#26 1965 – 1966 The Year of Mwamedi

It’s been over two months since I posted a new story! Today is the last day of 2019 so with this post I’ll have averaged one every two weeks. I had hoped to enter more, but life and writer’s block just kept getting in the way. No matter. I close this first year of Quaker Stories with a bunch of memories from my year at Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat and study center outside Philadelphia.

Our family’s year at Pendle Hill started at the Philadelphia International Airport. We had traveled from Tanzania after two years in the AFSC’s Voluntary International Service Abroad (VISA) Program. My husband Harold, more often called Baba, had served his conscientious objector (CO) requirement there. We were bringing our to be adopted son, Christopher Paul, with us. He was then known as Mwamedi. He was three years old, talkative, friendly, and very active. He’d spent the flight from London making friends with a very patient African American man who spent the time listening to Mwamedi’s tales of his travels in Tanzania and England and his expectations of seeing his friend Yummy at the airport.

As is often the case with families flying with young children, we were among the last to deplane. When we reached the top of a long escalator, we encountered our friend Barbara, shaking her head and looking quite puzzled. “The strangest thing just happened to me,” she said. “A tall, quite handsome African American man passed by me and remarked, ‘You must be Yummy.’ He kept right on walking, chuckling to himself.” “Don’t worry,” Mwamedi excitedly told her. “That’s my new friend!”

Barbara hugged him and directed us to the baggage claim and out to her car. We arrived soon after at Pendle Hill and settled in, ready to start training new VISA Tanzania volunteers. When that period was over, we were offered the opportunity to spend the coming year as residents at Pendle Hill, thanks to the Director of Pendle Hill and his wife, Dan and Rosalie Wilson. Pendle Hill became Mwamedi’s “village” and our chance to experience its community of Quakers from many parts of the globe. Some had come to take non-credit courses in Quakerism, social justice, meditation, or Bible. Others were regrouping, finding a new direction in their lives. A few just wanted to live in a Quaker community. The three of us were to learn a great deal and make friends still precious to me in 2019.

An overnight at PH in November after a meeting of the Friends Historical Assn. in Philadelphia brought back so many memories I would have loved to have shared again with Baba, but unfortunately he died in 2014 after 52 years of marriage. So I share them with you after hours of recalling people and events with Christopher Paul, now a father and grandfather. Ironically, I was placed in a room in Firbank, our home on campus that year of 1965-1966. Our former first floor apartment now houses the pottery studio, then in the basement. This was the place where Baba learned to “pot” with the help of Betty Gilson, an experienced craftsperson from New England. From her, he learned the exciting mysteries of clay, glazes, and firing as well as building wheels and kilns. He would take these skills back to Tanzania with him and train schoolboys and staff, among them the first graduate from the University of East Africa with a fine arts degree in ceramics.

At PH, Baba met a resident from Palestine, Vladamir Tamari, an artist whose parents had become Quakers. After a surprise discovery of a tile dump in Gwyneed Valley, PA on one of our visits to AFSC friends, he persuaded Vlad to help him create the PH logo sign that still hangs on the wall of Chase, a PH residential building. My task in this project was to scramble up and down the piles at the dump, digging out the prized bright colored tiles among the ordinary pale bathroom squares. It was cold, wet work, but the reward was great. The creation took shape. Another resident, a skilled carpenter, Walter Smalakis, built the frame. When finished, it was presented to the community as Baba and Vlad’s term paper.

Mwamedi became very fond of Walter and his wife, Laura. They lived in Firbank on the third floor with their three children – Joey, Susie, and Naomi. Laura was a Montessori teacher, who gave us many lessons in parenting at which we were real neophytes. Once Mwamedi was taught the boundaries of PH, he claimed the property as his own. He helped make apple cider with a 200 year old hand press from a Quaker farmer. He rejoiced in helping rake leaves and even more so jumping into the piles and carting the leaves to the composting area in “his” truck. Everyone at PH had weekly tasks, and once a week all joined in on a special work day. Mwamedi had a tremendous appetite and loved nearly everything Betsy B. and her helpers cooked. For a while he sat wherever he found a seat in the dining room, chatting away about his day. One of Laura’s first lessons was to pull us aside and suggest we rein him in a bit so he would know who his parents were. We took no umbrage, followed her suggestion, and spent time with him at meals until all three of us were retooled.

One of the “fellows” Mwamedi liked to hang out with was Dick Lee. Dick was good at languages and joined the military as an interpreter. Then he was made an interrogator and had his skill become a hardship. He had finally left the military and come to PH to heal. There were several conscientious objectors living at PH at the time, including Baba. They were a big support to him. Another of Mwamedi’s young adult friends was Lou Kubicka, a young man from the Midwest, who never seemed to tire of the youngster’s desires to be with him.

During the winter term, two friends from England came to be at PH. Elfrida Vipont Foulds was an author of children’s and Quaker books. She and Mwamedi struck up an interesting friendship. One day, as they were standing in the lunch line, Elfrida pointed out a picture of the Pendle Hill of England and told Mwamedi about George Fox and his climbing the hill, sitting down under a tree, and having God speak to him. Mwamedi, always ready to speak his truth, quickly explained to Elfrida that that Pendle Hill wasn’t very high at all. Why did George Fox get so tired? Why, in his country, there was Mt. Kilimanjaro and he had climbed part way up it! Elfrida was taken aback, but agreed that Mt. Kilimanjaro was indeed much higher. The other English Quaker was George Gorman, the first Quaker public relations person I’d ever met. He was a clever publicist, developing campaigns to spread Quakerism, a man far before his time. He must be chuckling at the recent Quaker Quest in England and now in the US, seeking to reintroduce the general public to the Religious Society of Friends.

Japanese and Korean Friends joined the community and fascinated Mwamedi. Lee Bok Kim, a Korean woman, often wore traditional Korean dress. She loved walking and was seen traipsing about the campus. Mwamedi was enchanted with her. He would join her on her walks, clasp her hand, and tell her she was beautiful. She would squeeze his hand and give him the sweetest, gentlest smile I’ve ever seen. Jae Kyung Chun was a blind student from Korea, improving his English before moving to New York to study. He walked about the campus with his cane that Mwamedi called his “talking stick.” He followed Jae about, closed his eyes, grabbed a stick, and tried to get it to talk to him and guide him around the campus. He suffered many a fall and some head bumps into trees. Frustrated, he asked Jae to teach him how to make his stick “talk.” Jae didn’t understand what Mwamedi wanted at first; when he did, he told the youngster to “listen better.”

Akio and Nobuko were Japanese Friends. Akio was later to become the Clerk of the Japan Yearly Meeting and preside over one of the international meetings of the Friends World Committee for Consultation. Nobuko was later a member of a Japanese committee to support parents of Down’s Syndrome children, a project that attracted the attention of the Empress of Japan. My search recently to reconnect with them was not successful but led me to reconnect with a Japanese friend from university who had been interned as a small boy in one of the WWII camps in the West, a topic of earlier blog posts on Floyd Schmoe and Gordon Hirabayoshi. Akio was an architect, tall, slender, an avid walker. Mwamedi had to almost run to keep up with Akio when they encountered each other. He thought it funny that Akio bowed so often and imitated him. Akio praised him for being so polite. Having discovered it was an important social gesture, Mwamedi took to bobbing his head as a sign of respect.

Anna and Howard Brinton were the elders of PH during our year there. Anna would often ask Baba to take her places in the VW we had. She always gave him a small amount. He protested strongly. She responded just as strongly that if he wouldn’t take her payment, she wouldn’t use his service. He gave in as her wit and conversation during those trips were highlights of his week. Anna and Howard lived in a small cottage on the edge of the campus. There Howard would teach a class and Anna would retrieve books when needed, climbing a small ladder to find a special reference. Students worried about a possible fall, but she poopooed their concerns. Howard’s eyesight was failing. When Mwamedi saw Howard tottering here and there, he would run, take the elder’s hand, and tell him proudly, “I’ll get you where you need to go.” They took many walks that year.

In the spring of 1966, we were at a loss as how to return to Tanzania to complete Mwamedi’s adoption. Mary Morrison, a Bible teacher at PH, brought us a notice of the need for Swahili speaking leaders for some Episcopal workcamps in Tanzania during the coming summer. She told us we should apply. We did and were accepted, only to find out that the Episcopalian campus minister at our former university in California and a dear friend was to lead another of the workcamps. Small world! Mwamedi was excited and spread the word all about the PH campus. At the closing meeting, Howard stood and declared that 1965-1966 would be remembered as the “Year of Mwamedi.” It was quite an honor he had given to his little walking friend.

Pendle Hill is a special place for hundreds of Quakers who have come there as residents or attenders at various meetings and courses. They, too, have their stories. My memories include other people and happenings, too many to relate in a single post. Perhaps another time. It amazed me that I was able to remember the names of 55 people from 10 countries who were part of our year at PH over 50 years ago. Some we have visited in the intervening years, others we have corresponded with, and some we have encountered in the wider, but oh so small Quaker world.

#25 Dekha Ibrahim Abdi – A Quaker Worker, Friend of Friends, and Fellow Traveler

People connect with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) as members and attenders at a monthly meeting, seekers, workers for Quaker organizations, friends of Friends, or as “fellow travelers.” Dekha Ibrahim Abdi was one of the last three. Born on November 17, 1964 in Wajir in northeast Kenya, Dekha met Quakers in 1994 just as her life’s work as a peacebuilder, writer, and social justice activist was being recognized in Kenya. Her first contact was at a Response to Conflict (RTC) course at the Woodbrooke Quaker Center in Birmingham, England. When she died as a result of a horrific and tragic accident at 47 on her way to a peacebuilding conference in Garissa, Kenya, she was a Somali consultant for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). She left behind four children and many friends and co-workers. Her husband and driver were killed in the same accident.

Although born in Wajir, Dekha, her parents, and 11 siblings lived in the nearby rural drylands area among the ethnic Somali pastoralists. Her father went daily to his work in the city. He believed strongly in education; thus, all his children went to school. Dekha excelled and was well liked. She was encouraged by her mother, who was strong, well-organized, and resilient. Her mother supported her large family’s participation in the sustenance, chores, problem solving, and religious life of her family and community. She was known for helping others. Dekha early on developed a positive attitude, feeling any problem had a solution. Connecting with others, hearing their stories with respect, and getting their input seemed to be a method she discovered in dealing with her family and friends.

