Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Buddhists find home in N.Ky. schoolhouse

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Geshe Jinpa Sonam
INDEPENDENCE - By late summer, this fast-growing Kenton County city could be home to Northern Kentucky's first Buddhist center.

Independence City Council recently approved the first step in granting official approval to a group that wants to turn the city's first schoolhouse into a church called the Gomang Meditation and Dharma Center.

Already, people are coming to the center to hear Buddhist teachings each week.

If the zoning change is approved this summer, a year-old Buddhist meditation and dharma center operating in the historic schoolhouse here would be one step closer to functioning as a church.

The nonprofit religious organization expects to draw members from throughout the Tristate, as it has nearly 200 names on a mailing list. The closest centers for Buddhists are in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Clifton and Bloomington, Ind.

[IMAGE] Participants listen to a translation of the teachings of Geshe Jinpa Sonam (center), a Buddhist Monk from India.
(Craig Ruttle photos)
| ZOOM |
The group plans to renovate the yellow schoolhouse building it now occupies at 5209 Madison Pike. Built between 1910 and 1912, the two-story brick structure was the original Independence grade school.

"They'd been looking for a place for some time, and when they found the old schoolhouse, they just fell in love with it right away,'' said City Council member Carol Franzen, who attends Independence Christian Church less than a block away. "They also said that they wanted to restore the building, which I really liked."

George Soister, a Melbourne resident who was raised Baptist, is co-director of the center with Hee Soon Choi, a Korean-born American citizen who was raised Catholic. He quips "that it was fate or a bad alternator" that led them to Independence.

"On New Year's Day 2000, Hee Soon and I were searching for a place to have the center,'' Soister said. "We already had looked at a few properties in Northern Kentucky, when our car died on us right next to the (former schoolhouse). We called for a wrecker. In the meantime, many people stopped and offered their help. And the guy who came to tow us told us the whole history of the schoolhouse."

After looking all over Northern Kentucky for a possible location, Soister said the historic schoolhouse "just stood out."


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