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BCA Members Share Memories of Glenn Kameda

The Wheel of Dharma sought remembrances about Glenn Kameda from a variety of people he affected, interacted with, and influenced during his life as a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist.

Kameda, who retired in 2019 after serving 13 years as the first Facilities Manager of the Jodo Shinshu Center, passed away at the age of 87 on Oct. 24, 2022. In addition to his role with the JSC, he also was a fixture at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, where he served as board president twice — in 1993 and 1994.

What follows are comments and statements about Glenn Kameda from several individuals:

Miles Hamada, former Assistant Facilities Manager for the Jodo Shinshu Center who worked with Kameda:

“Glenn and I go back to the 1980s, when we served on the BCA Social Issues Committee. The committee’s responsibilities were to study current social issues, provide lay members with facts and information, and develop a BCA or Jodo Shinshu viewpoint on the issues. It was composed of both lay members and ministers. It also requested and received input from academicians. At that time, we were worried about the future of Jodo Shinshu in the United States and its relevance to practitioners. The committee discussed many issues and produced pamphlets on topics such as “School Prayer” and “Abortion.” The BCA Social Issues Committee was short lived, but the same issues facing the committee in the 1980s still persist today.

“We all know of Glenn’s commitment to presenting the Jodo Shinshu Center as a place for education and social activity. Besides IBS students and visiting Ryukoku students, the center welcomed and hosted ministerial training sessions, educational conferences on Jodo Shinshu and other Buddhist traditions, BCA National Board and committee meetings, and many special events.

“It has been the home of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Center for Buddhist Education, the Jodo Shinshu International Office, Ryukoku University programs, the Buddhist Bookstore, and many BCA office staff. Not only did it provide space for conferences and lectures, but lodging and kitchen facilities for conference attendees.

“Periodically, I would meet church members who may have known Glenn from church activities, various committees, workshops, and events. Some thought of him as rather stern and a person who needed to have his way.

“At the Jodo Shinshu Center, those of us who worked with him have all been told ‘No’ when we had a request. But, of course, with a little discussion and persuasion, his answer became ‘Yes.’ Glenn listened and made a decision that benefited everyone. Many times, Glenn also tempered my negative decisions and made me see a more compassionate approach. Once a year, Glenn took out the center staff for a holiday lunch. We all had a good time and enjoyed being with each other. Truly, we were like a big family.”

Judy Kono, BCA Center for Buddhist Education (CBE) Project Coordinator:

“In working with Glenn at the Jodo Shinshu Center, it was evident that he was a very devout and dedicated Jodo Shinshu follower.

“At the JSC, some would say he was too stern and rigid, and maybe when you first worked with him that might have been the case. But after you got to know him and he began to trust your judgment, he’d soften. When I first started working with him, my motto was ‘Ask Three Times.’ When CBE wanted to do a new project at the JSC, I’d ask Glenn and he’d say ‘No.’ I’d come back later and talk more about the project and he'd say ‘Maybe.’ Then I’d come back again, and he’d say ‘OK.’

“Here is a limerick I read at his retirement from the JSC in 2019:

There is a man named Glenn

He was born, I don’t know when

A devoted Jodo Shinshu follower is he

Which we can all heartily agree

Upon his first retirement he had a vision

That told him the JSC needed some supervision

He worked hard to fulfill the staff’s constant needs

But at times, our demands grew like wild weeds

When that happened, Glenn would get out his hoe

And chop them down with a no, no, no!

And now he’s retiring for good and will leave

As we wipe sad tears upon our sleeve

Thank you Glenn for all you’ve done

Your toughness and kindness made us a family of one

From your BCA and JSC family we all wish you the best

For you undeniably deserve your well-earned rest!

Edythe Vassall, former CBE Assistant Director:

“Glenn Kameda was a dedicated Jodo Shinshu Buddhist, and it showed in the way he carried out his duties at the Jodo Shinshu Center. He was dignified and commanded respect, always looking classy in his suit and tie. At lunchtime in the JSC dining room, he sometimes talked about his past. He described his life’s hardships with humor and grace, never in anger. But he could also be uncompromising, especially when it came to protecting the integrity of the JSC. (‘Don’t touch the folding screen in the Kodo!’ ‘No tape or tacks on the walls!’) He was definitely ‘The Boss’ of the JSC.