The pastoralists who herded their animals nearby often had clan conflicts over ownership of animals, water, and grazing lands. These conflicts had affects throughout the area. In secondary schools, the administrations used the “divide and conquer” strategy of separating the students not only by gender but also by clan, ethnicity, social class, religion, and wealth. A physical space was the divider. Bekha organized her friends from each of the groups to meet and socialize in those empty spaces. She was so open, supportive, and fun to be with that the other girls could not say “No.”

She used these same persuasive ways as a teacher and later head of a lower and an upper primary school. The children loved her! She discovered the interests and needs of her students and gave them a sense of empowerment. When the older girls were absent during their monthly periods, Dekha talked with them, gave them important information and found them necessary supplies. Attendance improved immediately.

In 1992, devastated by the continuing warfare between the clans, Dekha called on the support and participation of some of these former students and other women to work out a peace agreement. They were total amateurs! But, fired by Dekha and her developing methodology – grassroots activism, soft but uncompromising leadership, and spiritual motivation, they moved ahead. All was based on listening, listening, listening. Everyone needed to be heard without interruption. Humiliation was the biggest danger, sure to lead to violence. Respect was the key to success in mediation. They practiced as amateurs, became journeymen, and then were deemed experts.

A peace agreement was reached. The work, however, had just begun. Dekha and her group set up a Peace and Development Committee to implement and monitor the agreement. They knew the two things had to happen together. They reached out to everyone affected by the agreement for participation and support. Always they were sensitive to the local cultural mores. They sought to move the military and police forces from force to talk to mediation. They wanted them to understand that they were not the only ones whose job was to bring peace and order. They involved businesses, non-governmental organizations, civil servants, politicians, and religious leaders. They found mentors to help them learn skills they needed. The clan elders and many others contacted were mostly men, who slowly but more and more listened to the women.

Dekha was a devout Muslim. Just as George Fox was said to know the Bible from A to Z, Dekha knew the Qur’an. She pulled suras(chapters) and sometimes specific ayahs(verses) to support her ideas and actions. When meeting with Christians and those of other religions in areas of conflict, she shared her Islamic spirituality and asked participants to look and find comparable statements of faith and practice from their faith, to reflect on the movement of their soul forces as a means to bring about peace, and to curb bad behaviors. She emphasized the importance in peacebuilding of bringing back relations between victims and offenders through reconciliation and forgiveness. When Desmond Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC) in South Africa after the end of apartheid, he stressed repentance, reconciliation, and forgiveness. In Rwanda the 1994 genocide of over 800,000 Tutsis by the Hutu government was followed by a TRC instituted by the government. It had slow response. When a grassroots trauma healing and reintegration of offenders process was initiated by church groups led by Quaker churches, the process took hold and grew. They were following the same general method Dekha and her group had found worked.

Dekha drew from each movement to develop and formalize a framework – AFRICA – analysis, flexibility, responsiveness, innovation, context, and action/learning. When she went to Woodbrooke to study and work with the RTC organization in Birmingham, UK and the Peace and Justice Institute at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, she found affirmation and new structures for her work. Her colleagues actually used case studies from her work in their training! She was humbled and excited to share with her colleagues at home in Kenya. She also built friendships that sustained and enriched her life, giving her new insights into group decision making, spirituality, and service. She was invited to share with their Quaker churches and meetings. Evangelical Friends were touched by her “Let go, let God” way of dealing with life. She shared times when money had come to pay for conference trips and even an unexpected bed with close family and friends on a hajj to Mecca appeared because she waited calmly and sought God’s direction.

Whether she was sitting under an acacia tree with clan elders in the drylands of NE Kenya or standing before a gathering of international representatives at the UN, Dekha was connecting. Her gentle but strong demeanor, her colorful Muslim attire, her speech filled with stories and humor brought people together and gave them hope. It was a hope that they could “sort it out.” A friend told her once he lacked practical experience despite a graduate degree in peace education. He admitted, “I don’t think I can mediate between two chickens.” She simply smiled and encouraged him to find a place to take action, to be a facilitator and an enabler for peace. Empowered, he did just that!

Dekha was recognized and rewarded but spread the praise and responsibility for success to her co-workers. She told stories of their good work and highlighted what they had done. She formed peace organizations throughout Africa, the Middle East, UK, and Cambodia and kept up with every one of them. She worked with Muslim youth in UK, helping them become more comfortable with being Muslim and British. She encouraged governments to link peace practices with policies and helped them develop strategies to anticipate, contain, and manage conflict.

She was a prophet who found “honor within her own country.” In Kenya she received the Distinguished Medal of Service in 1999 and The Kenya Peacebuilder of the Year in 2005. In 2007 she was chosen for The Right Livelihood Award in Sweden, an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize. in giving the presentation, the speaker praised her:

for showing in diverse ethnic and cultural situations how religious and other differences can be reconciled, even after violent conflict, and knitted together through a cooperative process that leads to peace and development.

The money from that award she donated to start a peace university in Wajir. In 2009, she received The Hessian Peace Prize in Germany. It was in 2009 that she was called to the Serena Hotel in Nairobi just after the national elections while violence occurred throughout the country. There were five chairs in the room. Two army generals, one high level police officer, and a politician invited her to sit in the empty chair to lead the others in finding a way to stop the killing. She activated 60,000 women with cell phones to call in to central locations and report what they saw out their doors and windows. Hot spots and safe cold spots were reported. This enabled violence to be quelled and shelter places to be protected. Three weeks later calm was produced and a compromise agreement reached. Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, also in Nairobi, paid tribute to Abdi. As was her way, she gave credit to the women who bravely made their reports and to those who cooperated to stop the violence. In July, 2011, when she was critically injured in the car accident near Garissa and airlifted to Nairobi by helicopter, officials closed the highway between the airport and the Aga Khan Hospital to enable the ambulance to reach the hospital as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, it was not enough and she died several days later. Friends and family continue to sustain and enrich the lives of her four children, now adults.

She wrote many papers and two books, one published by her co-author Simon Foster after her death. Chapter 5 in that book, The Life and Teaching of Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, is filled with tributes by her daughter and her many friends and co-workers. When I read them, I cried.

Questions to ponder:

  • Why do you think Dekha reached out to the women of Wajir to help her work out a peace agreement?
  • To make sure that the peace agreement had a chance for success, what did she and the women due?
  • What was the framework for bringing about peace? What do you think is the most important part of the framework?
  • Dekha was often described as gentle or soft. What do you think those terms mean in regards to her leadership?
  • How would you describe yourself as a peacebuilder?


  • There are several YouTube videos of Dekha’s speeches. Seeing and hearing her brings this peacebuilder to life.
  • The Big Book of Conflict Resolution Games by Mary Scannell
  • Talk and Work It Out (Learning to Get Along) by Cheri J. Meiners
  • Emotional Judo: Communication Skills to Handle Difficult Conversations and Boost Emotional Intelligence by Tim Higgs
  • Bunny and Bear Work It Out by Jason Anderson & Katherine Gutkovsky
  • Working with Conflict, Skills, and Strategies for Peace with Abdi contributions

#24 Barbara Elfbrandt – The Quaker Teacher Who Spoke Her Truth for Peace and Justice

As the wild storms of the Atlantic Ocean have swept across the islands of the Caribbean in the last two years wiping out thousands of home and leaving hundreds of families with nothing, I’ve felt such a sense of loss. What must one feel when your family’s history is wiped away by a surge of water? Where do you find your hope? In 1958, the government opened the waters of the Snake River in Eastern Oregon at the newly finished Brownlee Dam and inundated several small towns including Robinette, Oregon. Gone were the homesteads of families who had lived in that town since pioneer days. One of them was that of Rose Beeman, mother of Barbara Elfbrandt. At the time she and her husband were living in Spokane, Washington, only an infrequent visitor to Robinette or a cabin at Lake Coeur d’Alene in nearby Idaho. Barbara was 25, married and living in Tucson, Arizona with her husband Vernon, active in Pima Friends Meeting and teaching English and social studies in an area middle school. I do wonder if that wiping out of family history had any affect on Barbara’s speaking her truth on the loyalty oath.

Both Barbara and Vernon were teachers, well liked, and anxious to involve their students in the issues of the day. Barbara was a hands on instructor, taking her students outside the school to experience first hand the lives of those working for peace and justice and those making the laws to hopefully establish a legal base for that to occur. In 1960-61, she took a group of students to observe the state legislature in action, debating a post-McCarthy era law under consideration, the Arizona Communist Control Act (ACCA). She had been to some demonstrations against the act but wanted her students to hear the debate and make up their own minds about it. The Act banned the Communist Party in the state, prohibited membership in the Communist Party if one were a state employee, and prohibited membership in the NAACP, the ACLU, or any organization that sought to overthrow the federal or state governments. I don’t know what the students thought, but I do know that Barbara Elfbrandt was certain the act was a bad precedent and should not become law. Unfortunately, it passed easily with little opposition in the legislature. Barbara and her fellow teachers were presented with a new loyalty oath to sign. She had signed a simple loyalty oath when originally hired to teach. This one asked her to sign, with the threat of imprisonment for perjury, and declare that she was not a member of the Communist Party nor any of the other organizations mentioned or implied in the ACCA. This she could not do. Vernon was on a leave of absence from teaching in that year of 1961 and would not refuse to sign until his return the following year.

Barbara Elfbrandt described her Quaker membership and its long tradition of not taking oaths dating back to the 17th century. This was an important underpinning for her refusal, but she felt strongly that the law was unclear and threatened her first and fourteenth amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association. She did not return her form to her principal despite his pleas. He did not want to lose her. She was a good teacher. The law, however, did not allow dismissal for this refusal. It simply said that the person refusing to sign would not be paid. Barbara loved teaching and felt her students needed her to stand for her truth. Supported by Friends of her Quaker meeting and other activists in the city and elsewhere, she continued to teach. Vernon returned, refused to sign the oath, and continued to teach. They did not get other employment. What did they do?

