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130 Attend Fowler Dharma School Centennial

Over the Memorial Day weekend, approximately 130 graduates and friends of the Fowler Dharma School celebrated its centennial anniversary.


The festivities began May 28 with a centennial service chaired by the church’s Co-Vice President Greg Mukai. The service was officiated by BCA Minister Emeritus Rev. Gimyo Yoshiaki Takemura, the first resident minister of Fowler, who came from Seattle with his wife Naomi and oldest son Ken. Rev. Takemura’s second son, Yo Alan, and his wife Laura traveled from Salinas. Assisting with the service were Dharma School alumni Revs. Patti Oshita, Karen Mukai and Brian Nagata.


I recalled the history of our Fowler Sangha and the Fowler community, noting that Hoichi Sumida was the first Issei to purchase land in Fowler in 1889. Japanese Americans have been living in Fowler for at least 134 years. At one point in Fowler’s history, the mayor, judge, city attorney and head of the hospital board were all Buddhists.


The beginnings of the Buddhist Church of Fowler go back to 1901 when Fowler became the first branch “Howakai” of the Fresno branch of the San Francisco Young Men’s Buddhist Association.


Once the Nisei generation started to emerge, Rev. Itsuzo and Mrs. Kiyo Kyogoku of the Fresno temple encouraged members of the Fowler church to establish a Sunday School for the growing Nisei population.


Oshoko representatives — who represented each decade since the 1920s, including students from the current Dharma School, past Dharma School teachers, and representatives from the various church organizations — offered incense.


Rev. Takemura offered the Dharma message and the Sangha sang the Dharma School classic “Farewell” by Jane Imamura to conclude the service.


After the service, a commemorative group photo was taken and a delicious box lunch was served. The congratulatory toast was led by Gary Mukai and the Shokuzen Gassho was led by Rev. Karen Mukai.


Several messages from those who not able to attend were read.


In addition, 102-year-old George Teraoka, a graduate of the Dharma School and longtime teacher, lay leader and the first president of the BCA’s Federation of Dharma School Teachers League (FDSTL), was honored with a special commemorative message from U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento. Rep. Matsui’s father, Ichiro Okada, was a fellow Central California BCA lay leader for many years with Teraoka.


Teraoka offered a few memories and reflections of the Dharma School and living with the Buddha-Dharma.


Special honors were presented to the following attendees:


Most senior man: George Teraoka

Most senior woman: Frances (Tokubo) Yamamoto

Traveled the farthest: Danny Yamamoto, who came from Arizona

First couple married in the new church Hondo: Sumi (Taniguchi) Tanabe in 1963


The lunch’s closing Gassho was offered by Rev. Patti Oshita.

Reflecting on the long history of the Dharma School, everyone sat on the old wooden chairs which were made by the Fowler YBA before World War II.


Old church photographs, Dharma School albums and photos taken by Patsy Ashida, as well as a huge copy of the church’s 1963 dedication picture that was provided by Mike Yoshimoto, brought back memories and laughter.


Each attendee was presented with a wrist nenju and a cookie in the shape of a cherry blossom which was part of the centennial’s logo design along with bamboo and grapevines representing the different seasons in Fowler.


The festivities concluded with a raffle drawing.


On the morning of Memorial Day, May 29, Rev. and Mrs. Takemura and Ken Takemura visited the Fowler cemetery to pay their respects to past members before returning to Seattle.


The consensus was that the centennial anniversary was a wonderful celebration and that it had been so long since the church was filled with so much happiness, smiles and memories. People wanted to know when the next happy occasion will happen.


The 125th anniversary of the Fowler church is coming up in 2026, so the church will once again — at that time — celebrate the proud history, legacy and the Buddha-Dharma that our Issei and Nisei members sacrificed so much for the sake of future generations.


As the Fowler Buddhist Dharma School enters its second century, may the Dharma continue to be shared with all.


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