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Letter of Dismay

Published: Jan. 27, 2024

Dear Friends,

I am a graduate of the first class of John Woolman School in Nevada City, CA, and have held the campus and its environment close to my heart and soul for sixty-odd years.

I have just sent the following letter of dismay to all of the nonprofits that I mention in it, plus to many parts of many yearly meetings, plus to Western Friend.

This letter was written in response to the sale of the property that was once John Woolman School – currently 188 acres with 9 buildings – which is being sold to a nonprofit representing the Nisenan people, who are indigenous to the land in question. The Quaker board that represents Woolman in this sale has not been up front with the larger Quaker community about the extent of the property’s debts, nor about the fair market value of the property, which I speculate could be $4 million or more. The board has suggested that the property might be sold to the Nisenan for $1.3 million.

Here is my letter of dismay, which I have distributed widely:

The College Park Friends Education Association (CPFEA) Board was faced with the dilemma, “What do you do with millions of dollars of Quaker assets?” They could not attract students to John Woolman School and decided to lay the project down after 60 years of continuous operation.

John Woolman School has been overseen by the CPFEA Board. Through proper Quaker process, the members of that committee have been nominated and have since volunteered to serve. Present members of the Board have operated in relative secrecy, not responding to calls for transparency or status of negotiations.

At a recent business meeting of the Berkeley Society of Friends, the request of an elder member to seek information about the status of negotiations was delivered to the Board. No response.

The members of the Berkeley Meeting were essential in finding the land, finding the money, finding the craftsman expertise, more than any other Meeting in Pacific Yearly Meeting (pacificyearlymeeting.org).

There has been no advertising, little promotion, and no professional fundraisers or public relations experts to help sustain the school. The committee was not able to find students for the school so they decided to quit the educational project and sell the campus. The campus includes more than 180 acres of arable land and more than nine buildings.

Would you give money to Quaker schools? Would you give money to Quaker institutions? Would you give money to Quakers in Africa, where most Quakers live? Would you give money to Central or South America, where Quaker communities are doing good work?

Quakers were slaveowners, should we give reparations to African-Americans? Should we give money to Japanese people whose parents were interned in World War II? Should we give money to people suffering in our community? Would you give money to strangers?

John Woolman School was chartered to advance education in Quaker values in youth.

How about supporting another Friends School in California, for example, Friends Western School, San Francisco Friends School, or Whittier Friends School? How about giving money to other Quaker high schools? Might you be disposed to give to other Friends Schools throughout the nation? Would you give money to Friends Council on Education (FriendsCouncil.org), which lists dozens of schools throughout the nation? The board decided against giving any money to Friends schools.

How about gifting to one or more or all of these colleges? Earlham College in Indiana, Barclay College in Kansas, Guilford College in North Carolina, or the Pennsylvania schools of Bryn Mar College, Haverford College, or Swarthmore College?

Would you give it to Quaker universities? Friends University in Kansas, George Fox University in Oregon, Malone University in Ohio, and William Penn University in Iowa would all certainly welcome donations from Friends. The Board decided against giving any money to higher education.

Would you give it to Quaker international concerns, for example, the Ramallah Friends School in the West Bank or the El Salvador Project, which both help kids get into decent colleges or universities? Would you give it to Casa de Los Amigos in Mexico City, or our Friends in Guatemala or Bolivia? Would you give money to Ben Lomond Quaker Center (Quakercenter.org)?

How much money would you give to the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL.org)? Would you give money to the Friends Committee on Legislation of California (FCLCA.org)? Would you give money to American Friends Service Committee (AFSC.org)? Would you give money to Quaker Earthcare Witness (QuakerEarthcare.org)? Would you give money to Pendle Hill Conference and Retreat Center (PendleHill.org)? Would you give money to Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC.world)? Would you give money to Friends General Conference (FGCQuaker.org)? Would you give money to Friends United Meeting (FUM.org)? Would you give money to United Society of Friends Women International (USFWI.net)? Would you give money to the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC.org)? The Board decided against giving money to any Quaker organizations.

Would you give to Friends Place on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., or Friends House in London, among others? Would you give money to a Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO.org) for their work from their offices in New York and Geneva? Would you give it to Right Sharing of World Resources to empower poor women to earn a living wage and learn about business?

The College Park Friends Education Association Board concluded that it was appropriate to take millions of dollars of Quaker assets out of Quaker hands and Quaker influence. There are more than 170,000 nonprofits in California and more than 200 in Nevada County. That is a lot of sorting and sifting to do to come up with a place to put Quaker money if you want to take our assets out of our control and guidance.

