The Best Eight Years of Our Life

By Frederick W. Sampsel

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    My family and I arrived October 22, 1970 in the Philippines where I was assigned to start the Church construction program. At that time my family consisted of my wife Mary and daughters Renee and LaVonne.

    President Dewitt C. Smith who was then the new Mission President gave us a lot of good counsel. We had only been in the Philippines a month when powerful Typhoon “Yoling” hit Manila causing wide destruction. It tore up our village—except our house. We were without water and electricity for several weeks. I had to take my bath in the rain and let the rain water wash the soap off my body. I collected rain water to flush the comfort rooms and take baths. During the height of the typhoon I had my family sit under a beam over the door and as I looked at their scared faces I thought “what did I bring my family into.”

    I was in the country only two months and I already had the first chapel under construction—the Quezon City Chapel. This first project was bid November 19, 1970 during the week of Typhoon “Yoling.” But it had to be rebid due to the difficulties caused by the typhoon. Ground breaking was done January 4, 1971 and work was started by the contractor, Juanito Gutierez who was not a Church member at that time. In fact he did not know what a “Mormon” was.

    Construction work on the Quezon City Chapel progressed fairly well. However, I encountered a little problem—the construction approach and methods used in the Philippines varied from the construction approach and methods I was used to in the United States. For instance, it was hard for me to get used to seeing so much timber set up prior to actual digging of the foundations but I learned soon that I cannot change the methods used and expect to get chapels constructed, at least right away. But one method that I insisted the contractors use is the use of pumped concrete to the ridged frames so that there will be a monolithic pour and not have any cold joints in the truss structure. The workers were not familiar with this method but later on the men worked well in handling the moveable pipes for the flow of the concrete.

    About five months after construction work on the Quezon City Chapel started, work on another chapel—the Caloocan Chapel, began with the same contractor. The aesthetics of the chapel site and the chapel itself can be classed as possibly the best in Asia at that time.

    Even before the Caloocan Chapel was finished we bid another chapel—the Clark-Angeles Chapel in 1972. Engineer Avelino V. Tanjuakio was the contractor who won the bid. Ground breaking was held on June 6, 1972 on the very day that the big flood of 1972 started. Construction work started on September 1972. This chapel became a landmark to travellers going to Baguio and the northern parts of the Philippines. It is located along the national road and people now are able to see a Mormon chapel springing up in their midst.

    In 1973 President Carl D. Jones became the President of the Manila Mission. Plans to build more chapels were placed on the drawing board. We were also beginning to purchase more chapel sites.

    After Clark-Angeles Chapel was completed, work on the Cavite Chapel started. It was interesting to note that laborers digging the foundations of the Cavite Chapel were always digging in one meter of water because the water table was almost ground level and we had two pumps constantly pumping out the water so that steel could be set and concrete poured. I respected those laborers for the way they worked and the conditions under which they worked. I had to learn tolerance to a greater degree than I had known before.

    Members have now become excited with the building program. Until the Quezon City Chapel was constructed there was only one chapel in the Philippines. It is the Buendia Chapel which was reconstructed in 1974 due to the deterioration of the laminated trusses. A Stake office was also built within the chapel compound. The tremendous growth of the Church by now demanded the construction of more chapels. When the Cavite Chapel was finished and the reconstruction of the Buendia Chapel was accomplished, we planned the construction of chapels in the southern regions as all of the chapels so far built were in the Manila area.

    In 1975 chapel construction was started in Davao, Bacolod and Cebu and they were completed in 1976. At this time the Marikina Chapel and Los Baños Chapel were constructed.

    The Cebu Chapel was a construction challenge due to its location, being on the site of the last resistance of the Japanese in World War II and the hill it was constructed on had many tunnels which had to be sealed and filled. Because of its split level type of construction and its aesthetics, people from far and wide acclaim the Cebu Chapel as the best in Asia. It is a very prominent looking edifice which also serves as a missionary tool in proselyting.

    By this time nine chapels were constructed and one rebuilt—the Buendia Chapel. In 1977 four more chapels were constructed for Pasay Ward, Manila Ward, Santa Mesa Ward and Baguio Branch, making a total of 13 chapels built and one rebuilt. At present there are a total of eleven chapels now to construct and/or ready for ground breaking. There are approximately 25 additional chapel sites and a Stake office to build, new Mission offices, building to be remodeled in Ozamis, and the remodeling of the Manila Mission office.

    But with all these construction works, the highlight of my stay in this country is seeing the baptism of two fine men who worked with me—Juanito Gutierrez, my first contractor who is now Bishop of the Marikina Ward, and Engineer Avelino V. Tanjuakio who is now Governor Elect of the Kiwanis of Luzon. I will cherish my association with many wonderful people and friends especially my efficient secretary, Miss Nilda Austria.

    My family and I will go home with our hearts full of love for the Filipino people and will long remember our experiences here in building chapels for the Lord. I have constructed many buildings in the million dollar bracket but I can say without reservations that the last eight years in the Philippines have been the greatest challenge of my life. Truly, the best eight years of our life have been well spent in the Philippines.

    Since we arrived my family has increased three more. I now have two sons, David and Daniel, ages 5 and 8, and a daughter Rebecca Rachel, 3 years old. This is an actual fulfillment of our patriarchal blessings. Certainly, we will leave with mixed emotions when the time comes. My daughter LaVonne said, “Papa I don’t know anything except in the Philippines, I grew up here.” I think we all did a little.

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    • Brother Frederick W. Sampsel is the Construction Supervisor in the Philippines and also PBO Zone Manager—Building Department. Prior to his assignment in the Philippines, he was Manager of the Direct Construction Dept. of the State of California in the State Architect’s Office. He is also a Contractor, Real Estate Broker and Qualified Architect.