Friends set up a schedule of dinner invitations for the week and made sure there was food in the refrigerator and the cupboards. Their landlady, a wealthy philanthropist, suspended their $70 a month rent. A fellow teacher, who also refused to sign the oath and taught for a year without pay, moved to teach at Shaw University in North Carolina. He, Clyde Appleton, left them a list of 2000 loyalty oath refusers from around the United States. Some of them were among the 700 donors who contributed to the Elfbrandt emergency fund. Susan Hibbs, a member of Pima MM designed a Christmas card “Peace on Earth” and sold them for $1.75 a box. At first all the proceeds went to cover Elfbrandt living expenses and court costs. The cards were so popular, she was convinced to cover her costs before donating to the fund. Teachers heard their story and donated. One teacher in California sent a $50 check each month. Another from Hawaii sent a whole month’s pay. These were sacrifices that moved Barbara. She said she learned from these donations that money was not the most important thing; it was the emotional support that mattered more.

Barbara sued in the Superior Court against the head of the School Board of Amphitheater School District Imogene Russell and others. Her lawyer, W. Edward Morgan, worked on a contingency, using all his legal expertise to push the issue. As the years moved on and the losses in the state and even in the Supreme Court increased, she felt support as she swam against the stream of injustice.

The Elfbrandts kept in touch with Clyde Appleton as he continued his work in teaching and civil rights in North Carolina in spite of the FBI surveillance that all three endured. Clyde joined the Quakers in North Carolina and found the same support that Barbara and Vernon had received from the Friends of Pima Monthly Meeting and others throughout the Pacific Yearly Meeting of Friends.

In 1966, the Supreme Court heard the case for the second time. This time, with Justice William O. Douglas writing the close 5-4 opinion, the court struck down the loyalty oath in Arizona as an unconstitutional requirement for state employees, based largely on the “membership” clause and the vagueness of the law in terms of the plaintiff’s belonging to any organization that might have an intent to harm the government whether the plaintiff knew it of not. The court also ruled for reinstatement of back pay, but it would take further lawsuits to fulfill that mandate. Many donors refused to be reimbursed for their contributions, and the back rent was not requested. Vindicated, the Elfbrandts went on with their lives. Peter Irons wrote about them in his book, Courage of Their Convictions. I discovered their story there while doing research on Gordon Hirabayashi and sought out Barbara in Tucson. Now 86, she still attends the Pima Monthly Meeting and stays involved as she is able.

What happened between 1966 and 2019? For a while Barbara worked in draft counseling at a center supported by W. Edward Morgan, her lawyer. She was involved in not only draft cases but ones involving men in the military that brought conscientious objection to their continued service. After five years she went to law school, realizing that she needed further education to serve her clients. She worked with veterans returning from the Vietnam War to get the services they needed. In 1980 she began work at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Tucson. During her eight years there she took over the leadership of the office and developed new programs to serve marginalized groups. She centered much of her work on peace issues, initiating peace studies for prison inmates and workers, developing conflict resolution curricula for teachers and students, pushed for conflict studies at the University of Arizona, and organized a peace conversion plan for Tucson industry. As the sanctuary movement began in the Southwest, the AFSC office supported where it could. Barbara was engaged; she shared that “I decided I might as well get paid for what I liked to do.”

Vernon died in 1982; her parents, Rose and Byron in 1984 and 1986. When an opportunity to work at the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) opened in New York, she felt free to take on the role of Assistant Director under Stephen Collett. Her experience in peace work and justice issues helped her prepare briefing papers for delegates on human rights, disarmament, conscientious objection, and refugees. She was a good “people” person and enjoyed the conferences where delegates from conflicting sides of an issue could come together in an unofficial way and share their views. She was invigorated by the international character of the dialogue.

Back in Tucson, Barbara taught at the Pima Community College, returned to active membership in Pima Monthly Meeting, and married W. Edward Morgan, her former lawyer. She has outlived them all. Morgan died in 2017. I have emailed briefly with her and look forward to a telephone chat soon where she can share the answers to my many questions of how she, an ordinary person, led an extraordinary life. While she has no Wikipedia page, she has a story that needs to be shared.

Questions to ponder:

  • When one loses everything in a disaster, what is it that sustains and strengths the soul?
  • Barbara Elfbrandt came to Friends through AFSC “institutes” in Spokane, Washington. What do you think she found there that led to her lifelong work in speaking her truth and supporting marginalized people?
  • When fear of the “other” causes leaders to curtail freedoms, how can people work intentionally to open dialogue and close the gaps between conflicting sides of issues?
  • Why do some ordinary people step out of their comfort zones and do extraordinary things?


  • I Am Shaylee Seakin: Speaking My Truth by Bonnie Kelso
  • They Called Us Enemy by George Takei
  • March by John Lewis (a graphics trilogy)
  • Bunny and Bear Work It Out by Jason Anderson
  • Talk and Work It Out (Learning to Get Along) by Cheri J. Meiners
  • Conflict Resolution: When Friends Fight by Elizabeth George
  • Emotional Judo: Communication Skills to Handle Difficult Conversations and Boost Emotional Intelligence by Tim Higgs
  • youtube.com has some wonderful short videos on civil disobedience and working for change of bad laws

#23 Harold B. Confer – Traveller in the Ministry of “Being With”

Sunday, September 8, 2019 marked the fifth anniversary of the sudden death of my beloved husband of 52 years, Harold B. Confer. It is fitting that at this time of back to school events, the International Day of Peace on September 21st and World Quaker Day on October 6th, I should share the life of this ordinary man who did some extraordinary as a teacher, peace worker, and Quaker.

Harold was born in Darlington, Wisconsin to Harold S. (Big Harold) and Grayce B. Confer on Feb. 1, 1941. His father was a teacher of music and his mother a teacher, writer, and homemaker. They moved to San Bernardino, California when Harold was four because of his bout with rheumatic fever. His mom helped find the family a house and his father a job at San Bernardino Community College where Big Harold would teach until his retirement. His work also included directing choir programs at various churches around the city. The family worshiped wherever his choirs sang. Harold and his younger sister Viletta started in their father’s cherub choirs and moved up through the program. There were always singers and instrumentalists at their house including Mr. Jenny, a professional pianist who had taken Big Harold around the United States as a boy soprano. Big Harold also had marching bands so Little Harold put on the smallest uniform to be found and joyfully hiked the Rose Bowl Parade route.

He spurned piano lessons but picked up the guitar and became skilled enough to play with Pete Seeger, Buddy McGee, and other musicians at the Idyllwild Arts Foundation campground in the San Jacinto Mountains. He was a high school maintenance worker there. The foreman was an older craftsman who taught building, plumbing, and carpentry skills and multiple “tricks of the trade” to his workers. While the music led to many stories, the building skills led to a life’s work around the world. While Harold used them to run his own business, he also used them as he participated and led work camps for over fifty years.

His first work camp was in cleanup after a flood wiped out many homes in Marysville, California. He and his junior high mates shoveled mud, wiped down walls, and listened to the stories of the homeowners who had lost everything. He was hooked! In high school he went to Tijuana, Mexico to repair churches and schools with his church group. In college he led migrant farmer workcamps, introducing other students to the lives of the mostly Latino pickers. At Napa State Hospital, he and I led American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) institutional workcamps at the state mental hospital. At a protest march against weapons of mass destruction, he met the Quakers, applied for and received his conscientious objector status, and began to attend the Stockton, CA meeting. Again, he was hooked!

We married on June 9, 1962 and in 1963 were posted to Tanganyika, later Tanzania, with the AFSC’s VISA program to do community development work in a small village in the southwest region near the Mozambique border. What an experience! Harold had an ear for language and I a love of words and structure. The villagers soon named us Bwana Sikio and Mama Mdomo (Mr. Ear and Mrs. Mouth) as we held meetings, listened to needs, and worked with the people to improve their lives. It was in Mpitimbi village that we met our cross the road neighbor Mama Mkeso and her grandson Mwamedi. Mwamedi became a part of our household and later our son Paul. Harold developed plans for a 4-hole latrine at the local market, helped construct an earthen dam to initiate a tilapia fish industry, and illustrated a series of adult literacy books on the Five Year Development Plan. He taught skills to new VISA members, directed work camps at St. Andrew’s Minaki Secondary School with campers from the Quaker George School in Pennsylvania, and was head of the upper school at the Dar es Salaam International School. One of the highlights of our eight years in Tanzania was meeting President Julius Nyerere several times in the villages and at the State House. His unexpected recognition of us at a Washington, DC reception some years later led to a raucous Swahili conversation that kept Henry Kissinger and his wife Nancy waiting not so patiently! We added David to our family on his first birthday in 1969 and welcomed Asha Marie in 1972 on our return to Providence, RI.

In 1971 we officially joined the Quaker meeting in Providence, having held Quaker meetings for worship in our home for six years in Tanzania. Harold involved himself in criminal justice reform, helping change the arraignment process. When we moved to DC in 1973, he worked for the Friends Committee for National Legislation as a Human Rights lobbyist, helping draft early national health care legislation, and speared a one year shut down of the U.S. prison construction budget. Weekends were spent directing work camps at the Martha’s Table soup kitchen, supporting homeowner house building, and renovating shelters for women in DC. He involved high school students, their parents, and other adults in his multi-age, multi-ethnic, and interfaith camps. He encouraged all his campers to engage recipients in telling their stories and sharing their own. This was the essence of his ministry of “being with.”

In his home improvement business he employed clients from our son Paul’s homeless shelter, teenagers trying to find their niche in society, and foreign students wanting to improve their English and discover America. Often these workers joined the camps on the weekend. In 1995-1996 when 145 African American churches were burned by arson or unidentified causes, he left his business and put up shop in Boligee, Alabama. For two or more years he led volunteers from across the United States and several foreign countries to rebuild the churches and empower their members to reclaim their communities. He coordinated funds from the National Council of Churches, the Unitarian Church, the Presbyterian Disaster Service, the AFSC, and big businesses like Home Depot to rebuild ten churches in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina. The hospitality from church members was overwhelming. Work campers shared stories of transformative life experiences. Friendships grew, stereotypes were dispelled, and models for rebuilding lives after human and natural disasters developed. Recognized by labor unions and civil rights groups, Harold kept sharing his skills, energy, and resources. Helped by the commander of the Alabama National Guard, President Bill Clinton, and cadets from the Air Force Academy, he provided space for over 300 volunteers from 22 states and 15 countries to help.

