In his 53 years as pastor of The Open Door Church in Oceano, the Rev. Robert James Banker officiated or led prayers at countless weddings, memorial services, quinceañeras, city council meetings and other events, his family recalled Wednesday.
Banker died Sunday at the age of 85, about six months after he was diagnosed with adult acute myeloid leukemia.
His last sermon was Feb. 9 — 53 years and three months after he first spoke at the century-old church at 1911 Ocean St.
“Whenever anyone wanted anything, he’d try to help them out,” said Patsy Banker, his wife of nearly 58 years.
Parents saw him when dropping their children off at The Open Door Preschool, which is run by Banker’s daughter, Esther Myers. Residents saw him walk daily to the nearby post office.
“He was really funny; he had a dry sense of humor,” said resident Linda Austin, who said flags were lowered at the Oceano Train Depot and at a small, triangular park on Highway 1 in town.
Banker officiated at all of her family’s weddings and funerals, she said.
“He was our pastor for everything,” she said. “We’re like a big family in Oceano, and he was our patriarch.”
Banker was born May 25, 1928, in Napoleon, N.D., and spent his youth in Oklahoma and Wisconsin. He was one of seven children but the only child to survive to adulthood, said his daughter, Esther Myers.
Banker had planned to farm crops and raise cattle like his father, but after his one remaining sister, Gladys, died at age 14, he decided to pursue a different path.
“It affected all their lives,” Patsy Banker said of Gladys’ death. “His mother — if he was late for something — she worried.”
Banker studied at the Talbot School of Theology in Southern California, where the Oceano church board sent a notice saying it was looking for pastoral candidates. Banker first visited the church Nov. 6, 1960, and then moved to the area the following year for a monthly salary of $100, his wife said.
The church board will now seek a new pastor, she said. The church currently has about 20 to 25 members.
Robert Banker is survived by his wife, Patsy; daughter Esther Myers and her husband, David Myers; granddaughters Rachel Myers and Rachelle Hamze and her husband Ali Hamze; grandson Robert Myers, his wife Melissa, and their children Noah, Faith and Hannah.
Viewings will be held Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. and Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Marshall-Spoo Sunset Funeral Chapel, 1239 Longbranch Ave. in Grover Beach. The service will be held 1 p.m. Friday at Grace Bible Church, 100 Rodeo Drive in Arroyo Grande, with burial to follow at Arroyo Grande Cemetery.
Memorial gifts may be sent to The Open Door Preschool, P.O. Box 693, Oceano, CA 93475.