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A Historical Journey - At 35th and Normandie - 1945-1964

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

By Carolyn Tokunaga

At 35th and Normandie - 1945-1964

With the end of World War II in 1945, the Japanese were allowed to return to the West Coast, uncertain of what awaited them. Centenary had been a place of worship and community, a place of acceptance and love, and most recently, a storage facility. As people returned to Los Angeles, it would serve as a Hostel for over 800 returnees.

Rev. Yuzuru Yamaka and his wife Teruko not only served as faith anchors on their return to Centenary but also provided physical sustenance for the returning exiles. Mrs. Yamaka unselfishly became the Hostel supervisor, registering and assigning returnees to their quarters in the classrooms of the main building and Wesley Chapel. She purchased all of the groceries and supplies. Beds and bedding were furnished by the Mission Board and a hired cook prepared 3 meals a day. Volunteer, Mr. Danzo Kiyohara, helped them find work. Rev. Yamaka led worship every Sunday to continue feeding their faith.

For six months, Centenary once again provided caring and nurturing, support and spiritual encouragement during this difficult transitional period.

By the late 1940s, the Nisei congregation had outgrown their space for worship in the Wesley Chapel and switched places with the Issei congregation. Although smaller than the Nisei congregation, the Issei remained a very strong and active part of Centenary. The Issei Sunday School continued to offer opportunities for spiritual growth and supported the faith that carried them through the hardships of past years. The Nichigo Choir raised their voices in praise after the forced hiatus of the war and return. The Ladies Aid Society became the Issei Fujinkai, continuing to serve as they had from their 1920 beginnings. Nozomi Kai and the Nihongo Men were organized. The Issei continued as a growing, vibrant part of Centenary.

The 1950’s witnessed an explosion in the population of the Nisei congregation. There were over 500 children and youth in the Sunday School. Over 40 teachers provided religious instruction during the 9:30 and 11:00 sessions that coincided with the two scheduled English worship services. For the very young, a weekday pre-school existed. With this large component of Sansei at Centenary, many programs were developed to serve their needs.

Every year for over two decades, new Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs were formed. The clubs provided fellowship and learning, opportunities for community outreach and avenues to contribute to the life of the church. With active participation of boys and their dads and girls and their moms, family bonds were strengthened and parents had wonderful ways to build ties with not only their children but with other parents. Lifelong friendships were made and many groups continue to have reunions even as members move into their 60s and 70s.

Beyond the Sunday School experience there was a Senior Methodist Youth Fellowship (11th and 12th graders) and an Intermediate MYF (9th and 10th graders). College and older youth could join the Wesley Fellowship, the Adult Fellowship existed for those over 25, and young married couples were the Married Mates. All provided Christian fellowship and opportunities for service.

In 1949, the Nisei women formed the Junior Matrons to meet socially but in 1959 joined the Women’s Service of Christian Service which involved them in global ministries. This group is now the United Methodist Women.

The church was incorporated by the State of California in 1952.

In 1952, the United Methodist Men were chartered. They could be found taking on many of the maintenance/repair and building projects around the church. For 4 months in 1954, they worked nights to remodel the social hall, kitchen and chapel.

The Chancel Choir continued to raise their voices in praise during both English worship services. For the children, there was the Junior Choir.

The Chimes newsletter kept members apprised of events and happenings. With a membership approaching 1000, communication was an important part of church life. Many of the church groups helped assemble the Chimes for distribution and mailing.

In 1954, Mr. and Mrs. Takejiro Kusayanagi donated their stately mansion located at 3741 W. 27th Street in Los Angeles to the church. Centenary decided to establish a home for the elderly and Kusayanagi Hall opened its facilities in 1955 to provide housing for 16 boarders. The beautiful grounds were often used for the Sunday School Easter Egg Hunts.

In 1961 and again in 1965, Centenary was able to acquire properties north of the church to build parking for the growing congregation (a $78,000 expenditure).

With Sunday School classes in 3 buildings – the main chapel and Wesley Chapel classrooms, and in the rooms of the Annex House donated in 1956 by Mr. and Mrs. Takejiro Kusayanagi as a Golden Wedding Anniversary gift, it was again time to consider a new building program. In 1959, the church embarked on a campaign to raise $273,000 for a new Christian Education and Chapel Building to be built on the site of the Annex House and two additional properties that were purchased. The Consecration Service in the new Chapel and the first session of the Sunday School classes in the Christian Education Building were on January 21, 1962. In 1964, with its dedication, the 35th and Normandie building expansion was complete.

Our Ministers: 1945-1964

During this period, Centenary experienced tremendous growth. The Issei remained the backbone of the church they birthed but the English ministry came into its own. For their children, the Nisei expanded the programs that had provided them with faith and nurture during their childhoods. It took the work of many to continue the vision and dreams of the original 15 founders.

Issei Ministers: Rev. Yuzuru Yamaka (1945) returned after evacuation and Rev. Thomas Machida (1954).

Nisei Ministers: Rev. Waichi Oyanagi (1946), Rev. Sam Takagishi (1947), and Rev. John Yamashita (1952).

Assisted by: Student Worker Wesley Yamaka (1947), Director Elinor Umezawa (1947), Assistant Pastor Frank Iritani (1952), and Minister of Education Rev. Edward Iwamoto (1961).

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