He was not always an easy man but his heart was very big. At his memorial service at Friends Community School, a K-8 Quaker school he helped found, a diverse community representing all the lives he had touched came together was a meeting for worship. Many had never been to a Quaker meeting, but they rose to share their memories of how Harold had come into their lives and made a difference – the solar panel salesman who reconnected with his children after reading one of Harold’s books, the next door neighbor who shared his appreciation for Harold’s reaching out to his son, the homeless woman who had her bedroom at the shelter painted by high school soccer players. A long time Quaker friend summed it up with “Harold was a good man.” I miss him. My younger son texted me, “He was loved,” and sent me the picture of his dad that is my favorite. He was sharing his ministry of “being with.”

Questions to ponder:

  • How did Harold live his Truth?
  • What did he mean by “being with”?
  • How did Quaker meeting for worship allow space for attenders to share how Harold touched their lives?
  • Workcamps can be “transformative.” Think of a “transformative” experience you’ve had and share it orally or in writing.
  • How would you like to be remembered?

#22 Akiko Kato Kurose, Educator for Peace (2/11/1925 – 5/24/1998)

The two little girls had just finished dusting and polishing the banisters on the apartment building stairs from the top floor all the way to the bottom. It was their Saturday chore. The older girl, Akiko, better known to everyone as Aki, scampered back up the stairs, climbed on the rail, and slid down to land at her younger sister Suma’s feet.

“You shouldn’t do that!” Suma scolded.

Aki shook her head, did a pirouette, and taunted back at her little sister, “You’re just jealous.” She immediately knew she was wrong to speak those words.

Suma’s face fell, as she gave a wheeze, and plopped down on the bottom step. Aki sat down, gave Suma a hug, and whispered, “I love you. I’m sorry.” The two girls were close, going together once each week to Japanese classes with Miss Whistler. Aki also took judo classes though Suma’s asthma often kept her from participating. Both of them loved rollerskating with their friends in the central district of Seattle. Their friends were a mixed group of Jewish, Japanese, Chinese, African American, and a few Hispanic boys and girls. Aki and Suma’s parents welcomed their neighbors over every Friday night for singing and dancing and big plates of jelly rolls. Unlike most Japanese men, their father Harutoshi loved to cook and was very good at it. There were never any jelly rolls left! Their mother Murako managed the apartment building. She’d gone to school to get an engineer’s license and spent hours banging away at the boiler and the furnace to keep heat and hot water in the renter and Kato apartments. She fixed the plumbing, did electrical repairs, and even hung wallpaper.

They didn’t follow other Japanese ways either. The Katos belonged to none of the social clubs most Japanese families were members of. They sent the girls to Japanese classes only once a week, not every school day. They made decisions not on the basis of social class but on competence. That was the reason the girls’ Japanese teacher was a lovely African American woman who spoke the language extremely well and made learning fun. The family knew almost everyone in the neighborhood. The children were in and out of their friends’ houses, sometimes sleeping over, sometimes inviting their friends to come home with them for a meal. The Katos celebrated Japanese holidays but also Christian and Jewish ones as well. On Saturdays Aki often carried the Rabbi’s Bible to the synagogue and turned on and off the electric lights, actions forbidden him on the Sabbath. Although he always offered a bit of money for her help, she refused, telling him her summer bean and strawberry picking money filled her needs.

Aki loved to read as did her parents, who believed education was very important. Harutoshi was a good storyteller. He would gather a bunch of children on the steps of the apartment building and tell stories of the past from Japan and his early days in America. Often the stories were about the men he admired like Kagawa Toyohiko, a Japanese pacifist, who used folktales and Bible stories to encourage people to solve their problems without violence and act kindly toward others. Most of their neighbors were poor or only moderately middle class. Aki’s father followed Tagawa’s example of working cooperatively with them in making their lives better.

Everyone was surprised when the Katos’ names were on the list of Japanese and Japanese Americans to be relocated from the Western Zone after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the publication of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The racial slurs at Aki’s Garfield HS were like slaps in her face. She found some solace in friends like Mary Jo Forcell who reached out to her. It was in the early days before the family left for the fairgrounds at the Puyallup Assembly Center, “Camp Harmony,” that she met members of the Quaker community. Floyd Schmoe and others from the AFSC and the Friends Meeting helped them arrange for the care of the apartment building and the storage of their goods. When they reached their tiny prefab building in the parking lot at Puyallup, these same helpers brought extra food and bedding. Poor Suma’s asthma did not respond well to the straw the family was given to stuff their mattresses! Aki’s parents supported the family with their positive nature, helping everyone around them, smiling and speaking encouragement, “Think not of the making of war, but the working for peace.”

Aki wanted to hear these words, but she was devastated by the lack of privacy and the inconvenience of the whole situation. When they arrived at the Minidoka Camp in Idaho, she was further disturbed by the tiny quarters, the thin walls through which sound and sight was possible, and the sameness of the food. At first, she was frightened by the guards in their towers, looking down on the internees and holding their weapons. But, turning back to those lessons of empathy she had learned at home, she reached out to a young soldier who looked lonely and uncomfortable. She found out he was from the South and had never encountered any Japanese people before. They did not become friends, but each came to see the other as just another human being.

Her father pitched in to help cook better meals, her mother organized women to sew bedding and curtains, and her older sister took over the cleaning of their small space. Aki tried to help, but often retreated to the communal bathroom and read a book. She had been allowed so little from home, but she was able to pack her clarinet and two books in her small suitcase – The Secret Garden and a Nancy Drew mystery. Years later she would come to see the racist character of both, but at the time they were comforting and familiar. Soon her small library grew as Floyd Schmoe brought more books on his trips to Minidoka. He and her father often spoke of pacifism and social justice; the Katos found his empathy and the similarities of their ideas and the faith and practices of Quakers bolstering.

Aki finished her high school studies at Minidoka and, with Floyd’s help, was able to leave the camp and get permission to attend the University of Utah. Unfortunately, a problem with housing and strong, anti-Japanese feelings in that community, made the placement impossible. She moved on to a business school in the city. That training would help when she returned to Seattle and was able to assist her father in the office of the interracial labor union he helped a group of Japanese returnees and some local African American workers form. First, while her family settled back in their apartment building in Seattle, Aki went to Friends University in Wichita, Kansas and stayed with Ruth Schmoe’s family during her studies there. Their hospitality and her visits to the Quaker meeting grounded many of the ideas that sustained her remaining adult years.

Aki married her brother’s best friend, Junelow Kurose, and headed back to Seattle where he finally found work as a machinist at Boeing, a job he had for 30 years. Junx came from a much more traditional Japanese family, so the couple had some mutual adjustments to make. As their family grew, they came to see the positive nature of a cooperative arrangement. Her parents were good examples, and the community was supportive. Aki was active in the community, working on improving education for people’s growing families and providing them with better housing. She got involved with the AFSC, the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom (WLPF), and the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) to improve life in the central district. She took her children with her to protests and demonstrations. Junx watched for a while and then joined in.

The Kuroses enrolled their young children in The Freedom School. She and a group of neighbors started the first Head Start program in Washington state. All this time she was taking courses at night, learning new things. Junx supported her by cooking and caring for their six children. The Kato grandparents also chipped in to help, pleased with this next generation. She took more classes, this time in early childhood education, and began to teach in a Head Start school. Everything she’d learned from her parents and from her time with the Quakers went into this new task.

In 1974, Aki began her elementary teaching career in the Seattle Public Schools, working at the Martin Luther King, Jr. ES. Her classroom was a good example of a progressive learning environment. She believed in hands-on, experiential learning and cooperative practices. Her students were treated as facilitators of their own learning and that of their peers and their teacher. When problems arose, they worked them out together. When conflicts happened, they resolved them then and there. The ideas and practices of peace were integrated across the curriculum. On the floor of the classroom was a large map of the world. The students came to see themselves as world citizens. They learned greeting songs in different languages. Each morning they started the day with exercise, sending the sad, bad, or frustrating feelings off into the air, blown away by the wind. They chanted “peace” in the different languages, making up like poems to accompany them

Even when the city initiated a desegregation policy that sent her to a mostly white school in the upper northwest of Seattle, Aki involved her students in creating their own learning environment. At first, the parents were angry that she had replaced a beloved, local teacher. Aki could empathize with them. She allowed them to question her and even mildly insult her, even monitor her classroom, but she stayed the course. The children helped her develop new ways of teaching peace, tolerance, inclusion, and justice. They also learned about caring for nature. One year she took her class to the fish hatchery and got salmon eggs. They brought them back to a big aquarium in the classroom until they hatched. When the fingerlings had grown big enough, the class tromped off to a nearby stream and let them go.

The parents came to love Aki Kurose and appreciate her teaching style. They were not the only ones. She helped integrate the school in 1978, the same year she was chosen by President Carter as a member of the National Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children. In 1985 she received her master’s degree in early childhood education and was chosen Seattle’s Teacher of the Year. In 1990 she won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics. In 1992, her years of developing and sharing her peace curriculum led to a UN Human Rights Award. Each time, she returned to her classroom to get new inspiration and ideas from her students and fellow teachers.

When Akiko Kato Kurose died on May 24, 1998 after battling cancer for fifteen years, she left a big hole in the web of her family, school, and community. They would not let her go. The students and parents at Laurelhurst ES built a peace garden at their school. Recognizing her work in housing, the city of Seattle named a family-friendly housing project the Aki Kurose Village. In 2000, the Seattle Public Schools established the Aki Kurose Middle School Academy. You can go on the school’s website and see not only her story but also the way she has had an impact on shaping the school’s program. The Japanese American Citizens League established an annual scholarship program for a public school graduate to attend a local college or university. Started before her death, the Day of Remembrance at the once badly named “Camp Harmony” fairgrounds, then known also as the Puyallup Detention Center, continues. The recognition of the national mistake this place represents would humble but please this Educator for Peace. As she told her students many times, “We learn by our mistakes,” and “We are all part of the human community.”

