Brief biographies of Baha’is mentioned in ‘Memorials of the Faithful’ and ‘The Baha’i World’ volumes.

November 16, 2014

John David Bosch (1855-1946)

At the gate of the garden some stand and look within, but do not care to enter. Others step inside, behold its beauty, but do not penetrate far. Still others encircle this garden, inhaling the fragrance of the flowers, but having enjoyed its full beauty, pass out again by the same gate. But there are always some who enter, and becoming intoxicated with the splendor of what they behold, remain for life to tend the garden. (‘Abdu'l-Baha)

Such a gardener was John David Bosch. And the flowers he tended were the men, women and children in whose hearts he had, at one time or another, planted the seeds of spiritual truth. When he spoke of spiritual things and of Baha'u'llah, there was a light in his clear blue eyes that seemed to be a reflection of a splendor that few others have had the joy of beholding, and when he looked into the eyes of a fellow human being a glow of friendliness lighted up his face, crinkled his eyes at the corners and brought a quick smile to his lips.

Although there are many friends who remember him as a young man and possibly somewhat different in appearance, most of us who knew him only in his later years were sure that he must always have been a distinctive individual. He was tall and straight. His hair was white and he wore a well-trimmed white beard. In the summertime, when he dressed in his spotless white serge and Panama hat, he had the look of a man of noble rank.

He was a person of few words; he did not need to speak. His handclasp was warm and firm, and one was instantly at ease in his company. His every action was an expression of love and kindliness, and he was never happier than when serving his beloved Faith and Baha'i friends. To hear him tell of his precious experiences with 'Abdu'l-Baha was to feel that one had inhaled a bit of the fragrance of the Master's presence, and be drawn more closely both to Him and the John He loved so dearly.

John David Bosch (Johannes David Bosch) was born August 1, 1855, in New Sankt Johann in the Kanton of St. Gallen, Switzerland. His parents and grandparents were followers of the reformer Zwingali, a contemporary of Martin Luther. In the year 1621 twelve fathers of families in the Toggenburg of Switzerland had established a fund of two thousand florins to provide financial assistance every year to any two male descendants who cared to study theology. John, a direct descendant of one of the founders, was entitled to the benefits of this fund, but evidently God had other plans for him.

One of several children, he was but eleven years old when his mother died. She had been a woman of culture and deep spiritual insight and he felt her loss very keenly. His father married again. The second wife was a follower of Swedenborg, and before long John became familiar with the books of that renowned philosopher. Considering this exceptional religious background, it is not surprising that his impressionable young mind was influenced to want to know more about spiritual matters - a desire which was to be ultimately satisfied years afterward in another part of the world.

His formal education ended at the age of fourteen. He soon left home, going to Germany where for a few years he worked at and studied wine-making. From there he went to France and spent five years in its famed wine districts; then to Spain to further acquaint himself with his chosen business.

In 1879 he came to America with his sister Louisa and her husband, Johann Zuberbuhler, who planned to farm in Nebraska. For a while he worked on railroad construction. He began to learn English, and having decided that America should be his permanent home he made application for citizenship, which was granted in due time. He did not remain long in Nebraska. Like many other young men of that era, he heard the call of the West and determined to wend his way to California. In Oklahoma he worked for four months on a large ranch where he had charge of a thousand head of cattle and had to ride the range. The ranch was owned by a Chickasaw Indian in whom he found a true and lasting friend. But the lure of California was too strong to resist and so he set out again, finally reaching Sacramento in 1881. During the next ten years he was occupied in various branches of the wine trade in the southern part of the state.

In 1889 he paid a brief visit to his native land. Sometime after his return he moved to northern California to become superintendent of the large winery at Windsor in Sonoma County.

In 1899, under the direction of the California Wine Association, he superintended the erection and equipment, at Geyserville, of the largest and most modern winery in the country for the manufacture of dry and sweet wines and brandies. He made his home there but retained his position as superintendent of both wineries until his retirement from the business. He also organized and managed the California Grape Nectar Company for the production, by an improved process of sterilization, of a superior quality of unfermented grape juice. This company he eventually turned over to the Association. Between 1909 and 1936 he acquired extensive properties in Sonoma, Mendocino, and Contra Costa Counties, on which were grown varied agricultural crops. As there were many olive and prune trees on his Geyserville land, he at one time experimented in the making of high grade olive oil, and built a plant for prune-drying on a commercial scale; and a hobby of his had been the raising of pure breed Swiss goats.

Incidentally, it was in 1900 that he completed his progress in the Masonic Order, receiving the thirty-second degree and becoming a member of San Francisco Scottish Rite Consistory No. l.

