Joan Yushin Derrick was married to John Daido Loori when he bought the property that was to become Zen Mountain Monastery. She told me this story of how the purchase came about.
“We had a friend, Neil, who lives here in Mount Tremper, and he invited us up for a weekend because he wanted to show John this place. ‘Oh, you’re just going to flip out. It’s perfect!’ We drove up. John, Neil, our son Asian, and myself came here. It was a crisp Spring day; the sun was shining. The gate was closed, and we parked outside the gate and walked in. And I saw John go pale. I saw him actually unable to breathe, he was so impressed and excited. He just kind of held onto the wall there, and he said, ‘What is this place?’ So Neil told him.
“The story is it was built around the turn of the century out of wood and then burned down and then they rebuilt it with stone, quarried here on the mountain, and the oak trees that they lumber. The property was inherited by this Norwegian priest, and he came here to build himself a church, and he had Norwegian carpenters and helpers and other priests do this, as well as the neighborhood community and the mountain tradesmen and craftsmen. So when they rebuilt it in—I think the sign says it was completed in 1926—this is what it looked like. But when we saw it, it had gone through many, many different owners. After the Norwegian priest had passed on, everything kind of fell apart and eventually it was just boarded up and left to die.
“However Harold Harr and his wife and their twelve children and the Lutheran community from Long Island were looking for someplace to have a children’s camp in the summer. And that was—I guess—the late ‘60s maybe? And all of them would come up from Long Island and run a children’s camp for under-privileged children out of New York City. So each summer, they would have a couple of hundred kids here.
“So the day that we came, Harold was sitting here on the grass, on the hill, looking at the building. He had come by himself, and it’s early March, and he’s looking at the building, and he’s thinking, ‘I just can’t do this another year.’ He was worn out. His kids were older. He and his wife had been chief cook, camp directors, yadda yadda. You know? And it’s 200 acres! So he was just sitting here, starting to figure out what he had to do. Lots of developers wanted to buy it. The Lutheran Church that he’d been associated with thought it would be a huge benefit if they sold it and got rid of it and didn’t have to deal with it anymore. And Daido comes walking up the drive, very slowly, and he sees this man, and he just walks straight towards him. And Harold stands up, and they shake hands. They both sit down on the grass; they start talking. And Neil had to go someplace. Asian and I went down to the river, and we fiddled around. It was freezing cold, but we walked all around. Kept checking to see if they were still there. A few hours later, when Neil came back, John was standing here, shaking hands with Harold Harr. So Harold goes back down, gets in his car, and John comes back to Neil and says, ‘I think I just bought this place.’ He was sparkling! He was thrilled. He had twenty-five cents in his pocket.”
[John Daido Loori - Cypress Trees in the Garden: 65, 224-25, 228, 232, 239, 251-269, 274, 280, 418-19, 476]
[See also: Zen Mountain Monastery]