In these days of frequent moves for jobs, schools, and retirement; of times when even older Quaker meetings have experienced major turnovers in seasoned Friends, the steady connection between the Hoopes brothers and Little Falls Meeting in Harford County, Maryland, is one of the exceptions.
Ninety-five-year-old Joseph Hoopes and his younger brother, Herbert, 91, were born into Forest Meeting, a preparative meeting under the care of Little Falls, and since it was laid down some 60 years ago, they have been active members of Little Falls.
Both brothers have served the meeting, now in its 263rd year, in various capacities. Herbert has been clerk several times, nearly 20 years in total, and Joseph is active as a historian of the meeting, served as treasurer, and still helps his son Paul tend to the grounds and cemetery.
And, earlier this year after long discussion of the issue of same-sex unions, it was Joseph who came up with the language of a minute the meeting approved providing for such ceremonies of commitment. Meanwhile, Herbert gave a history of Forest Meeting at a summer picnic on the meeting site, now known as Friends Park, a part of the county park and recreation system.
As the meeting struggles with the question of opening a Quaker school—a summer business meeting was almost entirely devoted to a review of a successful weeklong summer school session for a dozen children on the Underground Railroad—the Hoopes brothers will be involved.
Their work is in the family tradition. One great-grandfather, Darlington Hoopes, came to Harford County in the 1850s from Birmingham (Pa.) Meeting and was a noted traveling minister, recognized as such by Baltimore Yearly Meeting in 1894. And a grandfather, William Watson, was also a Little Falls Meeting member.
What do they remember most about attending meeting as children? "We were dairy farmers and didn’t get to meeting often," recalled Joseph. "The cows had to be fed and milked every day."
Herbert added, "I remember sitting on the back bench at Forest Meeting and watching the one "Ma and Pa" (Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad) train of the day go by. It was a signal for meeting to come to an end."
While Herbert remembers that "seldom was there any speaking in meeting," Joseph’s recollection is that there were "quite a few traveling ministers who spoke too long."
"Oh yes," Herbert agreed, as they reminisced while sitting on the porch of the old stone meetinghouse, their legs dangling over the side.
Herbert said his contributions to Little Falls include encouraging more vocal ministry because "I couldn’t visualize any meeting keeping alive without anything ever being said in meeting for worship."
In Little Falls’s 250th anniversary booklet, it is noted that "although not a recorded minister of the Little Falls Meeting, Herbert R. Hoopes has been recognized for many years as the spiritual leader of Friends by the membership of that organization." After listing his many activities at Little Falls, it concludes, "But of much greater importance than all of these, Herbert R. Hoopes has quietly demonstrated by example the true values and principles of Quakerism."
Mary Ellen Satterlee, a distant cousin, said both brothers are profoundly respected in the meeting. "When they talk it often is about some experience in their lives," she said. "It’s something that is worthwhile to new members, as well as to those of us who have known them a long time."
"We are convinced Quakers. We started coming in 1989 and joined the meeting a year later, and Herbert and Joseph have been guiding lights for both of us," said Nancy Varner. "They are both so inspiring."
Dale Varner, the current clerk, noted that the Hoopes brothers "provide a real sense of continuity, from generation to generation" for Little Falls Meeting. "It’s an inspiration to have them here. They are wonderful examples of what it means to be Christian Quaker role models. Herbert frequently contributes to
the vocal ministry of the meeting. Joseph writes poetry and notes to those going through rough times."
What differences do they see today? "Look at all the children here," Herbert said. "We didn’t have a First-day school. There weren’t enough of us." Little Falls is a small but growing meeting, with 25 to 30 people in attendance on the average First Day, and ten or so children present on a hot summer morning.
The Hoopes brothers graduated from University of Maryland’s dairy husbandry program and are retired farmers, although Joseph still lives with his daughter Lois across the road from the family homestead.
Herbert and his wife have moved to Broadmead, the Quaker retirement center 20 minutes away in Cockeysville, Md., and their son Donald runs their farm.
What’s their secret to living? Both gave credit to their wives. "We lucked out in marriage," Herbert said. Both added that they "enjoyed physical labor" and remain in surprisingly good physical condition today. In response to a question about the meeting, Joseph all but dashed the 100 or so yards, with the help of his cane, to the meeting’s school building to retrieve a copy of the history of the meeting published by the Historical Society of Harford County.
One key to their longevity is keeping active. Until recently, Joseph was a regular volunteer at the county library, putting in 2,000 hours of service, and he’s signed up for his second basket-weaving course at a county senior center.
Herbert, a former master of the Maryland Grange and leader of the Jersey Cattle Association, is busy at Broadmead. He and his wife Elizabeth recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. On their 50th, they renewed their vows at Little Falls.
As Little Falls Meeting continues to be a presence in a once rural community, but is now encountering suburbanization and some growth in membership, Joseph and Herbert Hoopes and the memories of their many ancestors and relatives who have contributed so much to the life of the meeting are not only reminders of Quaker history, but living examples of Quaker life today.