkey and carnation flowers. 
In 1946 Oshiro graduated from Waipahu High School and enlisted in the Army. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 1948 and attended the University of Hawai'i under the GI Bill of Rights. The injustice Oshiro experienced and the people he encountered after the war compelled him to complete a BA in 1952 and MSW in 1954.

Upon graduation, he started work as a caseworker at Child and Family Services until 1958. Between 1958 and 1995 Oshiro’s career included being a clinical social worker (Veterans Administration, Outpatient Clinic in Los Angeles), psychiatric social worker (Hawai'i State Division of Mental Health), Unit Supervisor (Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center), Executive Director (Queen Lili'uokalani Children’s Center), Deputy Director (State Department of Social Services and Housing), Oahu Administrator (State Intake Service Center), Prison Superintendent (State Corrections Division), Social Welfare Specialist (State Health Care Administration), Chief Executive Officer (Alu Like, Inc.) and Deputy Director (State Department of Health). 

Although retired from state service since 1995, Oshiro continued to practice the values of perseverance, obligation, and respect for elders and ancestors.

Significant Recognition and Awards

In 2001, Oshiro received the American Red Cross Outstanding Mental Health Services to Disaster Victims award from Elizabeth Dole; he was also recognized by the Honolulu City Council for his volunteer work with the American Red Cross relief efforts at the World Trade Center. In 2002 he was awarded NASW Hawaii Chapter Social Workers of the Year. In 2011 Honpa Honwanji Living Treasure Certificate of Distinction “for unique accomplishments and contributions made toward the building of a more humane and fraternal society in the Pacific.”

Significant Publications

While not the author of Nana I Ke Kumu (Look to the Source), Oshiro was the Executive Director of the Queen Liliokalani Children’s Center and instrumental in providing the means and support for the successful publication of this important book documenting Native Hawaiian healing practices and perpetuating the Native Hawaiian culture.

Nana i Ke Kumu, Vol 1. (Pukui, M., Haertig, E., & Lee, C. (1972). Nana i Ke Kumu (Look to the Source), vol 1, Honolulu: Hui Hanai).

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.