Elizabeth Anna and Jacob Daniel Okino DeVere have a vision for the 70-year-old Florence Building. The couple, who have an exotic philosophy, see a grand hotel with a rooftop garden atop the historic seven-story structure in downtown Missoula.
"We wish for it to be really a community meeting place," says Elizabeth Anna, "where people might meet and have a cup of tea or simply read a book or hang out."
The couple wants to purchase the Florence Building from the Attorneys Liability Protection Society by the end of February. "We have completed just about everything," Jacob Daniel says.
ALPS president and CEO Bob Minto declined to comment for this article. However, according to a Dec. 23 memo from ALPS Vice President and General Counsel Brad Dantic to Florence Building tenants, the company was "pleased to announce that ALPS is negotiating transfer of ownership of the Florence. We anticipate that negotiations will conclude very soon with a closing to occur shortly thereafter."
Once the sale is complete, the couple plans to work toward opening the Florence as a hotel by 2015.
Their history reads like a movie script. Elizabeth Anna earned a bronze medal with the American gymnastics team in the 1992 Olympics. She was such a talented competitor that her peers named a gymnastics move after the petite athlete: "The Okino" now refers to a triple pirouette on the balance beam.
Elizabeth Anna turned to acting after gymnastics, appearing in the movie Aeon Flux and MTV's series "Undressed." Jacob Daniel is a club DJ, producer and artist. The couple together has written short stories, books and essays that chronicle their spiritual beliefs.
Those spiritual beliefs help guide their One Drop Within the Wave service organization, which the couple aims to relocate from California to the Florence to help nurture Missoula's art scene and cultivate green-minded business. One early plan in the works, they say, is helping to launch an electronics recycling company.
"We came to an understanding a few years ago that we're all, of course, here to contribute something to the world," Jacob Daniel says. "And we understood that our contribution was in providing a number of services."
Among the teachings the couple uses to guide them is Guy Ballard's "I AM" Activity. Ballard founded the religious school of thought in the 1930s, after claiming to have had an encounter with what he referred to as an "ascended master" named Saint Germain.
Ballard chronicled his meeting with Saint Germain in the book Unveiled Mysteries, published in 1934 under the pseudonym Godfre Ray King. In that book, Ballard said that ascended masters like Saint Germain, Jesus, the Buddha and many others communicate through earthbound representatives. Only through the guidance of ascendant masters, Ballard said, can humans achieve great success.
Jacob Daniel explains: "We definitely have to come to the understanding that there are a number of masters who have walked this planet, Jesus being one of them, St. Germain being one of them. And there are so many different avatars that have come and have all essentially brought the same message: that through communion with the divine on a constant basis, one is able to deliver a wonderful service to the world. And so, we firmly believe this idea of union through communion is indeed possible—and to be true, inevitable."
After Guy Ballard's death in 1939, his wife Edna and son Donald were convicted of fraud after allegations arose that the family had collected donations based upon religious claims that they did not believe. In 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction on a technicality.
Several splinter groups formed after Ballard's death. Among them was the Church Universal and Triumphant, which, under the leadership of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, brought thousands of followers to Montana in 1986 to evade a Prophet-predicted nuclear apocalypse. Just prior to doomsday, slated for March 15, 1990, Prophet ordered church members into a $20 million bomb shelter erected with their donations.
The Okino DeVeres say that human ego mars many endeavors. Religious endeavors are no exception. They say they want to surpass ego. Elizabeth Anna says they have no intention of moving a group of people to Missoula. Nor do they plan on rounding up followers. "There's absolutely no intention of building a flock or of imposing our own spiritual path on anybody else."
Other "I AM" believers, however, might be on their way. Some in the modern movement believe Missoula is one of five "Golden Cities" across the nation that are equipped with unique energies capable of sparking spiritual evolution and consciousness expansion.
"There's a great deal of information that you can find scientifically and that has been written about, about a great magnetic shift that is occurring as we speak," Jacob Daniel says. "It's essentially the reason for such a swinging set of climate conditions...This polar shift that is happening is bringing about a great change, not only physically but also vibrationally and energetically. We definitely understand that there is a great change happening."