History – Early 1980s

The early 1980s mark a significant period in Quaker Center’s history, as the wheels of devolvement from AFSC, which had been grinding for the past few years, were now reaching towards their expected conclusion. The detailed unfolding of the devolvement process will be found in the next, and last, chapter of this short history of the first 33 years in the life of QC. The first three years of this decade are the last ones in which AFSC was the administrator of QC. The new, and current, administrator and owner of the real property, the Ben Lomond Quaker Center Association (BLQCA) began to emerge at this time and, during the transition over the following few years, it and the outgoing AFSC Quaker Center Committee (QCC) would participate jointly in managing QC’s affairs.

As 1980 began, a permit was finally received from Santa Cruz County to add the long-planned bathroom to a small storeroom within the Casa de Luz. In the balance of this year Mark Thomas would complete this project, which required its own septic tank and leach field, located on the nearest flat spot downhill, just outside the current Haven. In another buildings and grounds improvement, a storage shed behind the main dining room was completed, helping to keep the raccoons away from the garbage and trash.

The QCC had long desired to find a large activity space at or near the Conference/Lodge area. At that time only the dining room was available for projects that might not be suitable for the Casa. To provide this additional space and to remove activities from being near the kitchen, QCC member Ruth Dart Smith drew up plans to convert Sequoia Seminar’s former warehouse into a crafts building. The plans called for the space there to be doubled by adding an extension to the front of the original building, plus an outside deck. At the same time the QCC approved this project, it relinquished its plans for another one of its dreams, a community/sojourners building above the garden. (Ed. This was to be at or near the site of the current Directors’ house.)

A few years earlier, Glenn and Evelyn Hawkins had bought a small parcel on the southeast corner of the Manley property and, to access it, intended to use the easement sold for $10 to a prior owner by Clyde Manley in 1934, which easement happened to pass right through the Quaker Circle area where Lucile Manley’s ashes had been buried. Virginia Manley Rusinak suspected that her father did not sign the paper granting this easement and accordingly, believing it to be unenforceable, the QCC wanted to take legal action to stop its use. As the 1980s began, Hawkins responded that if he couldn’t use the easement, he would be willing to sell the parcel to QC. He had paid $20,000 for the 3.25 acres, and declared he was now asking $25,000. Nothing further was done about any of this until 1985.

Wendy Schnelker began work as the third QC cook in the fall of 1980. At first, she and Dan Hirsch lived together in the shack on the Balovich parcel, but eventually moved into the Cold House, which the two of them occupied until shortly before it became the Sojourner’s Cottage in 1985. When the shack, which by that time had come to be euphemistically called the “hermitage”, became empty, the QCC wanted to have a Quaker living there, and agreed to place an ad in the Santa Cruz Meeting newsletter.

No Quaker seems to have responded to the ad, but until the shack was torn down in the 1990s, a variety of interesting unapproved “hermits” occupied it unannounced from time to time. Sometime before 1982, a homeless violinist who spoke only Japanese took up residence there with his partner. Akie Reynolds, living nearby and a native Japanese speaker, was enlisted to persuade them to leave. Some time later, an occupying couple with infant, all three completely nude on a warm Memorial Day weekend, behaved in an admirably non-hostile way when asked to leave. Instances like these soon led the QCC to disconnect the water supply to the shack, which afterwards was not re-occupied until it was torn down about ten years later. The shack lasted as long as it did because the QCC believed it would be easier to get a permit to upgrade it if it were still standing at the time of the request to do so.

The Balovich property as a whole would come to fulfill the purpose for which it had been purchased when a new source of drinking water for Quaker Center was found on its upper reaches in the mid-1980s. Under the supervision of Jack Schultz of Santa Cruz Meeting, John Woolman School students in one week dug a quarter-mile trench from the site down to the road and then back up to the holding tank just above the Casa de Luz. The site was chosen because it was a dozen or so feet higher than the Casa, and thus able to provide water to the holding tank by gravity alone. Prior to this time, it was necessary to pump most Quaker Center drinking water uphill from Marshall Creek. Only a very small amount was still available at that time from the Manley spring just above the Redwood Circle, and this source was shut down a few years later because of contamination.

A happy byproduct of the search for the new water source on the Balovich parcel was the chance discovery of the only noticeable waterfall at Quaker Center. Off the beaten track, it had remained hidden, at least to Friends, since the property was purchased in 1977. A couple of years later, Young Friends blazed a trail down from the Balovich road to the waterfall, providing the first easy access to the site. Other trails would follow later.

In a final note about Quaker Center’s southern third on the other side of the gulch, the legend that Sam Balovich thought there was gold to be found on his property was reinforced by an archaic structure on its upper reaches, near where we now collect our water. For some years after Friends purchased the parcel, there remained a wooden sluice, 40 to 50 feet long, constructed either by Sam or one of his predecessors, and designed to convey what was hoped to be gold-bearing water downhill from the stream. The sluice was in place until the mid-1980s, when it must have fallen in some storm. There is no evidence that any gold was ever within the outflow from this sluice.

