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Glenn Kameda Is Fondly Remembered as JSC ‘Ambassador’

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

Akira Glenn Kameda had already retired from working in facilities management in Silicon Valley and was in his 70s — when he decided to take on a second career as the first Facilities Manager for the Jodo Shinshu Center.

He began in 2006 and embraced his role for the next 13 years, commuting every weekday from his Palo Alto home to Berkeley, California. Kameda not only served a vital role in managing the day-to-day operation of the JSC building, he also became the JSC’s No. 1 ambassador — greeting visitors, giving tours, and being the first person people would meet,

By the time he retired in 2019 at the age of 84, Kameda left a legacy as a respected and beloved icon and tireless spokesman for the JSC, and for all it encompassed, including the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS), Center for Buddhist Education (CBE), Jodo Shinshu International Office (JSIO), BCA Bookstore, and Ryukoku University programs.

Kameda passed away at the age of 87 on Oct. 24, 2022. His service was held at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple on Nov. 12, 2022.

“In those early years, there were many headaches and issues that had to be worked out and resolved in regards to the new building and how to best utilize it, but Glenn got us through those early years, laying the groundwork for what the JSC is today,” BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada said. “He was also a great ambassador for the BCA as he gave first-time visitors wonderful tours of the facility, creating support for the JSC and the BCA.”

‘Embraced’ JSC Vision

At his retirement ceremony on Sept. 16, 2019, BCA Administrator Gayle Noguchi said Kameda “from the very beginning … embraced the vision of what this place (JSC) could mean for the future and for the future of Jodo Shinshu in America.” She added that Kameda “touched the lives of so many people throughout the world” and thanked him for “completely dedicating his life to making the Jodo Shinshu Center the premier education facility that it is today.”

IBS President Rev. Dr. David Matsumoto praised Kameda at his retirement for handling every detail in the building, down to purchasing the coffee. “I just remember when we all moved in here in 2006, it was a great unknown,” Rev. Dr. Matsumoto said. “We didn’t know what to expect. And, luckily, we all had ‘Dad’ making sure that things were going to work, but also keeping us on the up and up.”

Kameda, who described his tenure as the JSC’s Facilities Manager as “the most rewarding for me,” recalled the first day the JSC opened.

“We opened on Aug. 3, 2006,” Kameda said at his retirement ceremony. “Exactly, at 12 p.m. The city representative walked in through the door and had the occupancy permit. That meant we were open.”

A potentially chaotic situation presented itself the next day when a bus tour group arrived from Salt Lake City, Utah. The beds in the new building’s rooms had only mattresses and no blankets, so the group used sleeping bags in their overnight stay. That was the first of many “fellow travelers on the Dharma journey to stop here,” he said.

Since then, there have been countless “fellow travelers,” not only from the BCA, but Jodo Shinshu Buddhists from Hawaii, Canada, and South America, and from Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, and Australia.

“Glenn’s passion was that the center should be well organized with all the groups working together to present their programs,” said Miles Hamada, the former Assistant Facilities Manager who worked with Kameda. “It should be ‘clean’ and welcoming to everyone. He was always ready to show visitors around and give them an extended tour. He was proud of the center and wanted church members to know of its existence and capabilities. He was on call 24/7 and was available to handle any emergency situation. The center was and still is a one-of-a-kind endeavor for the BCA and part of the future of Jodo Shinshu in America. He was a walking ‘salesperson’ for the Jodo Shinshu Center.”

Akira Glenn Kameda was born on Jan. 9, 1935, in San Francisco, and grew up in Belmont. He was one of eight siblings. When he was a child, his Issei father and uncles operated a thriving flower business that employed several Japanese immigrant workers. As "aliens ineligible to citizenship," Kameda’s father and uncles were not allowed to purchase land. They were preparing to purchase land in the names of their American-born children when World War II broke out.

Evacuated to Colorado

In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the FBI raided the homes of Japanese nationals. Kameda’s family was warned of the impending raid and got rid of anything that could be considered a weapon or contraband, from radios to kitchen knives, throwing the items down the outhouse. The FBI kicked in the door and searched the Kameda home, but did not find anything. His uncle was the head of a Japanese lyrical singing club and was arrested and incarcerated in a prison camp.