Questions to ponder:

  • What are some of the lessons Aki learned from her childhood that became important parts of her teaching?
  • Have you read The Secret Garden or any of the Nancy Drew mysteries? Why did Aki come to question some of the actions and characterizations in these books as racist?
  • How would you describe a stereotype? Ask your teachers and do some research on characteristics of Japanese people. Come up with a list and compare Aki’s family as a child and as an adult with your list.

Books to read:

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (graphic novel)
  • Dear World by Bana Alabed
  • What Does Peace Feel Like? by Vladimir Radunsky
  • Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
  • Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli
  • The General by Janet Charters

#21 Floyd Wilfred Schmoe, Quaker Servant on Four Continents for over 90 Years

Floyd shimmied up the lone pine tree. He would not, could not, be a part of the day’s animal butchering. He may have been a farm boy, but he refused to kill the animals raised on his Kansas home. He loved them too much just as he loved the tall tree his grandfather had planted sixty years before. He could hear his father calling for him, but he sat quietly on the scratchy limb. He would deal with his father’s frustration and anger later. From the high branches, Floyd looked out over the wavy prairie grasses and the fields of corn, wheat, and wildflowers. He could see no other trees though the small town of Prairie Center, Kansas was off in the distance.

Floyd Wilfred Schmoe was 12 years old, an eighth generation Quaker, whose family was grounded in love, non-violence, social justice, and service. They worked hard every day except First Day (Sunday) when the whole family headed to Quaker meeting followed by a shared meal with their friends and family. Floyd loved the silence of meeting and listened carefully to the words of vocal ministry shared by the elders. Back at home, he escaped to wander for several hours across the prairie, collecting rocks, bugs, snakes, mushrooms, and wildflowers, the last two gifts for his mother. He’d lie in the grass, look up at the billowy cloud shapes and create pictures and stories in his head. His father didn’t understand Floyd’s “differentness” but didn’t ask many questions so long as his chores were done. His mother understood his love of nature and encouraged his interest in art and music. She also taught him empathy for those in need, “As long as we have a slice of bread, we will share it with any unfortunate who needs it.” She’d invite the stranger in, give each a bar of soap, and send the “guest” off to wash up before returning for a place at the table.

Born on September 2`, 1895, Floyd attended grade school in Prairie Center and high school in the growing town of Wichita, Kansas, where he studied science, art, and music. There he met two people who would change his life forever. The first was Ruth Pickering, who would become his wife and partner in years of service until her death in 1969. The second was a young Yale College student who opened the study of forestry to him. The idea that one could not only study trees but earn a living working among them excited him. In high school he also encountered the nature writing of John Burroughs. Floyd was influenced by Burroughs’ ideas on the conservation of nature and finding power in the soothing and healing of the natural world and its help in putting one’s sense in order.

In 1917 Floyd moved to Seattle, Washington to study forestry while Ruth continued at the Friends University in Wichita studying piano. While he had loved the vast Kansas prairies, he adored the beauty of the Pacific Northwest – the lakes, streams, and humped mountains. When the U.S. entered WWI, he left this passion behind to apply for and receive his conscientious objector (CO) status and head off to Europe with a group of Quaker COs working with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). He did a short stint with a British Quaker ambulance corps followed by two years of building prefab houses and later renovating army barracks for living quarters for refugees. Before returning to Seattle, he traveled to Poland to help deliver medical supplies. Back in the U.S., he married Ruth and returned to Seattle to his forestry studies at the university.

A summer job as a tour guide on Mt. Rainier led to his and Ruth’s spending a winter season at Paradise Inn, snowed in for over eight months. They started a family, and he wrote a book, A Year in Paradise. During his summer tour guiding, he met a wealthy client who told him of a course about ecology and recreational forestry at Syracuse, NY. This was much more in line with the ideas he had found in Burroughs’ writings. When the client offered help with travel and tuition, Floyd and Ruth headed to Syracuse. Returning to Mt. Rainier in 1922, he worked as a park ranger and was appointed one of the earliest full-time ranger/naturalists at the park. For six years, he led tours, collected specimens, created exhibits, and gave nature talks. For six years, his “Nature Notes” attracted visitors to the park and shared conservation ideas. The spread of this newsletter led to invitations to speak in Syracuse and across the country.

With six children in tow, he and Ruth then returned to Seattle, built a home above Lake Washington, and bought a salvage boat. He and the children renovated the boat and spent many summer hours roaming the waters among the islands off the Washington coast. He took courses in marine biology, spent a summer running high school ecology cruises to Alaska, discovered Flower Island, and claimed it by squatters’ rights. There he and the children researched reef life and he wrote his MS thesis for his degree in 1937.

As his family had done in Kansas, he and Ruth took theirs to the Quaker meeting in Seattle, protested the build up to the war in Europe, and collected food and clothing for the Jewish refugees coming to the western U.S. through Asia. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he and Ruth became concerned for their friends and other members of the Seattle Japanese community. When Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 calling for western zone Japanese to be relocated to camps, Floyd was appointed as head of the AFSC office and worked to help them secure their homes and assets or sell them before leaving for the camps. He and other Quakers worked to find education slots for Japanese students in colleges and universities in the mid-west and along the Eastern seaboard. One of these students was Aki Kato , who went to the Friends University in Wichita and stayed with Ruth’s parents. Aki’s story will be told in post #22. Another was Gordon Hirabayashi, who would become his son-in-law and take his resistance to the curfew and relocation all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. (In post # 20, I told Gordon and Esther’s story.). Ruth was active in visiting ailing and elderly Japanese put in sanitariums. Floyd visited and stayed in camps at Minidoka, Idaho, Tule Lake, California, and Heart Mountain, Wyoming, bringing food and supplies to add to limited provisions issued by the U.S. government. It was the books he brought that thrilled the children and teenagers like Aki Kato. When the camps closed at the end of the war, Floyd and his family helped repair homes, plant gardens, and improve community relations. Returning to their former homes was not always an easy task for Japanese families.

When the U.S. Government bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan at the end of the war, Floyd knew he had to do something there to help rebuild as he had done after WWI in Europe. He knew the Japanese Government would not welcome such help readily so he went to work in Hawaii helping the AFSC send goods the organization had collected. There he discovered that the Heifer Project was sending 250 goats to Japan to supply milk for Japanese children. Floyd went with the goats, made contacts with Japanese Quakers in Hiroshima, recruited potential Japanese volunteers, and planned a house building project. Back in Seattle, he raised money and donations of materials, purchased the materials, recruited three experienced Quaker builders, and went to Hiroshima. Over four summers, his project built 22 multi-family dwellings in Hiroshima and with help from the Japanese Government 12 in Nagasaki. 100 families had new homes! Houses for Hiroshima and Houses for Nagasaki became familiar organizations across Japan.

After the Korean War, Floyd and others formed another organization, Houses for Korea. This time, they were able to get United Nations funds to build homes, wells, roads, irrigations systems, and a medical clinic. Using American, Korean, and volunteers from Japan and Europe helped form bridges of friendship. Floyd was not yet done with his building efforts. Following the Sinai conflict in the 1950s, he set up Wells for Egypt to fund well digging, installations of pumps to supply drinking water and water for irrigation. To create sustainable oases, his group provided nursery plants for holding water and soil and small trees for creating fruit orchards. Again, the volunteer builders built relationships that bridged cultures and established desires for peace.

In 1959, Floyd retired to write and spend time with his partner in service, Ruth. Their children had families of their own, their Quaker meeting had grown and was active in the Seattle community, and their island home welcomed family and visitors alike. For ten years they enjoyed these visits and letters from friends around the world. Floyd had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, recognized by the Japanese Government as a Sacred Treasure, and seen his friend Gordon Hirabayashi win his second U.S. Supreme Court case, resulting in an official apology from President Ronald Reagan in 1958 and in 1959 the “redress” payments of $20,000 to each living Japanese internee. Ruth died in 1969, and some time later Floyd married one of the Hiroshima volunteers, Tomiko Yamizaki.

Did he call it quits? No. He used the 1980s and 1990s to build peace parks in Seattle and in one of her sister cities, Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Can you imagine the surprise of the citizens of Tashkent when the 90+ year old American helped pour concrete for their peace park? I asked my daughter Asha if she knew Floyd at the University Meeting in Seattle during her volunteer service there in the mid-1990s. “Yes,” she told me, “he rambled a bit in meeting for worship, but we all forgave him. After all, he was 100!” When he died at 105 in 2001, he had lived through a whole century of observing people and nature, made his mark on four continents, and answered the call to service over and over again.

Questions to ponder:

  • What do you think it would be like to live for a whole century? Think about and list all the changes that occurred in the 20th century.
  • What values did Floyd’s parents instill in him? How did this grounding affect the way he lived his life for those 105 years.
  • If you were to go to a different country and want to learn about its culture, what ways would you use to reach out to get to know the people and what was important to them?
  • Why do you think Floyd was nominated for three Nobel Peace Prizes? How did he make the world a better place?

Books to read:

  • A Year in Paradise by Floyd W. Schmoe
  • Our Greatest Mountain by Floyd W. Schmoe
  • For Love of Some Islands by Floyd W. Schmoe
  • The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by Valerie Bodden
  • Sadako and the Thousand Cranes by Cleanor Coerr
  • The Peace Tree from Hiroshima: The Little Bonsai with a Big Story by Sandra Moore and Kazumi Wilds
  • The Paper Crane by Molly Bang

# 20 Quakers and Japanese Internment, Part II – Gordon Hirabayashi Takes a Stand

Gordon was hot, sweaty, and impatient. He didn’t mind helping out in his family’s fields. He’d being doing that since he was five. The coolness of the packing shed would be better than the heat and glaring sun But, he was late for a Boy Scout event. As a patrol leader, he was expected to be on time. His buddies counted on him.

