A Tribute to Our Pioneering Members

In a little over two weeks we will be observing our dedication service for our remodeled hondo and the completion of our 50th anniversary project.

The week prior, during our Ohigan service weekend, we had two staff members of the Wakabayashi company of Kyoto, Japan, install our altar that had been sent back to Japan for refurbishment. Wait till you see it. It is stunning, to say the least. The craftsmanship and artistry takes your breath away. It is just so beautiful, and to think that this is our refurbished altar. I am sure this is what it looked like in 1965 when it was first installed for the dedication of the new temple.

When we took down the altar pieces, we noticed the names of many members that were engraved on the back of the particular altar piece. When the temple was built in 1965, in order to raise the money to build it, individuals and families donated for the cost of a particular altar piece. When you look at the altar from the gejin, or the seating area, and you look up, there is a large, wooden carved piece called the ranma. Wakabayashi didn’t send that piece back to Japan but said it could be cleaned here when they returned to install the altar. When they took the ranma down for cleaning, they were surprised to find that it was built in one piece. They said that nowadays, you rarely see a one-piece ranma. It took one long piece of wood to create that beautiful ranma. When they were removing the nails and things that held up the ranma, they found a name engraved on the back, Nagamatsu. Immediately I realized that the ranma was donated by Paul and Hatsuye Nagamatsu, who were one of our pioneering members of OCBC. I have no idea what the ranma must have cost. It had to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Also, when the Wakabayashi staff disassembled the right altar (Shinran Shonin), and the left altar (Myonyo Shonin), they found wooden boards behind them that had the name of the Ito family for the Shinran Shonin altar, and the names of Akeko Sawada and Akemi Miyake for the Myonyo Shonin altar. Those altars must have been a huge amount as well, even in 1965.
Our pioneering members sacrificed so much to build the original OCBC. They were hard working farmers mostly, trying to make ends meet, but gave most generously to build OCBC. I have mentioned before that there were only 75 families at that time, who took on such a huge project of building not only the hondo, but the social hall and the classroom building as well. They had to take out a huge bank loan, and our pioneering members signed the loan papers, putting their own farms and homes at risk if the church for some reason couldn’t pay off the loan.

The families that contributed to have specific altar pieces, also donated above and beyond that as well, for the project as a whole, to build the buildings. I am sure that they overextended themselves and donated more than they could afford. Saichi Ochiai recalls when some OCBC leaders came to their home and asked them to pledge for the new temple, and her husband Richard pledged way more than they even had in the bank. She wondered how they were ever going to fulfill their pledge. But Richard felt the value and importance of the project and pledged “beyond their means.”

I think that we had the same thing occur 50 years later with our project. This Sangha has sacrificed, contributed, and worked so hard, with the same spirit as our founding, pioneering members. The total project, (Phase I: new social hall. Phase II: hondo, altar and courtyard) was 9.3 million dollars, and we have raised every cent, even before we dedicate the new hondo. That is an amazing feat. I don’t think any temple in the BCA has ever taken on a project of that magnitude or dollar amount.

But it took the support of everyone, from Dharma School kids who filled their cans of loose change for the project, to our major donors. We had an amazing 73% of our sustaining members contribute, and the average donation for the project was nearly $10,000. Truly, all of you pledged “beyond your means,” just as our pioneering members did.

I recall seeing the donation of one of our members, a single parent with four young children to raise. I commented and thanked him for such a large donation, given the fact that he was a single parent with four kids. He replied that his family had gotten so much from being a part of OCBC and he wanted to do what he could.

Many of you have also worked so hard on the countless fundraisers that we have had for these past nine years. Golf tournaments, bingo, concerts, dinners, you name it, and we did it.
Our pioneering members also worked very hard to pay for the original temple. That is why we have two festivals a year, Hanamatsuri and Obon. They used to fry wontons in cast iron fry pans all lined up.

That same spirit has been carried over to our present Sangha. We have not lacked for hard work and dedication.

As we are on the eve of our dedication and completion of the entire project, my thoughts and gratitude go to the pioneering members who built OCBC, and to our present Sangha, who, with the same spirit and dedication, has taken OCBC to the future in a most exemplary way. I know that 50 years from now, the OCBC of 2067 will look back and feel gratitude for what we have done.

Namuamidabutsu,
Rev. Marvin Harada