John Joseph Beer

BeerJohn Joseph Beer, 94, on October 2, 2021, at Kendal-Crosslands in Kennett Square, Pa. Born in St. Ingbert, Saarland (now Germany), John was seven when his Jewish family fled to Paris in 1935. Two years later, they emigrated to New York. During the 1940s, the family operated an egg farm in Vineland, N.J., where they joined Woodstown (N.J.) Meeting.

John graduated from Vineland High School in 1945, then joined the U.S. Navy. After a stint on an aircraft carrier, he was transferred to Washington, D.C., to translate secretly opened mail. This marked a turning point in John’s commitment to pacifism.

At Earlham College (class of 1950) in Richmond, Ind., John fell in love with Frances Nicholson. They married in 1951.

After earning his masters degree in chemistry and doctorate in history of science at the University of Illinois, John taught for three years at Oklahoma State University before moving to the University of Delaware for the remaining 31 years of his career.

John raised moral as well as intellectual questions in his classes. He created courses with a focus on the ethical application of technologies. Outside of teaching, John worked to build a collaborative university environment.

John routinely worked from home so he could be actively present as a parent. He served as family historian and archivist, using his fluent French and German to maintain ties with faraway relatives.

John was a devoted Quaker who quietly did good in the world with a loving spirit. A founding member of Newark (Del.) Meeting, he served it and other Quaker organizations in countless ways. John brought steady leadership to Western Quarterly Meeting, with strong attention to peace-related projects bringing school-aged Friends together. John was an example of Quaker deliberation and process, often done with joyfulness and fun.

John was grateful to the United States and took his duties as a citizen seriously. He attended the 1963 March on Washington and the anniversary march 50 years later. Much of his activism centered on opposing government-sponsored violence—protesting the war in Vietnam and the wars that followed, and calling for demilitarization and nuclear disarmament. He mentored students, especially during the Vietnam War years, and hosted Friendly Suppers for students. A faithful core member of Wilmington’s Pacem in Terris and of Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty, he and Fran attended vigils overnight every time the state killed a prisoner. Most recently, he participated in weekly peace vigils in Kennett Square.

John and Fran spent a Fulbright year in post-war Germany. Later, the family spent a memorable year in Munich while John researched in eastern Europe. On subsequent sabbaticals he and Fran sojourned in Vienna; at Woodbrooke in Birmingham, UK; and Tantur Ecumenical Institute near Jerusalem. Always eager to visit museums and historical sites, they traveled far and wide following retirement.

In 2002, John and Fran joined John’s three siblings at the Kendal retirement community in Kennett Square. John volunteered as a court-appointed advocate for children, and cheerfully helped run many Kendal activities. A lifelong gardener, he set out baskets of vegetables and bright flowers, free for the taking. Gardening brought him peace, and, along with daily swimming, helped him cope with his slow decline into dementia. Until his final week, John walked the grounds of Kendal, admiring its big trees and flowing water, and waving to all who passed by.

John was preceded in death by his wife, Fran; his parents, Lucy and Otto Beer; three siblings, Lise Stein, Martin Beer, and Hilda Grauman; and young child, Carolyn Beer. He is survived by four children, Jennifer, Sandra, Michael (Latanja), and Matthew (Elizabeth); and five grandchildren.

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