Russell Frederick Jorgensen

Date of Birth

June 13th, 1917

Date of Death

November 4th, 2009

Memorial Meeting

Grass Valley Friends Meeting


Quaker worship and the way of Friends was embraced by Russ at an early age and integrated into his life’s work, family, and the communities in which he lived. Russ put down his sword and shield at the beginning of the World War II refusing service on the basis of religious belief. His growing pacifism began to evolve after an early upbringing in the Lutheran church. One of three boys, Russ emerged from college and began work for American Youth Hostels in New England. During this time close friends and pacifist mentors Monroe and Isabel Smith infused and strengthened Russ’ belief that war was not the answer.

In this same period Mary signed up for a New England Youth Hostel bicycle excursion. Russ was immediately distracted from his AYH duties and soon bicycled after Mary. Careful deliberation caused mom and dad to declare their intent to be married, three weeks after meeting. The knot of eternal vows was formally tied 5 months later in California. Soon after marriage, they moved to Berkeley, California were Eric’s birth shifted the military service board confrontation from beliefs to a family deferment.

In Berkeley, Russ attended the Pacific School of Religion earning a masters degree in Christian Ethics. This, along with a degree in economics from University of Wisconsin, initiated a life long career with the American Friends Service Committee as a raiser of funds and executive director in support of organized Quaker programs directed at a ministry of world peaceful reconciliation, alleviation of human suffering, and the building of social justice. Over the years AFSC programs in housing integration, prison reform, farm labor, and overseas work camps sought to strengthen the brotherhood of man.

In the December 1946 annual Jorgensen Christmas letter, Russ speaks of his beliefs:

“It is a time of year to be thankful for our Christian heritage. But world events and activities in our own country impress upon us the fact that as Christians we have fallen far short of the ethical and moral principles of him whose birth we celebrate. Time can not wait and men everywhere – whether the highest they know comes from Christianity or some other great religion or from no recognized pattern at all – (man) must seek the strength and courage to increasingly identify their personal interests with social interests. It is this gap which illumines the meaning of life.”

Children Eric, Lynne, Mark and Paul brought an expanding family over the next 9 years. “…when I get home from the office …I have another eight hour shift – you know, shifting dishes from the sink to the cupboards, paint from the bucket to the walls…” Russ speaks often of family and appreciation of Mary. In family, Russ and Mary embraced and nurtured an ever extending family, cherishing each person, and caring for all through holiday and mountain gatherings. Russ was a constant in our lives --kind, generous, conscientious and trusting of each of us. His overarching love for Mary created an enduring foundation for all.

California’s High Sierra Mountains were an early favorite family destination. The Sierra was a welcome retreat for backpacking adventure and winter family snow retreats. Over time, Russ and Mary hiked in the Alps, the Himalayas, the Andes, and climbed east Africa’s Mt Kilimanjaro, The mountains also inspired a lifelong hobby in photography. Russ’ eye for light and composition captured the dignity of the human spirit on most of the continents of the world – people in rest, work and play. He also captured the magnificence of the earth and the patterns of time, water and sand. Photography, travel, and work created an ever expanding international family of friends. Russ and Mary were truly ambassadors for peace and friendship. The bonds of family happiness and friendships continued over the years as a counter balance to the world’s turmoil and violence, which weighed upon his shoulders.

Atomic bomb testing and atmospheric radiation in the Pacific and the State of Nevada posed a threat to human civilization. Russ repeatedly joined with others of peaceful and religious concern to bring attention to the arm’s race threatening human extinction, by clogging the machinery of governance through civil disobedience.

Race relations in the U.S. and the world continued to be a source of violence, carnage and discrimination. Russ said of World War II that “Hitler was defeated, but that ‘Hitlerism’ continues undefeated”. The violence of religious and ethnic “cleansing” continues in human society. The AFSC helped to organize conferences and international camps seeking reconciliation and understanding on a diplomatic, family and personal level. Russ and Mary participated in a work camp bringing Israelis and Palestinians together in work, play and conversation. At home, Russ helped to open youth hostels in California to all races, to bring down the barriers of housing discrimination, and to fight job discrimination. At the calling of Martin Luther King, Russ and Mary joined the bus loads of Freedom Riders bringing nonviolent intervention to force the elimination of “separate but equal” segregation and discrimination.

Russ worked to organize for peace and justice over his whole life. He helped to nurture and build the Friends Committee on Legislation in California, Pacifica Radio and KPFA, the Sonoma Peace and Justice Center, the Nevada County Peace and Justice Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Living a life of nonviolence, Russ sought to build and surround himself with intentional communities of friends. Four families in Berkeley joined together and moved into a common neighborhood to raise their children; the Monan’s Rill community in Santa Rosa is now approaching 40 years; and then on to Peaceful Valley Road in Nevada City where he and Mary joined their children. In these communities Russ’ artisan skills poured forth building patio and retaining walls in Berkeley and his “Madrone” home at Monan’s Rill. Intentional community for living and sharing were life long endeavors.

In the last few years of his life, Russ was failing as Lewy Body disease (characteristics of Alzheimer and Parkinson’s diseases) closed in upon him. A few weeks ago, dad began to refuse food and water, and, with family support, brought his life to an end with dignity, on his own terms, as a man of peace, justice, and loving care.