“Glenn was kind and generous. He and Janet made delicious red bean soup (zenzai) with mochi for New Year’s. And he invited everyone who worked at the JSC, including the custodial staff, to his annual year-end manager’s luncheon at Spenger’s seafood restaurant in Berkeley. It was always a wonderful celebration. I regret that we never returned the favor for him.

“When Glenn finally became a Buddha, he brought together his friends, JSC staff members, and loved ones to hear the Dharma at his funeral service, and to gather and reminisce once more at his otoki. We truly appreciated that, and everything else he did. Thank you, Glenn! Namo Amida Butsu.”

Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley:

"Glenn Kameda was one of the first people to respond to my appeals to Japanese American organizations for survivors of 'self-evacuation' to share their experiences with me. He wanted to tell his story and those of his parents, uncles, siblings, and cousins so that his children, nephews, nieces, and grandchildren would know their extended family's suffering and perseverance.

“Glenn had an amazing autobiographical memory, so that he was able to narrate events that he witnessed in great detail, even though he was only 7 years old at the start of World War II. He related in lively and frightening detail what he called the 'crashing of the door,' when in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, FBI agents kicked in the door of his family home to search for contraband.

“One other story particularly illustrates Glenn's acute memory and emotional intelligence. Glenn described in vivid detail how, when his family had evacuated to a rural community in Colorado, local white children threw rocks at him and his siblings and cousins every day after school. He shared that once, he threw a rock back that struck the son of a prominent white farmer. The farmer came to Glenn's family home to complain, and Glenn's father had to profusely apologize for his son's behavior. Glenn's father understood that the white students were the aggressors and therefore did not scold his son.

“Glenn was pained to witness his father suffering the indignity of having to mollify the father of a bully. At the same time, Glenn was well aware of the need to defuse the situation, given the precariousness of the family's status. I am grateful for Glenn's generosity and openness in sharing his memories."

Rev. Landon Yamaoka, of the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple and IBS graduate:

“Growing up, I am not sure if I ever talked to Glenn while at temple. I usually stayed pretty close to people of the same age group, and rarely talked to any of the adults. I guess I felt I shouldn’t be bothering them. After college, I became more involved with the temple and going to events at the Jodo Shinshu Center. I became more aware of how much Glenn was really doing for our temple and for the center.

“I cannot really say when we started talking regularly at the JSC, but he was always so kind to me, and while he would ask me for help, he was always taking care of me. When I had doctor appointments in the East Bay, he would let me stay at the JSC and never charged me. He told me I was always welcome to stay if I needed a place in the East Bay.

“When Glenn found out I had enrolled in the Jodo Shinshu Correspondence Course, he came up to me one day at the temple and wanted to talk. He was so excited. He explained that if the course went well, I might consider applying to IBS down the line.

“He told me he would use a fund from our temple to pay for the class, as it was for members’ continuing education. I told him it was OK, and that he did so much for me over the years that I didn’t feel good about taking the money. He told me he needed to rationalize this account and there was enough money. My classes would not prevent others from getting a scholarship for furthering their own studies.

“I told him that I had never started paying temple dues when I returned from college, so, technically, I wasn’t a member, and that all the times he let me stay overnight for doctor appointments, or let me stay an extra day after conferences so I could help clean up was more than enough.

“Glenn got very emotional, and told me that I was a temple member in his eyes, and no matter what happened or where I would go, he would always consider me a member at Palo Alto.

“I did take the money for the first year, and I remember him congratulating me when I had gotten into IBS. I appreciated Glenn because he was more old school, and I’m more of the person who doesn’t tend to follow the standard rules of societal norms, but Glenn was always super kind to me.

“I will miss seeing him around at our temple, but even more so at the JSC. His years of dedication to helping run Palo Alto and the JSC really show just how dedicated he was to our religion and our organization. I know these words don’t do what he has done justice, but I just wanted to share something that I will always remember about him.”



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