Super Seniors: Rev. LaVerne and Helen Sasaki (Part 1)

This is the first of two Super Senior articles on Rev. LaVerne Sasaki and his family.  This article will focus on his tenure as Mountain View Buddhist Temple’s resident minister.  The June article will focus on their family life while at the Mountain View Buddhist Temple.

Rev. LaVerne and Helen Sasaki at 2017 Keiro Kai Luncheon

Rev. LaVerne Sasaki was MVBT’s resident minister from 1971 to 1990 providing guidance to the Sangha and their families.  He was the 26th generation minister in the Sasaki family.  He and his wife, Helen, raised their five children on the MVBT grounds during that time.  In 1990, Rev. LaVerne was transferred to become the resident minister at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco.  He retired from the BCA in 2000. 

Sangha Members

Rev. LaVerne and Helen have fond memories of the MVBT Sangha members, many of whom were big influencers on their lives.  Hiroji Kariya was the most active leader, nationally, in Coast District and locally.  He was a hard worker, good thinker and good planner with helpful experiences. 

At Rev. LaVerne’s suggestion, Hiroji joined the Rotary Club.  Many of the Rotarians would attend and support the Hawaiian Luau Temple fundraiser and the annual Rev. and Mrs. Sensho Sasaki Memorial Golf Tournaments.

Rotary Club in 1987 (Rev. Sasaki in the middle)
2011 Sasaki Golf Tournament (Left to right: Dave Maruyama, John Maruyama, Richard Endo, and Rev. Sasaki)

Helen remembers several women who supported the Temple.  Amy Imai was exceptional in many organizations, even outside the Temple, including the Sister City program and public schools in her children’s educational boundaries.  Amy was willing to help people in the Mountain View and Tri-City areas, whether members or not!  Sumi Uyeda and Aiko Sugimoto-Miyamoto were really kind and active in many different capacities.

Bob Imai, Amy’s son, remembers that “The Sasakis were huge supporters of the Mountain View Sister City program.  My mom, who was born in the Year of the Horse, enjoyed going on special trips with the Sasaki’s and others to celebrate the Year of the Horse.  The traits of those born on the Year of the Horse are warm-hearted, enthusiastic and positivity – which fits their personalities.”

Others include Sets Kuboyama, who was a dedicated Boy Scout leader.  Yas Shimoguchi did much for the Temple, a leader in Dharma School and a “very friendly guy.”  Richard Endo was often at the Temple.  He had interest in black and white photo processing, so he used one of the Dharma School rooms to make a darkroom to process black and white photos.  Aggie Hirotsu and Fred Yonemoto also had a big impact on the Temple.  Jean Higa was a leader, especially during fundraisers and for starting the Fuji 4-H Club.

Life Lessons

While at MVBT, the Sasakis were able to meet people from many different walks of life.  They learned how to live by observing the Sangha members:  their generosity and hard work, and the skills that they shared.

BWA ladies in kitchen in 1980. Helen is 5th from the right.

Helen remembers that “so many people would be in the kitchen, working in the back and their humility always impressed me.  They didn’t have to be in the front, they’d just showed up and did everything that needed to be done.  Hiroji Kariya and his wife, Yasuko, who died too young, were mentors to us.  They were involved in the financial support of MVBT and BCA.”

The Sasakis had several Buddhist moments in their lives.  For Rev. LaVerne, it was the loss of his parents and going to Japan to study Buddhism.  He made his decision to become a Buddhist minister while in Japan, after contact with many Buddhist scholars and contacts.

Rev. Sensho Sasaki’s Funeral, March 1972

Helen enjoyed going to seminars and lectures and appreciated Buddhism from a scholarly aspect.  She believes that Buddhism is really a way of life. She said “I’m confident that this is the only way for me.  I’m humbled by that.  I’m so happy that I found my way in this one and only life.  When I was young, as a teenager, I would question it, but there’s absolutely no question any more.  I’m ready to die any time, with the knowledge that I am ‘saved’.  I have no fear or regrets.  During my life, I never had any questions.  If I was born of another religion, I may have wondered ‘gee, it doesn’t work for me’, so I might have had to scramble to find something.  But I’ve never felt that way about my path.”

MVBT Choir in 1974 with new robes

Traditions at MVBT

March 1978, MVBT Dedication

The Sasakis believe that MVBT should continue its traditions:  good Temple services, scouting programs, choir, community involvement and support of ministers and their families.  Rev. LaVerne says “MVBT has supported all its ministers.  Because of this, I haven’t heard about any problems.  Minister visitations to families are important.  Optimally, the contact should not be directly between the minister and the family, but through the zone chairpersons who can ask the family if they’d like the minister to visit.  It’s easier to say ‘no’ to the zone chairperson than to the minister.”

Helen believes the Memorial Service program is very important to maintain, not only financially, but to honor our ancestors.  She says “It’s karmic. We’re here because of our ancestors and Memorial Services remind us of that.  I think Buddhist families should have a focused place to gather and remember their ancestors like an Obutsudan.  We have an Obutsudan with photos of our parents, grandparents, special aunts and uncles, and good friends that we miss.  It’s a very nice tradition.”

The toban system, where different groups of people help to do extra work to keep the Temple grounds as clean and beautiful as possible, makes them feel they have ownership of the Temple.

In 1990, Rev. LaVerne was transferred to the Buddhist Church of San Francisco.  MVBT threw a big party to thank the family for their years of guidance and wished them well in the future.

Sasaki Family at Farewell Party in Sangha Hall in 1990

Future of MVBT

Temple Cabinet in 1980

Based on MVBT’s tradition and the Sangha, the Sasakis see a bright future for the Temple.  Rev. LaVerne says “MVBT is a relatively young Temple with a shorter history, but has produced wonderful Buddhist ministers: Reverends Ken Tanaka, Jay Shinseki, Lee Rosenthal and Bill Briones.  I hope we can continue to produce more ministers and scholars from the young members of the MVBT Sangha.”

Helen believes that “MVBT is a thriving temple. At one time, we used to have these Obon festivals where everybody would come and it looked like it was thriving, at least financially, but it’s more than that.  It’s a beautiful Temple that draws people.  The Echo newsletter lets people know what’s going on with MVBT activities.  I know that financially it’s difficult to support a temple and the BCA movement.  I don’t think MVBT will have problems in the near future, but I don’t know about 50 years from now.”

BWA in 1979

They would like to see the Temple open its doors to let the entire community and surrounding area know about the Jodo Shinshu teachings by welcoming all to services, events and all activities.

Thank You

The Mountain View Buddhist Temple Sangha thank Rev. LaVerne, Helen and their family for their many years of support even after they moved to San Francisco and later retired.  The MVBT Sangha will always be grateful to them and have fond memories of their years at MVBT.

Next Month

Next month, the second part of the Super Senior Article on the Sasakis will focus on their family’s lives at the Mountain View Buddhist Temple.


Namo Amida Butsu

With Kindness and Gratitude beyond words.