In the wake of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, the U.S. government gave Japanese Americans living on the West Coast a brief window in which to voluntarily evacuate and move away from the West Coast, and avoid forced removal and incarceration.

One of Kameda’s aunts was born in Colorado and had relatives there, and the Kameda family heard that Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr was welcoming Japanese Americans to resettle there. The Kamedas decided to drive from California to Colorado in a caravan, sleeping and eating in the desert along the way. They settled first in Jaroso, in a rural part of southern Colorado. The family started working as sharecroppers on land owned by a local nurse, Mrs. West.

As Glenn Kameda described it, the family was "incarcerated socially," as the local community was hostile to the newly arrived Japanese Americans and did not want to sell them food, water or gas. Mrs. West helped the family acquire the supplies they needed.

Along with his siblings and cousins, Glenn Kameda attended a small country school, where the teacher insisted that all of the students become Seventh-day Adventists.

Faced Racism, Violence

He and his siblings and cousins faced racial hostility and violence, with local white children throwing rocks at them every day after school. The family started vegetable farming. Kameda recalled his mother and aunt walking up and down the rows of vegetables spraying insecticide, pausing only to breastfeed their infant children.

After the first year, his father did not think the family could survive the harsh conditions any longer and wrote to the U.S. government, asking to be taken into the concentration camps holding Japanese Americans. The government denied the request.

After two years in Jaroso, the family relocated to San Acacio, Colorado, where they lived for four years. Their primitive housing had no electricity or running water, and heat came from burning wood and coal. The family did not have the resources to celebrate Christmas, New Year's, or birthdays.

At the local school, Glenn Kameda and his siblings and cousins faced so much racial violence that they stayed home for an entire year. Finally, the FBI had to come to the school to lecture the local white children and remind them that the Japanese American children were U.S. citizens.

“He said people were throwing rocks at him,” said Rev. Kodo Umezu at Kameda’s retirement ceremony. “Can you imagine if that happened to me now? I don’t know if I could be like him. He witnessed all these difficulties in history. But he never gave up, and he really appreciated the teachings of the Buddha. Because of the teachings of the Buddha, I think he is able to move through that difficult time in the history of this country.”

Eventually, after World War II ended, the Kamedas returned to California in 1957, and settled first in East Palo Alto and then in Palo Alto. His father and uncle went into the gardening business.

Kameda was drafted into the military and served six months of active duty. He began college, but when his father passed away, he had to drop out in order to work and support his family. Kameda had a career in facilities management and health and safety in biotechnology industries before his role with the JSC.

In addition to his work with the JSC, Kameda was a longtime member of the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, along with his wife, Yoshie Janet Kameda. At the PABT, he served two terms as president in 1993 and 1994; chaired the temple’s Buddhist Education Committee; was recognized by then-Bishop Rev. Koshin Ogui as an honorary Minister’s Assistant since 2007; and served as the lay leader when the temple had no resident minister.

Kameda was predeceased by his parents, Itsuyo and Shigeru Kameda, and his brother, Robert. He is survived by his wife, Yoshie Janet; three sons, Ken (Juri), Kurt (Tamaki), and Khar (Rieko); and six grandchildren. He is also survived by two sisters, Hiroko Fujii, and Sherri (Yutaka) Kawazoye, and four brothers, Scott (Amy), Fred, Terry (Susan), and Lane (Rhonda).

Rev. Umezu called Glenn Kameda “the GOD — Guardian Of the Dharma,” and said: “I’d like to express my deepest appreciation to Glenn and Janet for being part of this center for many, many years …. I really thank you for helping us come this far.”

Miles Hamada added: “On quiet days at the center, Glenn and I still discussed the same issues about the BCA and Jodo Shinshu that we did in the 1980s. We wondered about its future, but we saw much hope. A person of hope was the way to view Glenn. I thank Glenn for this outlook and for being another mentor in my life.”

Contributing to this article were: Yoshie Janet Kameda and the Kameda family; Miles Hamada; Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada; Julie Yumi Hatta; Antonia Grace Glenn; and Evelyn Nakano Glenn.


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