Oneida (Mother) Branch
October 23, 1918 - March 22, 2011
Onedia’s journey began in Donaldsonville, Louisiana in 1918. She was the youngest of
three children born to William and Grace Brisco. Her mother died when Onedia was
only three months old and she was then placed in the loving care of her “adopted”
Christian parents, Stephen and Harriet Terry. It was from Harriet, that she learned to share
openly and indiscriminately with those who were in need.
Onedia received her elementary education in Romeville, Louisiana and her secondary education
at McKinley High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She received her General Education Degree
from Leland College in Baker, which is also in Louisiana. However, this was not to be the end of
her formal education; She returned to school to broaden her Christian education at the Baptist
Theological Seminary in Baker, Louisiana and later at the Baptist Institute of Learning in Chicago, Illinois.
When home during breaks from boarding school, Onedia would help support her adopted family by teaching young
seminary students living in the area. One of those students was Rev. Israel Dabney, whom she married when she was
fifteen. Together they had a family of five sons: Israel Jr. (Duke), Erwin, Whitney, Gerald and Nathaniel (Nate).
During the 1940s the young family migrated to Chicago, Illinois, where she attended Ebenezer Baptist Church
and where Rev. Israel Dabney Sr. died of a heart attack at twenty seven years old (twelve years after their
marriage). After his death she supported her family as a nurse, having received a vocational nursing certifi-
cate from the Illinois School of Nursing. She began her lay ministry to the needs of others and became known as
“Mother” to all who she met; and in her words, “We didn’t have much, but we had enough to share.” She then met
and married Rev. James A. Branch. She continued to minister to the needs of others, supporting both her family and
her husband’s ministry. During this time she was elected President of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Northside
District Association and was appointed Director for the Young People’s Auxiliary of the Illinois State Baptist
In 1955, Onedia and Rev. Branch moved across the country to San Francisco where they were encouraged to minister
to the growing population in East Palo Alto and to the small band of members from the St. John Missionary Baptist
Church in San Francisco, who lived in East Palo Alto. This led to the formation of a baptist mission in that city, and
the eventual founding of St. John Missionary Baptist Church of East Palo Alto and a commitment to service her new
community. This service and commitment earned Mother Branch world wide recognition. Willow Road was espe-
cially trashy and unruly with areas of open gambling, drinking and homelessness. It was a challenge she took up ,
“With a rake, a Bible, and a determination the clean up the place”. She was soon joined by others and as a result she
became the chair woman of East Palo Alto’s first Beautification Committee. She was heard to declare; “When the
spirit of the Lord speaks to me to do something, nobody can stop me.” She then turned her attention to the communi-
ty’s physical and spiritual needs by providing clothing and free meals to people from all walks of life, regardless of
creed, color, race or need. This work has been accomplished primarily from private donations with minimal support
from local, state or federal sources. Her hope - that the number of people needing help would diminish over the years,
didn’t happen. She has been heard saying, “I’ll be doing this (work) until I can’t walk”.
Soft-spoken and strong-willed, Mother Branch is always in demand as a speaker and has travelled to Japan and
Africa. She will always be remembered as the “mother” of the community that is blessed to have her.
She was preceded in death by both her natural and adoptive parents, husbands: Rev. Israel Dabney Sr. & Rev.
James A. Branch (1978) and; sons Israel Jr. and Gerald. She leaves to cherish her memories, her sons; Erwin
(Juanita) of Chicago, IL, Whitney and Nate (both of East Palo Alto, CA), her granddaughter/daughter, Cheryl
also of East Palo Alto, CA and a host grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, God-children,
family and friends.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."
II Timothy 4:7 KJV