A Short History of Ben Lomond Quaker Center by John deValcourt
reviewed by Paul Niebanck
Quakers have been accounting for our lives and thoughts since George Fox and Margaret Fell wrote their Journals and Letters in the 1600s. We are famous for our journals, letters, minutes, pamphlets, articles, books, and all manner of other records. We are our history: What we have written permits our witness to stand in the Light.
John deValcourt’s new book, A Short History of the Early Years of Ben Lomond Quaker Center, is a compelling contribution to the library of Quaker publications. It is an accurate rendering of how Quaker Center evolved in Ben Lomond, California. The story is a dramatic one, marked by mystery, suspense, bold actions, and painful compromises. The history of Quaker Center follows a crooked line.
DeValcourt presents the specifics of Quaker Center’s history accurately. He also offers insights into Quaker life on the West Coast of North America. Most importantly, perhaps, he provides a critical examination of what faithful institution-building requires – through this critical examination of one example.
First, there was a gift of a substantial piece of property. Time went by; buildings and activities were layered onto the property. As it happened, practically none of these were built at the initiative of the gift-recipient, but by a lessee. More time went by, and the gift-recipient actually gave second thought to the correctness of having accepted the gift in the first place. More time went by, and the representative of the original property owner began to show an interest in initiating its own activities, even in building its own buildings. Still more time, and naturally enough, certain stresses arose among the various interested parties; some festered. Meanwhile, the value of the property increased, and interest in what was going on at Quaker Center continued to widen considerably. At the culmination of this formative phase, a whole range of parties carried an active interest in Quaker Center: the original owner (the Markley family), the national and regional offices of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Ben Lomond Committee of AFSC, Sequoia Seminar, Palo Alto Friends Meeting, College Park Quarterly Meeting, various ad hoc Quaker groups, AFSC’s Finance, Personnel and Nominating Committees, and Santa Cruz Friends Meeting. These groups weren’t all on the same page – and not even at the same table.
Through time, and at critical intervals, astute individual Quakers stepped in to calm the waters, to enlarge the conversation, to untangle knots, to name the facts that needed to be faced, to lend practical support, and to help build a sound foundation – both legal and ethical – for Ben Lomond Quaker Center. In short, these individuals were heroes. They ensured that there would be an affirming and lasting resolution to all the concerns, confusions, and even animosities that had characterized so much of Quaker Center’s history to that point.
Is this book exciting? You bet! I have my own long, personal history with Ben Lomond Quaker Center and could hardly find the book anything but exciting. I am sure that many other Friends will likewise find this book satisfying to read. Its author was the Center’s first director. He knows Quaker Center’s history well. He tells that history with the authority – and the affection – of one who has “been there.” ~~~
Paul Niebanck is a member of South Seattle Friends Meeting in Washington state (NPYM).