Gordon threw the last heads of lettuce into the wagon, ripping off the outer leaves. His father, Shungo, was insistent on the quality of his produce. His business reputation had been built on quality and integrity. His White River Garden partners and the Japanese community called him “baka sojiki” or “stupidly honest.” Gordon was have him as a model. Although there were tensions between him and his parents over Japanese and American ways, Gordon had found the value of integrity a bridge between the two. He was proud to be Japanese, but was sensitive to the seeming second-class citizenship of his community. When he repeated the Boy Scout oath or promise, he was proud to be an American and saw the importance of being seen as one.

Gordon Hirabayashi’s parents had been born in the same farming region of Japan. His father had come to the United States in 1907 when he turned 19. His mother, Mitsuko, had come seven years later, Shungo’s intended bride. At 19, she, like his father, had converted to Christianity while taking English classes prior to coming to the Seattle area. They settled near Auburn, Washington, and joined with several other families to form a farming cooperative and start a family. Gordon was born in 1918 and grew strong on the farm with a love for the outdoors. He and his siblings were influenced by the pacifism and the unity of faith and works of their religious community. While church rituals were not emphasized, the Bible was read daily and habits such as drinking, smoking, and gambling were strongly discouraged. Youth from most of the churches came together for activities and schools were integrated. At home, there was much discussion. Shungo was quiet but solid in his beliefs. Mitsuko was warm, articulate, sometimes a bit feisty, and active in the community. She encouraged her children to think through problems and stand up for their beliefs.

When Gordon was about seven, his family’s cooperative farm lands had been taken by the state government. The families had been accused of falsely putting the land title in the name of one of the children, a U.S. born citizen. None of the parents could own land because of the Alien Land Law of 1921. They fought in court but lost and had to rent the land from the government in order to stay there. Still, the parents remained patriotic and continued to work hard. This injustice, however, weighed on Gordon as he became a teenager.

Gordon graduated from high school in Auburn and enrolled at the University of Washington (UWA). He lived in a YMCA dorm and met and became friends with African American, Jewish, and international students. He was a good student, loved debating, and developed leadership skills. The college YMCA sent him to a national conference in New York City, where his ideas on pacifism broadened, he became more politically aware, and he felt no one was looking at his ethnicity.. Returning to Seattle, he and a friend discovered the University Friends Meeting. The silent worship gave him space to reflect. The social action and pacifism spoke to him. The members and attenders welcomed him and listened to his thoughts. He joined them in protesting the growing calls for U.S. involvement in the war especially after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He applied for conscientious objector status and received it.

When Executive Order 9066 was issued in February, 1942 for relocation of all Japanese in the West Coast region and a curfew was set a month later, Gordon was sure that he and others who were citizens would be protected by the Constitution. Almost 3/4 of those affected were U.S. citizens. He quit school and worked with the AFSC, helping his family and others pack their goods, safeguard or sell their assets, and travel to the mandated detention centers. At first he followed the curfew, but after a week of clockwatching and reminders, he refused. “Am I not an American” he declared and went about his life as usual. Though his mother tried to convince him to come with them to be relocated, he refused and reminded her that she had always taught him to stand up for his beliefs. These government actions were wrong.

He continued to work for the AFSC in Seattle and then Spokane. Accompanied by a Quaker lawyer, supported by his Friends meeting, and armed with a four page statement of his reasons for refusing to obey the curfew and report for relocation, he went to the FBI Office. He was arrested for violating the curfew and jailed. He refused to pay bail, sure he had done no wrong. He was tried and sentenced to 60 days by a judge who instructed the jury to find him guilty. His lawyers appealed all the way to the Supreme Court on the basis that the curfew and the relocation order were racially based. In 1943, the court, based on information from the Justice Dept. that the Japanese were dangerous and a threat to national security, ruled against him.

Gordon did not want to serve his sentence in a jail cell so asked that the sentence be changed to 90 days, making him eligible to serve at a work camp. The judge agreed. The authorities had no money for transportation to the camp in Arizona. He refused to use his own money, so he hitchhiked. He went by to see his parents at their incarceration site and a journalist friend in Salt Lake City. When he arrived at the Catalina Federal Honor Camp near Tucson, his papers could not be found. He was told to cool off at a movie, get something to eat, and return in the evening. He followed these suggestions, returned to find the papers had been found, and started his sentence. There he helped build roads, met other COs and people he’d not have met otherwise, and returned to Spokane after his 90 days. He was stronger from the physical work and more convinced from the many discussions in the camp that he was right.

Back in the Northwest, he courted and in 1944 married Esther Schmoe, daughter of Floyd Schmoe, one of his Quaker supporters. He was called to report for military induction but refused to report or to fill out the Selective Service Form 304A; he considered it a “loyalty oath” aimed primarily at Japanese. He was sentenced to a year at the McNeil Island Penitentiary in Puget Sound. While he was there, his twin daughters were born and a year and a half later a son. When he was released, he went back to school, finished his B.A. degree, and got two graduate degrees in sociology. With no jobs available in the U.S., the family moved first to Beirut, Lebanon and then to Cairo, Egypt where he taught. When they returned to the U.S., Gordon was offered a position at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where he taught and was a member of the local Friends Meeting until his death in 2012. Esther taught high school and then served as a counselor at Alberta College. In 1970, they divorced. Both continued their activities in Alberta. In his last years, Gordon, who had married a woman from the Edmonton Meeting in 1984, Susan Carnahan, suffered from dementia. When he died on January 2, 2012, his death was followed by Esther’s some ten hours later. His son Jay described him as a quiet, principled man, a thoughtful conversationalist, and a loving father.

If that were the end of Gordon Hirabayashi’s story, it would have been a good one but incomplete. Gordon was disappointed when the Supreme Court ruled against his appeal in 1943. He continued to believe in the U.S. Constitution and hoped for exoneration in the future. When in 1981 Peter Irons, a professor and author was researching for a book, he and Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga found the original draft of a report by General John L. DeWitt on the dangers of Japanese Americans and noted differences between it and the final report. Subsequent research found specific evidence that the Justice Department memo to the Supreme Court justices at the time of the 1943 trial had given erroneous information about relocation being the only alternative to protecting the U.S. from potential harm from Japanese living along the West Coast. In fact, J. Edgar Hoover and others in government stated specifically that there was no such threat. In reality, no Japanese American, citizen or not, was ever tried for a direct action against the U.S. mainland. Armed with this information and having recruited several Japanese American lawyers, Peter Irons and a legal team submitted a writ of error coram nobis entitled “Gordon Hirabayashi vs. U.S.” The Court ruled in Gordon’s favor, his convictions on both violation of the curfew and failure to report for relocation were vacated on September 24, 1988, just after the August 10, 1988 passage of the Civil Liberties Act. The Act awarded reparations of $20,000 for each internee still alive.

Gordon stated clearly how he felt. “Why did I cling to the constitutional values in spite of the wartime injustices? It wasn’t the Constitution that failed me. It was those entrusted to uphold it who failed me.” President Reagan publicly apologized to the Japanese American population. In 2012, shortly after Gordon’s death, President Barack Obama presented a Congressional Medal of Honor to his family.

Questions to ask:

  • How do you resolve tensions when your friends and you have a conflict of values? your parents and you? your teachers and you?
  • What does “speaking your truth” mean to you? If it always possible?
  • Shungo Hirabayashi was called “stupidly honest.” Christopher Fox, George Fox’s father, was called “Righteous Christer.” What do you think these names mean? We often hear the story of Abraham Lincoln’s walking miles to return a few pennies to a customer he’d overcharged and call him, “Honest Abe.” Can you tell a story of someone who has shown so much integrity that the person gets a similar nickname.
  • Was $20,000 to each living internee a large enough reparation payment? Why or why not?
  • How would you compare and contrast the incarceration of JA children in WWII camps with that of immigrant children in border camps in 2019?

Books to read:

  • A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi V. United States by Gordon K. Hirabayashi with James A. and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi.
  • The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida
  • Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida
  • A Child in Prison Camp by Shizuye Takashima

#19 Quakers and Japanese Internment – Part 1

The Fourth of July – liberty and justice for all. Children in cages – no unity in diversity. Lessons learned, lessons forgotten. 9/11 – fear of the “other.” Confusion….

That’s just the way George Inouye, then a high school student, later a physicist, described his family’s response to Executive Order 9066, broadcast over the radio and posted in many places on February 19, 1942. The Inouyes were patriotic Japanese, owners of a furniture store in Sacramento, well respected in the community. The order called for about 100,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast to be removed to camps in isolated areas of the U.S. until the close of WWII. The Inouye parents – Saburo and Michiyo – came to the U.S. in 1919 after Saburo had returned to Japan to claim his bride. They had not been naturalized due to an alien act passed during the 20s. The children – Williams, George, and Mikoyo, all teenagers – were citizens by birth in the U.S. as were 3/4 or more of those affected. What was the Quaker response to this obvious unjust action?

As I read page after page, screen after screen, I discovered personal connections to the Inouyes and two other Japanese friends – Jack Hasegawa and Chiura Obata. My memories were vague but would come alive as I delved deeper. These stories became Quaker stories, because they are my stories.

Jack Hasegawa was a fellow student at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California in 1963. Reconnecting with him in recent weeks while trying to find a Japanese couple, Akio and Nobuko Watanabe, friends during my family’s year at Pendle Hill, the Quaker center outside Philadelphia, I discovered new details of his life after UOP. In reading transcripts from an interview, I found many common experiences and some details of his family’s relationship to internment. Jack had gone from UOP to work in the civil rights movement, often serving as a liaison between blacks and whites during several years in the South. He became a conscientious objector (CO) and went to Japan as a Methodist missionary. While in Japan, he worked with the Quaker Friends World College. Returning to the U.S., he worked for many years for the Connecticut Dept. of Education focusing on matters of diversity. In the interview he described receiving a “redress” check for $25,000 in 1988, the only member of his family alive to receive one. His family had left one of the internment camps “on parole” to work and live on a farm in Colorado. Although actually born in Colorado, he was eligible as a child of a family “on parole” from a camp.