During 1980, Lucile Manley’s sister Edith Cold, who had lived here in her own cottage from the time the property had been donated to Friends until about 1976, died in Santa Cruz at the age of 101. Vern Reynolds, former resident host from 1976 to 1979, also died that year in Santa Cruz.

In April 1981, a permit was received from Santa Cruz County to build the crafts building, to be named the Art Center (now the Haven). A July work camp, billed as “for professionals, to frame the building” was not held when no one signed up for it. A second work camp, lasting two weeks, was held in August, and the framing was done with more than a dozen volunteers. Relations with Sequoia Seminar had improved to such an extent that their former caretaker Bill Burton and a crew of Sequoia teens spent time as volunteers working on the Art Center deck during the work camp. By the end of October, the cost for the Art Center, still unfinished, was estimated to be about $18,000 to that point. Mark Thomas hired John deValcourt, who had attended the work camp and worked there on roof framing, as a part-time carpenter during the fall to help finish the building. Mark did the plumbing and John installed the exterior siding – cedar donated by former BLC clerk Harvey Smith’s company – and hung the doors and windows. The cabinetry was done later by volunteers.

On January 4, 1982, after heavy rains lasting for much of the previous two weeks, there were major mudslides and flooding in the San Lorenzo watershed surrounding Ben Lomond. The worst occurred up the Love Creek Road canyon where 28 persons lost their lives. Hubbard Gulch Road was washed out in four locations, one on the QC property when the culvert just above the high end of the Marshall Creek Trail became blocked by fallen trees. The worst spot was at the intersection of Harmony Hill and Hubbard Gulch Roads. The gap there was almost 100 feet across. On the part of QC where activity takes place, the only mudslide was on the spur road leading down to the back of the Maintenance Manager’s house, where the adjacent hillside collapsed onto the road.

In Santa Cruz, the San Lorenzo River swept away the Soquel Avenue bridge and caused a city-mandated evacuation of nearby neighborhoods in the flood plain. One evacuee, Thom McCue, a Board member of the BLQCA, spent the night with his family at the deValcourts, where he recruited John to help Mark Thomas try and prevent further washouts at other vulnerable spots where Marshall Creek met Hubbard Gulch Road. All of their efforts failed.

In the end, there was no Hubbard Gulch Road access to QC for several months, and also neither power nor telephone for some weeks, but there was a midwife who arrived on January 18 through Sequoia Seminar and the gate above the Casa to help Beth and Mark Thomas deliver their third child, Nicholas Paul, who seems to be the first person born on the Manley parcel since they purchased it in 1920. The first, but not the last. Two other children of staff members were born at Quaker Center in 1990 (see the accompanying chronology).

On 1/17/82, a joint meeting of the QCC and the BLQCA was held at the Santa Cruz home of Virginia Rusinak, where the minutes were titled “After the Great Flood of ’82.” Because of the inconvenience caused by having to enter and leave through Sequoia Seminar, both committees reluctantly agreed that Quaker Center would be essentially out of business until Hubbard Gulch Road was repaired, which happened in April (although without asphalt for another year).

The three-year term of Dee Steele as Resident Host/Program Director ended in July 1982 at just about the same time that devolvement of Quaker Center from AFSC was expected. The new resident host couple would be the first to be hired by the BLQCA. Their job announcement in the spring asked for a couple to work at a “lush mountain retreat”. In the current context, “lush” could only have meant surrounded by vast amounts of water.

In July, John and Betty deValcourt were hired as the new host couple, and they moved into the upper residence in August with their 20 month-old son Joel. Their first weekend, a celebration of the signing of the devolvement papers, which came during the summer work camp, was spent largely in cleaning and sprucing up their new home.

When the devolvement papers with AFSC were signed on August 26 and the BLQCA learned the surprising news that the QC savings account, held for them by AFSC, and which they had believed to be worth several tens of thousands of dollars, turned out to be only $2817, they were faced with a couple of stark realities. The first was that they would need to borrow money to get started, which they did by asking AFSC for a $10,000 loan on September 1. The terms were two years at 11.9%. (Ed. This was at a time when interest rates in the United States had risen to somewhere near 20% in the late ’70s and early ’80s.)