The Board decided against donating to education or remediation or work on survival issues that threaten all of humanity. Here are just a few. Pollution of land, water, and atmosphere, biodiversity loss, recognizing the ongoing, greatest extinction of species since the dinosaurs, habitat loss, invasive species, nuclear weapons, overpopulation, overharvesting of resources, plastics, climate crisis…

Among the nonprofits that could benefit from Quaker money are:

The Board was inspired by the idea of giving land back to Native Americans. They endorsed the principles of LANDBACK.org.

We can imagine that the members of the Board who deliberated long and hard with much devout worship would consider many of these alternatives. There are untold thousands more that Google can suggest to be worthy of Quaker money. Please suggest more to the convener of ministry of your meeting, the clerk of your meeting, the clerk of Quarterly Meeting and the clerk of Pacific Yearly Meeting.

Even after renouncing the advancement of Quaker interests, the Board decided not to give any of the millions to these groups working on the survival of humanity, among other flora and fauna.

The original thought of the Board was to sell the assets for $1.3 million to a group of Native Americans claiming Nisenan affiliation. The Board did not feel the need to have the property evaluated by a professional appraiser. When the spokeswoman of the group presented the idea to Quakers who were assembled in celebration for the 60th anniversary of the first school year in 1963, she said she did not know anything about money. She said that she had great confidence that the group would be able to come up with the $1.3 million. Nisenan are not a recognized tribe, there numbers are variously said to be between 20 to 200 individuals.

The Native American group could sell the property for maybe 4 or more million dollars if they wish to capture a superabundant profit.

They refuse a covenant that they will let Quakers continue to have their first day meetings or continue our organic garden.

The lawyer who represents them reportedly has a history of acquiring lands for Native Americans and then building casinos on those lands. They have not accepted a covenant that states they will not build a casino or a whorehouse on our Woolman land.

Do we owe anything to the Nisenan Indians? Have we hurt the Nisenan Indians in any way? Is the effort of the Board to assuage our guilt for the past practices of horror and misery committed by white people upon our Native American neighbors? If we are wishing to relieve guilt, why not deed to Indians who have been adversely affected by white people, for example, the Sioux or Lakota Indians who suffered in Wounded Knee, the Cherokee who suffered in the Trail of Tears, or the Navajo who are continuously suffering from the deleterious health effects of uranium mining for our atom bombs? Did the Board consider the First Peoples of Canada, whose children were taken away from their families to be Westernized in Quaker schools?

We owe a lot to Friends and we have no reason to gift this collection of Nevada County residents with the product of 60 years of toil, treasure, tears, and sacrifice of Quakers.

The founders of the school would be turning over in their graves. The offspring of the founders, including many John Woolman School students and staff, are turning over in their graves at this poor prospect. Joachim and Marianne Leppmann were among the early donors to the school. They gave $250,000 to advance Quaker education in the late 1950s. If they had put it in the stock market, that money would now be worth $19.254 million. If they had wanted to give it to advance Native American concerns that certainly was an option available to them.

No people are bad. The Nisenan people are not bad or unworthy, but do they represent a community that espouses Quaker values? Do they live purposefully simple lives in an endeavor to create peace among themselves and in the Nevada County community? Do they aspire to integrity in words, deeds, and actions? Are they insular, socializing only among themselves, or are they involved in community activities? Do they believe in equality among themselves, among the community, and among humankind?

What do they believe?

Did the Board ask those questions?

Is this collection of individuals suffering, and in need of Quaker charity? Don’t they have roofs over their heads, bellies full of food, clothes on their backs, and access to education and healthcare? Are they at least among the most minimal of Americans who are meeting their obligations to pay fair taxes, respond to jury summons, and vote? Can we identify a substantial act of service or charity done by members of the Nisenan community to someone outside the Nisenan circle?

Please share your Light and Judgement with the CPFEA Board, everybody in your meeting, the Quarterly Meeting, and the Yearly Meeting.

At the recent Quarterly Meeting the spokeswoman for the Board said the sale was in escrow but because negotiations were continuing, she could not tell the details or the price of those negotiations to assembled Quakers.

Perhaps your worshipful deliberations may influence the decision.

from Dirk Neyhart, Berkeley Friends Meeting (1/26/2024)

Topics:  Quaker Schools & Retreat Centers