Chiura Obata was a Japanese artist and friend of my father-in-law, Harold S. Confer. Obata had come to the U.S. as a young man just before the big earthquake in San Francisco. He worked for several Japanese newspapers and gained a reputation for his artistic recordings of the devastation of this event despite the obstacles presented by the government’s desire to keep details invisible. He became an arts professor at the University of California at Berkeley. His colleagues tried to prevent his removal from the university in 1942, sold many of his paintings for him, stored others, supported him and his wife Habuko, and arranged for his son Gyo to get a place in a graduate school of architecture in St. Louis. During his internment Obata and other artists set up art schools at two different camps, involving hundreds of students. The government helped them get supplies and allowed Obata to leave the camps to buy supplies and teach in community colleges. After he was brutally beaten by a fellow internee as a suspected spy, Obata and his wife were released and joined their son in St. Louis. When he returned to California after the war, he met my husband’s father, a professor of humanities at San Bernardino Valley College. For years he visited Harold’s classes and stayed in their home. He intrigued the students and the Confer children by taking any line they put on paper and turning them into pieces of art. Two of his beautiful creations grace my living room wall.

In 2015 a large group of Japanese American Quakers joined with others to protest the sale of 450 works of art created in the internment camps and then at the time of the proposed sale in the private collection of Allen Eason. The Rago Arts business of Lambertville, New Jersey, planned an auction. Led by Chiyo Moriuchi, a member of the Newtown (PA) Friends Meeting, Friends and others gathered hundreds of names on petitions and caused a delay while families of the artists could be contacted to involve them in the future of the artworks.

In the 1940s Quakers in the eastern U.S. had less personal contact with Japanese families than did Quakers on the West Coast. It had been Quaker women in Philadelphia who made contact with Inazo Nitobe in 1985. From him they gained contacts in Japan for a desired missionary effort. These workers set up schools and meetings, growing their presence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of these Japanese Quakers and their friends came and settled in Washington, Oregon, and California. They became farm workers and set up small businesses. At the time of EO 9066, Quaker meetings and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) went into action led by Fred Schmoe, helping the Japanese Americans pack their assets, arrange for storage of goods, sell businesses, and transport families to detention centers for processing. Did they agree with the policy? They did not! They were trying to be helpful in a difficult situation. They worked at the detention centers and protested conditions, brought bedding and clothes, and provided extra foodstuffs. They were practical and active.

Friends in the East, especially at the AFSC in Philadelphia, tried to work with the federal government through the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to lessen the harshness of policies without angering government officials and making matters worse for the internees and other Japanese Americans. Unfortunately, this led them to not always “speak truth to power.” The urgency of West Coast Quakers and the more pragmatic actions of those in other parts of the country led to tensions. Two actions Quakers pursued with other faith communities helped. In the Midwest and along the East Coast, hostels were set up in cities to receive internees from the camps, give them temporary housing, help them find more permanent places to live, facilitate job placements, and serve as liaisons to receiving communities. Located in cities such as Chicago, Des Moines, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Detroit, they were important way stations. When the camps closed after the war, some of these hostels provided help for the temporarily relocated and those returning to their home communities. The manager of the Pasadena Hostel was Esther Rhoads, one of the early Quaker workers in Japan.

The second action was to spearhead the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, headed by John Nason, then President of Swarthmore College, a Quaker school outside Philadelphia. The group worked with the WRA and placed 4000+ students in colleges and universities away from the West Coast. This work returns us to the Inouyes. While the family moved from the Walerga Detention Center and Tule Lake Camp in California and later the Jerome, Arkansas Camp, first George and then William and Mikoyo found places at Swarthmore College, providing them opportunities for study and changing their lives forever. The Inouye siblings were hard workers, excellent students, and popular with their classmates. They made friends with President Nason and his family, professors, and other college staff , all of whom supported them. Another Quaker, Henry Patterson, head of the Philadelphia WRA Office, helped their parents become houseparents at the Philadelphia Hostel at 3228 Chestnut St. in the city. Michiyo, a dietician, did the shopping and cooking while Saburo did maintenance work and welcomed newcomers. They were well liked and pleased to be so close to their three children. Over a 1000 Japanese Americans passed through the hostel which charged $1 – $2 per day, dependent on employment and length of stay. The hostel stayed open longer than most, then moved to 4238 Spruce St, where it served as student housing. Saburo died in 1968, never becoming a citizen. Mochiyo continued at the new location until 1974, delighting residents with her Japanese and American dishes. She became a citizen in the 50s, retired in 1974, and died in 1978.

Her children and grandchildren visited both locations. One of them was David Inouye, son of William and his wife Eleanor, born in 1950, educated like his father at Swarthmore, married to a classmate Bonnie Gregory, graduated in the class of 1971, and later a professor of zoology and botany. Like his parents, uncle, and aunt, David and Bonnie were active members of the Religious Society of Friends(Quakers). When David came to the University of Maryland in College Park, he and his family joined my Quaker meeting in Adelphi, Maryland. The boys were about the same age as my two younger children and grew up together in the 1980s. Despite spending time with David and Bonnie, I never heard him talk about his parents and grandparents’ involvement with internment nor the influence of their relationship with Swarthmore College or the AFSC. It is a rich story filled with relationships and accomplishments.

His father William worked in an asbestos factory after Swarthmore to raise money for medical school tuition. He trained as a surgeon and loved the teaching part of work with medical students and residents. Two awards have been given annually in his memory. In 1983 he worked meticulously to record his deposition in a lawsuit against the owners of the asbestos factory, hoping that other workers would benefit from the harm done them while employed there. In 1985 he died from the asbestos damage, three years before President Ronald Reagan apologized for the government’s actions during the WWII internment and declared them a “failure of political leadership based on racial prejudice and war hysteria.”

His Uncle George kept a journal from the moment of EO 9066 until his arrival at Swarthmore. During his time at college and especially before his brother and sister joined him there, he sent postcards daily to let his parents know what he was doing, filling their lives with the details of his everyday life. He often mentioned that his generation (the Nisei) should give the U.S. a second chance to overcome racial prejudice and work for international understanding. After getting an engineering degree at Swarthmore, he went to Harvard with the help of some of professors and received a PhD in physics.

His Aunt Miyoko went to medical school after Swarthmore, became a pediatrician, married a fellow doctor David Barrett, and went to India to work for the AFSC for two years, spent four years in Hawaii, and then settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Active in Quaker activities, Miyoko and David counseled med students, did research, and had busy medical careers. Miyoko found herself not sharing her experiences from the internment years with the next generation, silent as were her parents and her siblings. When 9/11 occured, she regretted not being more vigilant as she saw Arabs and Muslims suffer prejudice, fear, and hatred as the “other.” Still, for many years she had worked promoting better U.S. – Japan relations, so active the Emperor of Japan awarded her the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 6th Class in 1974. When she received her “redress” check in 1988, she divided it in half and donated the money to the AFSC and to Swarthmore College. When 9/11 occured, she regretted not being more vigilant as she saw Arabs and Muslims suffer prejudice, fear, and hatred as the “other” similar to her own hurts of the past.

David, Aunt Miyoko, and other relatives have donated photographs, papers, documents, and many of George’s penny postcards to Philadelphia’s Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies. Several websites share photographs of the hostel on Chestnut St. and have George’s writings – http://www.asianartsinitiative.org by Rea Tajiri and Vince Schlitwiler and http://www.citiesofrefuge.org. I spent several hours on them.

Questions to ponder:

  • Why do you think victims of trauma such as Japanese internment camps, the Mexican/US border detention camps, Native American boarding schools, the Trail of Tears have not shared their stories with subsequent generations? Find out what you can about these events and other similar ones and compare/contrast their characteristics.
  • What do we do when confronted by people who are so different from us that we cannot find a comfort zone with them?
  • In “South Pacific” there’s a song that tells us we have to be taught to hate. What does this mean to you?
  • If you could have had 15 minutes with President Roosevelt before he issued Executive Order 9066, what would you have said to him?


  • A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai – picture book
  • Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki – early primary
  • Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston – intermediate
  • A Boy No More by Harry Mazer

#18 Some Stories on Living Is Giving

I’m still researching Quakers and their role in helping those affected by the Japanese Internment during WWII and events and feelings that led to that government crackdown. Meanwhile, several events in my life during the last ten days has led me to think about giving. So, here goes!

Living is giving. My mother taught me the phrase when I was still a toddler. She was my lifelong example of that mantra. She reached out to everyone she met. It mattered not to her if they were young or old, rich or poor, Southerner or Northerner, male or female, her white race or another. For most of her life she knew no gays, but in later years accepted members of the LGBQT community with love. She had a very long prayer list and spent at least an hour a day saying a little personal prayer for each and everyone on it.

She was also a very independent woman and often stepped outside her comfort zone to take care of others. When she could no longer live by herself, she came to stay her last three years with my family and me. During that time she taught us another important lesson – there can be no giver without a receiver; learn to be gracious in both. And, remember there are many ways to give.

One of her favorite Bible stories was “The Widow’s Mite.” She would have loved my piece about Ruth Miheso, who gave to so many in her Kenyan village and then helped start a small organization, Cornstalk, to continue the work. My mother recognized that often those with less are more apt to share what they have. She was one of them. She had a second list of children, family or not, who received greeting cards by mail on special holidays. When she was able, she would enclose a small gift. At her memorial service, there were many who shared how they had kept those cards over the years. She taught for over thirty years in a school whose students were primarily from a nearby housing project. She wanted them to experience beauty every day. She gave them the gift of classical music and art and filled them with the words and rhythms of poetry. She even empowered them by allowing them to show off their knowledge to the school supervisors who had very low expectations of these project kids.

This past weekend my Friends meeting held its annual strawberry festival. For over 20 years I’ve helped and supervised the used clothing. In recent years we’ve had more neighborhood Hispanic families as customers. I’ve watched them agonize over purchases even though the prices have been quite low. Historically, Quakers are known for setting fair, standard prices as an expression of their testimony of equality. I’m a Quaker purist, so have resisted cutting prices to 1/2 at noon. Still, I wanted the families to benefit from the increasing quality and quantity of donations. Enter the $10.00 bags! Every time someone came and spent more than $10, we’d offer a $10 bag to be filled. Soon, the regulars had bought two or three! They weren’t just splurging. They were buying for other people – a grandmother newly raising grandchildren and unable to buy shoes for all three, a sister whose birthday was coming, a neighbor needing a Sunday dress, a teenager asking for a pair of soccer cleats. It was wonderful to participate in their buying to give to others.

