Marian Louise Davis was born in February 1919 in Oshkosh, Wis., to Ward Blanchard Davis and Clara Agatha Christensen Davis. When Marian was four, her father died, and her mother moved with the three children to the Christensen farmstead, sharing the family home with several of Clara’s siblings. Raised by her mother, aunts and uncles, Marian experienced security in a childhood that also fostered the independence and strength for which she would become known throughout her life.
After graduation from Oshkosh High School, she attended Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, for two years, then transferred to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. With a BS degree in secondary education and major in mathematics, she decided to pursue a career in business.
Marian worked 10 years for Blue Cross-Blue Shield in Milwaukee, and five years at her own business, Davis Business Services, in Wichita, KS. Then, inspired by a Unitarian minister, she worked in religious education at the San Francisco Unitarian Church, while studying at Starr King Seminary and Pacific School of Religion, both in Berkeley, CA. Though her search for spiritual truth never flagged, Marian became disillusioned with Unitarianism; she explained later that it seemed “too narrow in its focus.”
On a visit to brother Neil, Marian learned that she was eligible, though aged 43, to volunteer in the newly established Peace Corps. She decided overnight to join, soon learned Spanish, and was off to Callao, Peru. There she used her business skills to develop housing, a credit co-op, and a Junior Red Cross chapter. She lived happily among the people she served, in the barriada Ciudadela Chalaca, a squatters’ settlement. The Peace Corps doctor in Lima was a Quaker and a representative of the American Friends Service Committee. Marian attended several Meetings for Worship in Lima and invited the group to her house for Meeting. Thus began the relationship with the Religious Society of Friends which, for the rest of her life, provided the foundation for Marian’s wide spiritual explorations.
After two full terms in the Peace Corps and another year traveling around South and Central America, Marian returned to the U.S., restless and homesick for Peru. In 1970, together with niece Kathy and a close friend from Peru, Oscar Arriagas, she moved to Denver. Inspired to establish a student cooperative, Marian bought a large house in Denver’s Baker Neighborhood and adapted it for communal living, emphasizing conscientious use of resources, interpersonal respect, open communication and individual responsibility. Through the decades, hundreds of people, mostly youth, benefited from their weeks, months or years of living in 111 House. Marian was still serving in her capacity as owner and mentor of the house at the time of her death at age 92.
In Denver, Mountain View Friends Meeting became her extended family, whom she served enthusiastically. She worked with First Day School children, the newsletter, the weekly announcements, and the library, among others. Her involvement with the Adult Discussion Group was especially meaningful to her, as was attending Intermountain Yearly Meeting at Ghost Ranch.
From 1978 to 1980, she volunteered as director of the Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City, a Quaker hostel for short-term guests, including volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, Peace Brigades International and other organizations. She later filled a similar role at the Casa in Hermosillo, Mexico. She was 73 when she participated in a Peace Brigades protective accompaniment delegation to Guatemala.
An avid reader and lifelong scholar, Marian was also a prolific writer. She recorded everything from her family history to philosophical observations, as a legacy to her nieces’ and nephews’ families, with whom she maintained close relations. Learning was a necessary and ongoing part of life. In her last year, despite failing eyesight and hearing, she enrolled in an on-line philosophy course.
Skilled in business and accounting, Marian was also an artist and a creative homemaker. She sewed, embroidered, and quilted; she was a potter, a sculptor, a stained glass artist, a photographer. She was a good cook and a generous hostess. She loved to garden and was noted for her ability to see beauty in weeds that others would normally discard. Said niece Kathy, “Where most of us just see weeds, she sees beautiful plants worthy of nurturing. She’s like that with people too.”
When Marian’s kidneys failed in 2008, she made the decision to undergo a regular program of dialysis. She described the three “extra” years the treatment allowed her as “a great gift,” and the decision to end dialysis was a difficult one. With the respectful support of Denver Hospice, and the loving care of family members, Marian let go of a life fully lived and died peacefully in October 2011 at her beloved 111 House.