LIVINGSTON -- In the early 1900s, some of the San Joaquin Valley was still dry, arid land, but some astute farmers soon changed that with hard work, improved irrigation and a church.
Born in 1919, Bob Ohki, a patron of Livingston's United Methodist Church, has seen a lot of change in the Livingston area.
"It was a desert," he recalled. "Nothing but foxtails and tumbleweeds."
However, by using farming and irrigation knowledge from their homeland, Japanese immigrants helped transition the area so it was useful for farming, Ohki said.
The influx of Japanese to the area brought about a need for a church. Some Japanese pioneers were already Christian, but many others later converted.
The United Methodist Church will celebrate its 100th anniversary Sunday at the church on 11695 Olive Ave. Members will be commemorating its history at the event.
The First Methodist Church began in Livingston in 1910 where the police station stands now, said the Rev. Bob Kuyper of the church. Pastor J.S. Walton lived in a tent next to the church to build it.
In 1917, another Methodist church known as Grace was started in the Japanese agricultural community known as Yamato Colony, he said. The purpose was to have a church that catered to the Japanese language.
Both churches worked closely together, but in 1966, the Rev. Harper Sakaue of Grace was tragically killed when his car was hit by a train while he was trying to pick up his daughter from school because she was sick.
After the accident, the two churches merged and the Rev. William Thompson became pastor of both churches, Kuyper said. The merger was completed in 1968 with the new name of United Methodist Church.
The merger was almost unanimously supported by patrons of both churches, Ohki added.
"We've been happy ever since," he said. "They did it right in this community somehow."
Because of a fire in 1978, the site where the First Methodist Church stood was vacated.
A lot of people from the Japanese-American community remain involved with the church, as well as Anglo members, Kuyper said. "It becomes a center for a lot of things. The two cultures are working together as one church, we're one in Christ."
The church has changed a lot since the early Japanese pioneers, said Sherman Kishi, an 85-year-old board member of the church.
Kuyper thinks the church still has a strong following and is doing well, but Kishi said it's having trouble attracting younger members.
The church is still an important part of the community, and fewer young people getting involved isn't limited to the United Methodist Church, he said.
"All the churches are having a hard time," Kishi said. "We are not having an easy time in the community either because we are having a difficult time attracting the younger people. Most of us in the church now are getting pretty old."
Modern distractions and a hectic lifestyle often keep kids away from religion, he explained.
"I think there are so many other activities that young people have available to them that church and religion isn't that important to them," Kishi said. "But for some of us, the church is still the bulwark of our community."
A lot of good memories came from the church, he said. Kishi remembers himself and about 10 other kids getting baptized at 10 years old. "The church has been the center for much of our activities." Kishi said.
Marion Young, a patron of the church since 1958, came from the First Methodist Church, unlike Ohki and Kishi who came from Grace. She expects Sunday's event to go over well.
"We're all family here," she said. "I'm very excited about it."
More memories will be made Sunday during the church's anniversary celebration. Bishop Warner Brown will be the guest preacher for a worship service at 10:30 a.m. A luncheon will follow the service, but there aren't any more seats available.
A history of the church will also be provided by Kuyper and former pastors.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.