In the 60s, my late husband and I were volunteers in a small village in southwest Tanzania. The gifts we received from our villagers were so many they could never be counted. The biggest gift of all was our older son, now in his late fifties. His grandmother lived across the road from our mud and wattle house. With three other children to raise, she asked us to adopt him. We did and have been enriched. His presence led to the adoption of our second son. When our daughter arrived as a special gift of nature, we were a rainbow family that has grown and grown.

My husband spent 50 years in workcamping in flood relief, earthquake reconstruction, housing construction, rebuilding burned churches, renovation of homeless shelters, and institutional service support. He gave tens of young adults the opportunity to give of themselves to support others. They came from the US, Japan, Africa, Europe, and even Russian Siberia. They learned new building and people skills as they worked together to finish a task. More importantly, they gave the gift of “being with.”

Living is giving and recognizing the gifts, given and received, no matter how big or small.

Questions to ponder:

  • What are several ways of giving?
  • How does one go about being a gracious giver and receiver?
  • Why is “being with” such an important part of giving?
  • What are some ways to help children and young people develop a sense of sustainable philanthropy?

#17 Elizabeth Gray Vining – Writer and Tutor to the Crown Prince of Japan

At 13 Elizabeth Janet Gray sold her first writing for $2.00 to “The Churchman,” a religious publication. At 17, she sold another. She loved to write. Her father was also a creator, an inventor of surveying instruments. John Gray’s tools helped Robert Peary explore and map the North Pole. In the faroff frontiers of Siberia, they had enabled surveyors to lay out an important transcontinental railroad. “Jane” as she was called by her friends had a better idea of these distant places than most of her classmates at Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia.

Born on October 6, 1902 to John Gordon Gray, a Scotsman, and Ann Moore Iszard of Philadelphia Quaker stock, Jane was a keen observer of people and an avid reader. She was well liked and enjoyed being with her friends in the classroom and on the tennis courts. Entering Bryn Mawr College at 16, she focused on history and literature. She continued to write, feeling each day not complete unless she’d put ideas and imaginings on paper.

After college, she taught civics, history, and English at a high school on the New Jersey shore. Her students liked her for her energy and encouragement. She enjoyed tapping their potential. In the late afternoons, the ocean often beckoned her, its vastness and movement a cauldron for her creativity. She sent her writing off with hopes for publication though with little initial success. No matter. She used her early rejection letters to paper the walls of a nook in her small bedroom. Encouragement and guidance from a book editor, May Massee, kept her going. She decided to write children’s books because she loved to reread her favorites from her childhood and could never throw them away. She found her students doing the same. They often talked about the characters as heroes and friends.

She returned to Philadelphia. Then in 1926, armed with a degree in library science from Drexel Institute, she headed to a job at the University of North Carolina. With friends, work, and renewed energy, she published two children’s books in three years, Meredith’s Ann and Tangle Garden. Among her friends and co-workers was a young man named Morgan Fisher Vining. They feel in love, married, and built a house in the woods. It was their special place. Sometimes she would slip away to a secret spot surrounded by trees and visited by forest creatures. They kept her company as she wrote her next books. Maggie McIntosh was published and earned her first Newbery nomination. She and Morgan were elated.

They went to New York to celebrate the recognition of Morgan’s work at the university and the publication of her fourth book, Jane Hope. Unfortunately, Morgan was killed in a terrible car accident and Elizabeth suffered serious injuries. She moved back to live with her mother in Philadelphia and recuperate. She was devastated by Morgan’s death. Her grief and injuries weighed heavy. Where she had worn her Quaker mantle lightly up to this point, she discovered the healing power of silent worship. In Meeting she found acceptance, a growing strength, and an inner calm to fill her aching heart. Later she would speak of the communal gathering of worshippers waiting on God to speak to them, saying, “…the search of each is intensified by the search of all.”

She returned to her writing and was further strengthened by the poetry of Sir Walter Scott and her research into the history and personalities of early Quakerism. She wrote biographies, Young Walter Scott and Penn, and even dipped into non-fiction with Contributions of the Quakers. The last caught the eye of leaders of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). They asked her to join the staff. It was here several years later that word came of an overseas teaching opportunity, tutor of the Crown Prince of Japan. Though encouraged to apply, Elizabeth did not. Her book, Adam of the Road, had recently come out and won the Newbery Award. She was too busy with her work and her writing. Quaker heavyweights, Rufus Jones and Clarence Pickett, were recruited to convince her to apply. Finally, she agreed to consider an offer.

Why was the Emperor Hirohito of Japan looking for a Quaker tutor for his son, Akihito? It was a story of interconnection, the small but influential world of Quakers in Japan, and the political situation following WW II. General Douglas MacArthur ran the Japanese occupation after its defeat by the Allies. He wanted to strengthen Christianity and democratize the country. One of his military advisors was General Conner Fellers, a pro-Japanese Quaker, who was a mutual friend of George Stoddard, the Head of the US Education Mission to Japan and Clarence Pickett of the AFSC. Fellers did not want Emperor Hirohito to be brought before a tribunal for war crimes. Choosing a Quaker pacifist tutor would please MacArthur and protect Hirohito.

What else did Hirohito want in a tutor and what did he know about Quakers? Taken from his parents at three according to imperial custom, he was cared for by Adachi Taka, the Quaker daughter of Adachi Mototaro, a friend of Inazo Nitobe from their Sapporo Agricultural College days. Nitobe had been a prominent Quaker educator and diplomat who died in 1933. He had founded the Quaker Network in Japan, a group of influential men in politics with contact with the imperial court. Hirohito knew Quakers to be pacifists. He also knew them to be Christian but not fanatical, preachy, nor self-righteous. They were not as interested in conversion as other churches and were open to people of varying religions and cultures. Hirohito also wanted an American woman of about 50, basically unfamiliar with Japan and its language. When George Stoddard shared Elizabeth Gray Vining’s name and background with the emperor, Hirohito knew she had all the requirements plus three important additions. She was a widow and would have compassion borne of sorrow. She was an author of children’s books and would be sympathetic to a boy of 12, lonely and confused by the chaos and defeat of the just concluded war. Mrs. Vining was a graduate of Bryn Mawr, where a number of early Japanese graduates had attended. He agreed. Later, he would declare that choice one of his best successes.

Akihito had been primed for his first meeting with Mrs. Vining, according to the imperial culture. He had practiced what he was to say and do. He had been controlled by adults for all the days he could remember. Being shy, he rarely if ever spoke up for himself or questioned the chamberlains who ran his life. And then, she was there – tall, quietly elegant, a gentle smile just showing, simply but stylishly dressed. He could not help himself. “Thank you for the candy.” She acknowledged his gratitude with a slight nod, a knowing word, and a twinkle in her eye. She had made a wise choice with her present. Thus began the four year teacher-student relationship followed by a friendship of another 49 years.

Elizabeth Gray Vining believed that each child is unique like a leaf or flower, should be allowed to grow to flowering in the child’s own way, and given the tools to do work in the world. She entered the classroom where Akihito and other wealthy boys studied. Immediately she noticed the deference the other boys paid to the Crown Prince and his somewhat haughty response. She began by giving each student an English name – John, Robert, Alfred. Akihito was called “Jimmy” but refused. Elizabeth’s sense of equality was firm, “In English class you are “Jimmy.”‘ It was an important message. She used the Book of Knowledge to teach English structure, vocabulary, and culture. She urged Akihito to play with the other boys and develop good sportsmanship while having fun. In his private sessions, she sought to instill confidence and self-control. She introduced him to the kindness and non-violence of Mahatma Gandhi, the integrity and simplicity of Abraham Lincoln, and the honesty, courage, and equality of William Penn. She used Penn’s dealings with the Native Americans as a example of how one bases actions on values and respects the differences of others.

The first foreigner welcomed into the private quarters, she developed relationships with the whole family. She taught the other imperial children and the Empress Nagako English and western culture. She played cards with them, taught the children Monopoly, shared poetry, and went on trips with them. She encouraged the parents to spend more time with their children and show interest in their academic progress. In turn, the Emperor and Empress enjoyed her company and often invited her to join them in their quarters to share Japanese language and culture.

Akihito benefited greatly from her four years of instruction. His actions in subsequent years showed lessons well learned. He chose his own wife and promised to protect her always. Often hard due to imperial protocols and infighting, it was a difficult promise but he has done his best. He continues to reach out to his people. Together, the couple has travelled around the country and been with those who have suffered in time of disaster such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Although limited constitutionally from interfering in politics, he has used speeches to promote “apology diplomacy” for past military actions and the necessity to continue the pacifism in the present constitution in the light of the recent government calls for a more nationalistic, militaristic stance. He and his wife Michiko have raised their own children and shown an interest and support in the education, sports, and training of physically and mentally challenged children and adults. Interested in fish as a child and trained in ichthyology and marine biology, Akihito has written academic papers and supported scientific studies.

Elizabeth Gray Vining continued her relationship with the imperial family through visits, calls, and correspondence. Each year on her birthday, a gift of flowers was delivered to her by the Japanese Ambassador to the US or his representative. She cherished the photos of the family that came with their Christmas greeting. She also continued to write and to support education of Quakers and others. When she died in 1999, she had followed her belief that life is a trust, given into our hands to hold carefully, use well, enjoy, and give back when the time comes.

Questions to ponder:

  • What were some of the lessons Mrs. Vining learned and taught through the years?
  • How have you found silence to strengthen you when you are troubled or have a problem to solve?
  • What is the place of “fun” in your life?
  • How do you stir your “cauldron of creativity” on a daily basis?


  • Elizabeth Gray Vining’s many children’s books, biographies, and non-fiction
  • The recent videos about the Emperor Akihito made by the Japanese network NHK and available on the internet
  • Juvenile fiction and non-fiction on Japan such as Zen Shorts and Zen Ties by Jon Muth; Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say; The Sign of the Chrysanthemum and The Master Puppeteer by Katherine Paterson; Umbrella by Taro Yashima; and A Primary Source Guide to Japan by Tobi Santon Stewart