A letter circulated to Jim Kohr’s

From Andrew Hallum San Marino, California January 27, 1990

A letter circulated to Jim Kohr’s (Jayananda) classmates

Dear Oakwood High School Classmates and Friends,

I want to tell you about my Christmas vacation trip to Durban, South Africa. This letter is about one of our classmates, Jim Kohr.

While in Durban on December 29 and 30, 1989, I attended each day the Hare Krishna Festival of the Chariots being held on the beachfront. To give you an idea of the size of the festival, they fed 52,000 plates of food on the first day. It was vegetarian food and given free to all who wanted it. And it was tasty!

The chariot was 45 feet tall. It carried about a dozen people on it, throwing candies to the crowd. It was being pulled by members of the movement. The first day of the festival opened with a parade along Durban’s Golden Mile, in front of all the luxury hotels.

On the chariot are painted figures of Krishna and his consort, a wax museum model of the man who brought Hare Krishna to the West, and a photo of a man in Hare Krishna robes. The photo was about 2 1/2 by 3 feet. I asked my South African friend who knows a lot about Hare Krishna who the photo was of. He said he didn’t know.

The second day of the festival, my friend drew me into a conversation with a French woman who has lived in South Africa for 20 years and been in the Hare Krishna for 11 years. I told her about my classmate who died in San Francisco in 1977 while active in Hare Krishna. She asked his name. I told her it was Jim Kohr. She asked me if the previous day I had seen the photo on the front of the chariot. She told me it was Jim Kohr!! They call him by his Krishna name of Jayananda but she knew his Jim Kohr name, too. And she knew about his college degree. I was flabbergasted, to say the least.

That day I spoke to about a dozen Hare Krishna members who all know the full story of Jim Kohr, or Jayananda, as they always call him. They all know about his death from leukemia, his strength at the end of his life, and his devotion to the Krishna movement. And these people have not been to the USA and, probably, joined Hare Krishna after Jim died in 1977. But they know all about him.

Here are some of the stories they told me. Jim took money that Mr. and Mrs. Kohr sent him for pain-killer prescriptions and used it, instead, to design and build bigger and better chariots. Jim is responsible for the development of the Festival of the Chariots, and they hold these festivals worldwide. Once a year they have a day honoring Jim and they fast that day. In San Francisco Jim was responsible for dealing with the outside community. People who didn’t like dealing with Hare Krishna folk did like to deal with Jim. Jim is mentioned in one of the books written by the man who brought Hare Krishna to the West. The book is Nectar of Devotion.

In their South African newsletter that was being passed out at the festival, Jim is quoted telling about the first festival in San Francisco in the 1970’s, saying how primitive that chariot was in comparison to the present chariot (at least in Durban). The chariots are probably even bigger in the USA. Jim started it all. He directed his last festival from his wheelchair.

I have a photo of the front of the chariot showing the photo of Jim. The photo was not taken to show Jim since I didn’t know at that time that it was Jim. And I have newsletter photos of the whole chariot to show the size of it. I’ll bring these to the next OHS reunion in 1992. One of the Hare Krishna devotees, as they call themselves, is going to send me a packet of articles on Jim which have been written in their various newsletters over the years.

During his last days in the hospital, Jim would not or could not eat. To tempt him, the devotees asked him what foods he wanted prepared. He said cauliflower which is dipped in batter and fried. When they brought it to him, he didn’t eat it, but he rolled himself up and down the halls giving it to the other patients.

I had spoken to Mrs. Kohr about six years ago when I came upon a photo of Jim and me at summer camp in Minnesota in 1951. I sent it to her. Mrs. Kohr told me how the Hare Krishna people in San Francisco had taken such good care of Jim and how well treated, respectfully treated, Mr. Kohr and she had been on their trips to San Francisco to visit Jim at the end. How modest Mrs. Kohr is!

I called Mrs. Kohr long distance from Durban, South Africa, to ask her, “Do you know who your son is?!” She said yes, she knew. Mr. and Mrs. Kohr (Jim and Jane) live at [___]. Mrs. Kohr explained that their street is called 20 1/2 because it is 20 1/2 miles form the Utah border! I had tracked them down through Sherwin-Williams Paints, where I remembered Mr. Kohr had worked. I talked again with Mr. and Mrs. Kohr just last weekend to tell them what a powerfully moving time I had in Durban. I was a celebrity at the festival because I knew Jim! I was asked all about his family. I was asked what brothers and sisters he had. I was told his must have been a very spiritual family. The founder said Jim was really pure.

Now I hope I explain the next properly. As I understand the Hare Krishna movement, and I may have it all confused, one is reincarnated again and again until he perfects his life enough to go to be with Krishna, or God. They believe that Jim has gone directly to Krishna’s abode and has no further need to be reincarnated. He doesn’t need anymore perfecting. He has achieved it all.

I was repeatedly asked, “What was Jim like in school?” Well, you know, that was quite a few years ago. I had even forgotten, or just not given a thought to the fact that Jim and I lived in the same cabin in summer camp. I forgot that until I came upon the 1951 camp photo. And the photo of Jim on the front of the chariot is unrecognizable because of the years, the Hare Krishna robes Jim is wearing, and because as they said, the photo is not a good one because it was not taken until Jim was very ill. I told them that Jim was very funny. They said they could believe and understand that from what they had heard about him.

I was told that Jim worked very hard. When Jim cleaned the garbage cans, he cleaned them so well “because they were Krishna’s.” New devotees would see his work and think, “If this is how thoroughly the garbage cans have to be cleaned, how must the more important work be done?” One time when Jim was a leader, he returned late at night and saw that a chore had not been done properly. Rather than awaken the offender, Jim did the job over again himself. Jim could run on very little sleep.

A surprise birthday party was given for Jim, but he was truly embarrassed by all this attention being directed at him.

So, now, the next time you see a Hare Krishna devotee on the streets, go up and tell him or her that you went to school with Jayananda. You’ll get red carpet treatment. The story of Jayananda will be known! And, remember, I was in South Africa, which is 11,000 miles from Los Angeles. And they all knew!

I must take this opportunity to share other good bits of news that I have. In 1989…