Throughout all these years Mr. Bosch persisted in his ardent search for truth. Referring to his passing, a friend recalled that when he had first met him he was investigating the claims of spiritualism and occult sciences. "He was an unusual seeker after truth," the friend wrote, "in that he was not urged because of misery or dissatisfaction in his life, nor by curiosity. I saw him grasp the fact of the immortality of man, and that seemed sufficient for him."

Mr. Bosch had not heard of the Baha'i Faith until early in 1905 when, traveling by train from San Francisco to Geyserville, he chanced to meet an old acquaintance, a Mrs. Beckwith of Chicago. She was reading the book, 'Abbas Effendi, His .Life and Teachings, by Myron H. Phelps. He picked it up, glanced over a few pages, and asked: "Where did you get this book? It is good enough for me and I want to buy a copy." She referred him to Mrs. Helen Goodall of Oakland, upon whom he called three months later and learned of the history and principles of the Faith. Having found what seemed to be the truth for which he had been seeking, he endeavored to attend the meetings in her home at least once a month. As these meetings were of the afternoon tea party variety, there were seldom any men but himself present, and sometimes he would stand with one foot on the ferry and the other on the wharf, hesitating whether to join the ladies or remain in San Francisco; but always, when the whistle blew, he would be aboard bound for Oakland and the Goodall home.

On May 29, 1905, he wrote his first letter to 'Abdu'l-Baha. The acknowledgement, received through Mrs. Goodall, enjoined: "O thou John Bosch: Raise the call of the Kingdom and give the Glad-Tidings to the people; guide them to the Tree of Life, so that they may gather the fruits from that Tree and attain that great Bounty."

That was the first of many Tablets from 'Abdu'l-Baha. Some were addressed to him alone, and some to him and another believer together. One was written June 23, 1912, to him and his friend, the famous Mr. Luther Burbank of Santa Rosa. In this Tablet, 'Abdu'lBaha called them: "Ye two roses in the Garden of the Knowledge of God," and expressed the hope that: "In the utmost of freshness and beauty ye may became manifest; that is, ye may arise to serve the Kingdom of God."

And in an earlier message 'Abdu'lBaha wrote: "With the utmost humility I pray at the Kingdom of Abha that that soul [Mr. Bosch] may become holy, find capacity to receive the outpouring of Eternity and become a luminous star in the West."

Upon learning that the use of alcoholic liquor as a beverage is forbidden in the teachings of Baha'u'llah, Mr. Bosch - a professional wine taster, though a non-drinker of spirituous liquors - became troubled about what he should do in regard to his wine business. Therefore, in a letter to 'Abdu'l-Baha, he asked for advice. In reply, 'Abdu'lBaha suggested that it would be better to engage in another business, but gradually. Consequently he severed his connection with the Association in 1916 and applied himself to the further development of his properties .

Mr. Bosch attended the first Baha'i Temple Unity Convention in Chicago, in 1909, as a delegate from the Pacific Coast and Hawaii. While there he met many of the early Baha'is, and in a short time his home became a point of attraction for traveling teachers, including Mr. Thornton Chase, Mr. Charles Mason Remey, and Mrs. Isabella D. Brittingham; also Mrs. Lua Getsinger, whose visit inspired him to write 'Abdu'l-Baha, December 1, 1910, "May this simple place on the hills be dedicated to the universal spirit of the teachings of Baha'u'llah."

When the news came that 'Abdu'l-Baha was on the way to America, Mr. Bosch had such an overwhelming desire to see Him he started for New York on April 12, 1912. At Chicago, hearing that 'Abdu'l-Baha was in Washington, he went there instead, only to find that 'Abdu'l-Baha had not yet left New York. So he hurried on to that city, arriving very early on a cold and snowy morning. As soon as he had secured his room in the Hotel Ansonia he stole to 'Abdu'l-Baha's suite and was admitted almost immediately. Relating his experience to a friend, Mr. Bosch said:

When I entered the room I had a pocketful of questions to ask 'Abdu'l-Baha, but when I saw Him I suddenly felt quite empty. I never took the questions out. Eventually 'Abdu'l-Baha told me all that I had wanted to ask Him. Foolishly I remarked that I had come three thousand miles to see Him, and He smilingly replied, "I came seven thousand miles to see you." I told Him that I, being a foreigner, had not the capacity of a speaker and that my work so far had been to circulate books and a few pamphlets. 'Abdu'l-Baha said: "You are doing very well; you are doing better than talking. With you it is not words or the movement of the lips; with you it is the heart that speaks. In your presence silence speaks and radiates." Then tea was brought in and after we had both partaken of it 'Abdu'l-Baha said: "You are now one of the family. You may come and go as you please."

