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Memorials: Palo Alto Friends Meeting

Arden Pierce

Date of birth

March 13, 1928

Date of death

Sept. 20, 2021


Palo Alto Friends Meeting

Memorial minute

Arden Elaine Pierce, loving and beloved member of this Meeting since 1964, died at her home in Palo Alto on September 20, 2021, at the age of 93.

Arden was born March 13, 1928, in Mount Kisco, New York, the only child of Earl and Alice (Humphreys) Fish. She spent her childhood in Westchester and Dutchess Counties, NY, and in New York City itself. An early health crisis that nearly killed her planted the dream of becoming a doctor when she grew up. Her father was always very supportive, but their financial situation and society’s expectations were not.

During WWII her mother had to go back to work and at age 15 Arden was sent to boarding school at Northfield School for Girls in Massachusetts. In 1945 she entered Swarthmore College, graduating in 1949. There she became “somewhat acquainted” with Quakerism.

The family was churchgoing. In Bible study at boarding school Arden got the idea that Jesus was not born divine but was able to allow God to become fully manifest through him. At Swarthmore she met returning veteran Richard Cordray and, with special permission from the college to marry without either of them having to drop out, they married in 1947. Richard had rejected his Catholic upbringing but agreed to attend Quaker meeting, so that’s what they did.

Daughters Alix and Virginia were born in Philadelphia in 1951 and 1953. A series of moves took the family to New Jersey; then out to California to Sierra Madre near Pasadena, where daughters Gail and Jacqueline were born in 1955 and 1957; to Chico, where son Edmund was born in 1960; and finally to Palo Alto. By this time the marriage was deteriorating and ended in divorce in 1961. Arden and Richard found they could be very good friends once they didn’t have to live together.

Following her divorce Arden investigated returning to school to become a doctor. The obstacles were great, but “guidance from somewhere” led her from one opportunity to another. She ended up earning a physical therapist license from Stanford. She worked as a PT at El Camino Hospital for 18 years followed by about a decade for the Visiting Nurses Association. It was a career she loved. She often commented that it was amazing she could get paid for doing something she loved so much.

During this period Arden also discovered international folk dancing which became an important part of her life and a family activity. She met Hiram Pierce at folk dancing, and they married on March 29, 1968, under the care of Palo Alto Meeting. They were a great team and inseparable until Hiram's death in 2016. They bought land in the Santa Cruz mountains and ran a folk dance campout there (Planina) for many years.

Arden was always a “people person,” known for her warmth and compassion. She opened her house to one and all, including numerous people who lived there for short periods. She also invited "strays" and visitors to family celebrations, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, and encouraged her children to do the same. She loved socializing and would talk to just about anyone for as long as they were willing to talk.

In a 2015 interview Arden described some formative spiritual experiences she has had. Early on at Orange Grove Meeting in Pasadena she witnessed a contentious business meeting which seemed to be getting nowhere until the Clerk called for a period of silence. Out of the silence someone spoke “How about thus and so?” and everyone agreed. The listening process impressed her deeply.

Another experience occurred on a trip to London, when two street hawkers infuriated her by their persistent pushiness. She described how the next day in a meeting for worship someone’s vocal ministry “grabbed my emotions and turned them around. I thought ‘What a terrible way to have to make a living, having to accost people and persuade them.’ My feeling of annoyance melted away. It was a profound experience.”

In that same interview she described the strong impact the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl had had on her. From it she learned that “I have control over my attitude. I can’t change other people but I can change myself.”

After receiving help from Planned Parenthood as a young, married woman, Arden donated and volunteered for the organization for the rest of her life.

In Palo Alto Meeting Arden found caring support during the difficulties of her divorce. She became a member of the Meeting in 1964. Early on she served as Recording Clerk and taught in the First Day School. Over the years she served the Meeting in countless ways including two 2- year stints as Presiding Clerk, 1982-84 and 1997-99, and clerking various committees including the Oversight, the Nominating and the Harvest Festival Steering committees. She also served on Buildings and Grounds, managed the directory, was newsletter editor, Representative to Pacific Yearly Meeting, and the list goes on. Less visible was her work corresponding with and visiting prisoners and her frequent service on clearness committees for memberships, marriages, memorials and personal concerns. Many Friends have spoken of how much her support for them made a difference in their lives.

Later in life, and especially after 9/11, Arden says she struggled to believe in God. How could a God let people do this? She often attended meetings of the Humanist Society with Hiram.

Arden is survived by her children Alix, Gail, Jacqueline and Edmund; eight grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband Hiram in 2016 and her daughter Virginia in 2021.