The best explanation for the discrepancy between the actual funds and the imagined funds seems to be this. Significant non-business-related income to QC had been $100,000 over the previous five years: $60,000 from the Pentler estate bequest and $40,000 from the sale of three acres to Sequoia Seminar. These rather large amounts seemed to leave both the former QCC and the BLQCA with the impression that Quaker Center was in a comfortable financial position. But there had also been significant expenses. The purchase of the Balovich parcel ($25,000 down) and construction of the Art Center (eventually about $37,000) were the most obvious. The annual budget for QC at that time was about $50,000, so that its complete closure for three months in 1982 with a paid staff on duty the entire time meant a loss of about $12,500 in uncovered expenses. Because QC operated at no more than half its traditional rate for another six months in 1982, that would account for another loss of $12,500 by September. These figures make it easy to believe that all but about $15,000 had been spent. Other expenses for flood-related repairs in 1982 could well have eroded most of any balance. The repair for the washed-out culvert alone was about $7500.

A second stark reality was that QC would have to restore its level of business by attracting former users back after the long closure period. It had been largely self-sufficient over the years, but it would take some time to recover that status. Not knowing how well things would turn out, at the first meeting of the Board after devolvement, the Treasurer announced that if there were another closure over the following winter, the BLQCA might not be able to pay the staff or cover other expenses. The new period of devolvement seemed to be getting off to a shaky start.

Over that following winter, the rain gauges at QC recorded a total of 113 inches, far more than in the previous flood year. A small stream flowing from the Manley spring, ordinarily unnoticeable, ran in a steady rivulet through the center of the Redwood Circle until the following July. There were more than a dozen power outages that next winter, the longest lasting almost a week. But since the rain did not come all at one time, as it had in late December 1981, there were no mudslides and no road closures. The shaky start would become more firm from that time on.

Since then, and to this day, no natural disasters have led to the complete closure of business at Quaker Center. When Hubbard Gulch Road has been blocked (as it is at the time of this writing for the repair of the large culvert at the downstream end of the Marshall Creek Trail), access in and out has been generously provided by Sequoia Seminar and its successors. It is gratifying that the relationship between Quaker Center and its neighbor on the northwest has turned out so well after all the difficulties between the two organizations in the 1970s.

Quaker Center programs began again in August 1982 and were held in each of the following months of that year. The first year-end retreat was announced to take place between Christmas and New Year’s and quickly became one of the most-anticipated programs on the schedule. The fortunes of QC would improve to such an extent that by the following May the loan to AFSC was repaid in full, over a year in advance.

Some of QC’s income in 1983 came from leasing the Art Center on weekdays to Tall Trees School of Ben Lomond, which had lost its facility in the previous year’s flood and which was looking for an alternative to parents’ homes to conduct their program. Two teachers and about a dozen elementary school children held classes there during the spring semester of 1983.

In a final building note, the inspiration for the meditation cottage came in a letter of 5/1/83 from Lois Crozier Hogle to BLQCA clerk Kay Anderson: “It amazes me that at QC there is no spot where one can go for complete quiet and meditation…. I am therefore hoping QC will build a small “Silent Cottage” or room for quiet and meditation only…. No plumbing, no electricity. I propose it as a little gazebo type of structure – at the end of the trail off the small parking area…. I herewith pledge $500 towards its beginnings. I hope this can be approved soon so it may become a reality.” (Ed. Lois in the end gave an additional $500, which just about covered its cost.) The Board’s approval of Lois’ idea resulted in the meditation cottage being built a year later with the help of students from John Woolman School. The siding for the meditation cottage used up the last of the cedar that had been donated by Harvey Smith for the Art Center.

During the summer of 1983 the Art Center justified its name when the first week-long Art and the Spirit workshop was held in July under the leadership of Anna Koster, an artist and the clerk of the BLQCA. The following year Quaker potter Don Murray persuaded QC to acquire a kiln and a kick-wheel, and the Art Center became the site of a number of ceramic outpourings for many years thereafter.

The first official Quaker Center Nature Trail, with accompanying map and guidebook, was prepared by Betty Barnhart of Santa Cruz Meeting in 1983. Guideposts were placed in the ground near 31 named examples of the variety of flora at QC. The guideposts were all along previously designated trails and roads. A leisurely walk along the Nature Trail, beginning and ending at the main dining hall, took about 30-45 minutes to traverse.

The final current boundaries of Quaker Center were set in 1985 after Glenn Hawkins tried to execute the right to develop his easement. Unfortunately, it now passed directly through a large sinkhole caused by the 1982 flood. The upgrade which Santa Cruz County would require to use the easement was so expensive that Hawkins was persuaded to donate the 3.25 acres to Quaker Center in exchange for a tax deduction. He asked only that they be repaid for their geology expenses of $3600. The Hawkins parcel was thereby acquired but, largely because of its remoteness, no good use for it has been found. It remains so far only a buffer against further encroachment on that southeast corner.

In 1983, the job titles for the host position changed when the Board named John deValcourt the Director and Betty deValcourt the Program Director of Quaker Center. The BLQCA also extended the maximum length of tenure for the Directors’ positions from three to six years, thus finally ending the long-standing previous three-year limitation.

Some of the more significant events in the later history of Quaker Center can be found in the attached Chronology. A fuller account of these later years awaits a future historian.