I remained with 'Abdu'l-Baha while He received many visitors. Then I went for a walk, and when I returned after an hour I was amazed to see about two hundred people in the lobby. In a few minutes 'Abdu'l-Baha passed through. Noticing the respect that these people paid Him, the assistant manager of the hotel, who was standing near me, remarked, "That must be a man of God."

Three automobiles were awaiting 'Abdu'l-Baha and His party to take them to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Kinney for luncheon. 'Abdu'lBaha stepped into the first one with two of the Persian friends. There was a vacant seat and one of the attendants beckoned me to come. As I reached the door, 'Abdu'l-Baha seized me by the hand and pulled me into the car, seating me at His right. He seemed very tired. Immediately He put His arm around my waist, dropped His head on my left shoulder, and with a deep sigh went to sleep. During the entire hour's drive, while the friends in the automobiles looked at the sights, 'Abdu'l-Baha slept.

When we arrived at the Kinney home a chair was placed in the center of the room for 'Abdu'l-Baha, but He did not sit in it. Instead, He walked about among the people, shaking hands. When He came to me He passed right by without seeing me, and for a moment I felt hurt. Then I remembered that in the morning He had told me that I was "one of the family," and I knew then that there had been no need to say anything to me.

'Abdu'l-Baha departed for Washington five days later and Mr. Bosch went in the same car; eight days afterward he again traveled in the same car with Him to Chicago. It was on this trip that 'Abdu'l-Baha bestowed upon him the name "Nurani," writing it out in His own hand and explaining, through an interpreter, that it meant "full of light." Mr. Bosch humbly expressed the wish that 'Abdu'l-Baha might find time to visit his unpretentious home in Geyserville, to which 'Abdu'l-Baha replied, "With you," -and repeating- "with you, I would sleep in the basement."

Mr. Bosch remained in Chicago for the Annual Baha'i Convention and was present when 'Abdu'l-Baha laid the foundation stone of the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, May 1, 1912.

The story of the visit of 'Abdu'l-Baha to California cannot be told here, but suffice it to say that Mr. Bosch spent every possible moment in His presence. In San Francisco, on January 19, 1914, Mr. Bosch married Mrs. Louise Sophia Stapfer of New York, being the second marriage for each of them. She, too, was a native of Switzerland, and from that time forward, in all their activities, the names of "John and Louise" were inseparable.

When the Teaching Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Baha were released, Mr. and Mrs. Bosch were eager to respond at once. As both spoke fluent French, they chose Tahiti of the Society Islands in which to pioneer, and in 1920 they taught for five months in Papeiti. One whom they met was a minister, and he later thanked 'Abdu'l-Baha for sending these emissaries to his people. On the day of their departure, the islanders showered them with gifts and, in accordance with a Tahitian custom, bestowed upon Mr. Bosch a title meaning "First king of the great family of Baha'is arrived among us."

In April of the next year Mr. and Mrs. Bosch left Geyserville for Haifa to see 'Abdu'l-Baha. After visiting and teaching in France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, they reached Haifa on November 14, 1921. Only their spoken words could adequately describe the joy and happiness they had being with 'Abdu'l-Baha for two heavenly weeks. But no words could portray the depth of the sorrow that descended upon them, and upon the household, and upon all the Baha'is of the world, when 'Abdu'l-Baha passed away on November 28, 1921.

Two days before His passing, 'Abdu'lBaha had walked in the garden with Mr. Bosch, giving him fruit from the orange trees. He was the last Westerner to have this great blessing. Also to him was given the sacred privilege of assisting the family with the preparations for the burial of the Servant of God; and the shoulder upon which 'Abdu'l-Baha had slept in New York, helped in Haifa to carry His casket to its final resting-place on Mt. Carmel.

At the request of Bahiyyih Khanum, the sister of 'Abdu'l-Baha, Mr. and Mrs. Bosch remained in Haifa for the customary forty days of mourning. During this period, the grandson of 'Abdu'lBaha, Shoghi Effendi, returned from England to become the first Guardian of the Baha'i Faith. When Mr. and Mrs. Bosch took their leave, he handed them the first copy of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Baha to deliver to the Baha'i Convention in Chicago in April 1922.

En route to the United States they revisited Germany, and it was then that Mr. Bosch was instrumental in bringing about one of the first Baha'i meetings in Berlin.

