When Hanimireddy Lakireddy was a boy in India, he helped his father on the family farm.Every day, Lakireddy got sweaty and itchy from the hard work, and he asked his father why he kept doing this. His father told him if he didn’t want to be a farmer, then he should go to school.
That’s exactly what Lakireddy did. Now he’s a respected cardiologist who has practiced in Merced for 25 years. But Lakireddy has never forgotten that education bootstrapped him from muddy fields to operating rooms. He’s dedicated his life, and his earnings, to make sure others get their schooling.
Lakireddy is known in Merced for donating $1 million to UC Merced for an auditorium, and he has given the same amount to Merced College, along with paying for students’ scholarships out of his own pocket.
But it’s his work in India, in the poor village that he grew up in, that he believes is crucial.“I wanted to do something for the poor people (in the village) — they have no welfare or social security in India. So many of them just starve,” Lakireddy said.
Lakireddy doesn’t just give money to the poor, although he makes sure that people have food and clothing. Most of his money goes to his main mission in life - education.
“Because of education, I am somebody. Education is the easiest way to better someone’s life,” Lakireddy said.
When Lakireddy was a child, India was still under British rule. His home had no electricity, no running water. “I didn’t see an electric light until I was in college,” he remembered.
Lakireddy’s father pushed him to improve himself, telling him that America was heaven and that Lakireddy should set his sights on coming to the United States. After Lakireddy graduated from medical school in India, he came to this country in 1978. He continued his medical training before settling in Merced, where he was the first cardiologist in town, in 1984.
Since then, Lakireddy and his family have done well, but Lakireddy made a vow that he sticks to.“I give half of everything I make to education here, and the rest goes to India,” he said. He figures he has given about $5 million total over the years.
At UC Merced, the Lakireddy family has been instrumental in helping shape the campus, according to Brenda Ortiz, senior public information officer for the university.
“They have been inspirational; he has always opened the doors of his home to the community to help the university,” Ortiz said. “I think he identifies with our students, some of whom grew up poor like he did.”
In India, Lakireddy has built schools in his village, Velvadam in the state of Andhra Pradesh, from elementary all the way up to college. He spends at least two weeks a year in India, making sure the people in his village are getting enough to eat and to live. He sends money every month to help make sure that the poorest of the poor do not fall by the wayside.
“If you have food 365 days a year, you are wealthy in the village,” Lakireddy said.Along with schools in India, Lakireddy has also helped build roads, and has put wells in the town so that everyone has fresh water.
Lakireddy is known both in Merced and in India as a man who cares about his community. The governor of the state of Andhra Pradesh honored the Lakireddy family during one of their visits to India. He told Lakireddy that most people who give, give with one hand, but that Lakireddy always gives with both hands.
In Merced, Dr. Ramakrishna Thondapu, an anesthesiologist, claims that Lakireddy is more than a friend.
“He is like my big brother. But he is very helpful to the community, too. For anyone who approaches him for help, he is there,” Thondapu said.
Lakireddy believes in the education system in this country, and tells about seeing a man who was mowing lawns for a living.
“The only difference between that man and me is education. I thank God for that,” he said.And a lot of folks in both Merced and Velvadam thank him for making their lives better.
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org