OAKLAND, Calif. — Arriving a few minutes before the start of the Oakland 1st Ward sacrament meeting, I slipped into a pew toward the back of the chapel, sitting next to a kind-looking elderly gentleman.
"Good morning. I'm Brother Hoopes," the brother said brightly. I introduced myself and told him I was on vacation in the San Francisco area.
Just before the meeting started, Brother Hoopes asked, "How do you like our chapel?"
Looking around, I assessed its beauty and cleanliness as quite typical of LDS chapels. I told him, "I'm really impressed with the entire Temple Hill complex."
Knowing that ground had been broken for the first Church building on this Oakland hillside 50 years earlier, I asked him if he was around then.
"I was bishop of the ward then," he replied.
That was the first of the many facts Brother Lorenzo N. Hoopes — Ren to his friends — revealed about himself between meetings and after the three-hour block, never of his own volition, but in response to my queries.
Later, I asked him if he had any other connections to the Temple Hill complex and he said, "I was president of the temple."
"You were probably a mission president, too," I said. He answered, "Yes, in England." Not totally surprised, I asked which mission. "Bristol," he said, "1979-1982."
When asked, he announced he is 93 years old. He said he grew up in Box Elder County, Utah, and ended up in Oakland via Idaho and Los Angeles as an employee of the Safeway grocery company. He married Stella Sorensen in the Los Angeles California Temple in 1938. She died in 1996.
During his more than 60 years in Oakland, Brother Hoopes was a bishop twice and president of the Oakland California Stake.
After the meeting block, he cheerfully guided me on a tour of what was built as a tri-stake center for the Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco stakes in the 1950s. He noted that 29 stakes now cover the same area.
Though it was locked, he offered a peek through a window into the inter-stake center's 1,800-seat auditorium, home of the Church's only major indoor pageant. He said it is also the setting for Church meetings, concerts, firesides and other events. It is also valuable as a venue for appropriate community programs. Brother Hoopes said that while Steve Young was playing for the San Francisco 49ers, he sometimes brought teammates to firesides there.
South of the auditorium is a massive cultural hall — large enough for at least two full-size basketball courts. It can be opened to the stage of the auditorium. Brother Hoopes said that when the National Basketball Association's Philadelphia Warriors moved to San Francisco in 1962, they practiced in the Church's cultural hall for a time.
Again to the south are two-level meetinghouse facilities large enough for three units to concurrently hold their Sunday meetings.
Also on the grounds are a visitors center, family history center and employment center, and across the street is a mission home and distribution center.
Outside, Brother Hoopes gazed reverently at the crowning edifice of Temple Hill — the Oakland California Temple. It was dedicated in November 1964 by President David O. McKay, and Brother Hoopes was its president from 1985-1990.
The temple is clearly visible in the hills above Oakland from much of the East Bay and can even be picked out from the San Francisco side of the bay on a clear day by those who know where to look.
Brother Hoopes said the temple is a beacon for members in the area. He added that it was also once a beacon in a more literal way. During an energy crisis when people cut back on their use of electricity, the Church dutifully turned off the temple's exterior lights. He said a frantic call came in from air traffic control asking the Church to turn the lights back on because the temple was a marker to guide pilots to the airport.
During our conversation, Brother Hoopes mentioned he served two years in the 1950s as executive assistant to Dwight D. Eisenhower's Secretary of Agriculture, Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Still on the temple grounds, we could see downtown Oakland below and San Francisco across the bay. Brother Hoopes reminisced about the time Temple Hill was called Cow Hill, where children would slide down the grassy slopes on pieces of cardboard.
He asked me where I received my college degree. From Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, I answered. He was pleased I attended the same college he did and said he was now a member of the school's national advisory council. Asked why he didn't just retire, he said he couldn't imagine getting up in the morning without something to do. Then he excused himself to go conduct a meeting in his calling as director of the Temple Hill Public Affairs Council.
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