Upon their return to Geyserville they were soon engrossed in teaching work. Frequently they made trips to southern California. In the winter of 1927- 1928 Mr. Bosch visited Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, in the latter city aiding in the formation of the first local Spiritual Assembly in 1928. Wherever he went he carried to the friends the spirit of love and devotion to the Faith that motivated his own life. Mrs. Bosch, meanwhile, was doing her part, traveling from place to place, striving to spread the Faith in Sonoma County. But the greatest of all testimonials to their unremitting labors is the Baha'i School at Geyserville.

On August 1, 1925, more than a hundred Baha'is from the San Francisco Bay area, besides other guests, congregated at Geyserville to celebrate the seventieth birthday of Mr. Bosch. It proved to be such a happy affair it was repeated the succeeding year, and at that time the idea of a western school for the training of Baha'i teachers began to take shape.

In the spring of 1927 the National Spiritual Assembly appointed a committee of three - John Bosch, Leroy Ioas, and George Latimer - to find a location for a western states Baha'i summer school. Mr. Bosch recalled that he had written 'Abdu'l-Baha in 1919, offering his Geyserville property for "a Baha'i community home or cooperative institution and Baha'i school." Hence it was but natural that he should again offer the facilities of his ranch for this purpose.

Thus the first Baha'i school in the West came into being, the first session opening on his seventy-second birthday, August 1, 1927. In subsequent letters the Guardian stressed the hope that this school would "flourish and attract an increasing number of spiritually-minded, capable souls" who would "in time unreservedly accept the Baha'i Revelation in its entirety and thus reinforce the work that is being achieved for our beloved Cause."

In 1936 Mr. and Mrs. Bosch deeded their property to the National Spiritual Assembly, thereby establishing the school as a permanent institution of the American Baha'i community. In previous years they had been personal hosts to the friends, housing them without cost, and demonstrating that unique spirit of hospitality which from the very beginning they had poured out in a veritable flood upon Baha'is and non-Baha'is alike. Particularly was this true at the Unity Feasts, that each year marked the opening of the sessions, at which they so warmly welcomed everyone. From 1927 on, the success of the school became the all-compelling purpose of their lives, and they liked nothing better than to share with the friends, at four o'clock tea under the "Big Tree," their recollections of 'Abdu'l-Baha', and the believers of former days.

Mr. Bosch lived to see the school grow from a small, informal gathering to an efficiently operating institution, from which many young people went forth to take the teachings to countries in which he had once traveled and taught. His last appearance at the school was on the festive occasion of his eighty-ninth birthday when students and invited guests assembled in the evening at Baha'i Hall to do him honor. An enormous cake, bearing eighty-nine lighted candles, was brought in and placed upon the table at which Mr. and Mrs. Bosch were seated. Then a long line of children marched in, singing "Happy Birthday" as they laid their handfuls of flowers on the table until it was entirely covered - evidence of the love cherished by both old and young for these two selfless souls. Mr. Bosch, amid much advice and laughter, at last succeeded in blowing out the candles. After individual greetings and felicitations, the whole party moved down to the "Big Tree" to partake of the cake and elaborate refreshments the hostesses had prepared.

Following a lingering illness, Mr. Bosch passed quietly away on July 22, 1946, just at the end of the twentieth session of the Baha'i School, and nine days before his ninety-first birthday.

On July 24, at two o'clock in the afternoon, funeral rites were held in Baha'i Hall where the body had lain in state since midmorning. Masses of floral pieces bore silent witness to the affection, esteem and respect of Baha'is, neighbors, and business associates. During the impressive ceremonies conducted by Mr. Leroy Ioas, an intimate Baha'i friend, the village stores remained closed. The pallbearers were neighbors and Baha'is representing several nationalities. A beautiful spot in Olive Hill Cemetery, overlooking peaceful Sonoma Valley and shaded by the trees so dear to him, is now his resting-place.

A cablegram sent by the Guardian from Haifa was received by the National Spiritual Assembly July 29:

"Profoundly grieve passing dearly beloved, great-hearted, high-minded, distinguished servant of Baha'u'llah, John Bosch. His saintly life, pioneer services, historic contribution of institution of summer school, entitle him to rank among outstanding figures of the closing years of heroic, and opening years of formative age of the Baha'i Dispensation. Concourse on high extol his exalted services. Assure his wife and valiant companion of my deepfelt sympathy. Advise hold special gathering in Temple as tribute to his imperishable memory."

As befitting one of such lofty station, the earthly chapter of his life closed with a memorial service in the Baha'i. House of Worship at Wilmette, on Sunday, November 24, 1946, to pay homage to his immortal memory. 
(by Charlotte M. Linfoot, ‘The Baha’i World 1946-1950)