Alter—Marian Wengert Alter, 100, on June 27, 2023, peacefully at home in Dayton, Ohio, in the presence of her children. Marian was born on October 7, 1922, to Elmer and Shirley Wengert of Idaho Falls, Idaho. A lifelong pacifist and spiritual seeker, Marian’s journey began with Methodist family values of love and respect for all people as well as a deep joy in the natural world.
In 1945, Marian graduated from Scarritt College in Nashville, Tenn., with a degree in social work. She was disturbed by the segregation she saw and grew committed to justice and racial equality. She joined an interracial group at Fisk University in Nashville, where she first met Quaker and Fisk President Thomas Jones. She also met Joseph Alter, a pacifist and non-registrant for World War II, at a Fellowship of Reconciliation conference. Marian and Joseph married in 1946. They joined Green Street Meeting in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1949, where they lived at Bedford Center, a Quaker settlement house. Joseph was in medical school, and Marian taught low-income families. They moved to California, where Marian taught at Pacific Oaks Friends School, and then to Seattle, Wash., where their two children, Robert and Janet, were born.
The family lived in India for five years, where Joseph worked in public health. Their time in India reinforced Marian’s belief in the universality of humanity, despite challenging cultural differences. Marian described a mystical experience inspired by reading John Woolman, where she was “lifted up over her surroundings and showed the Dignity and Endurance” of the rural India people and the beauty of the blue sky and green fields.
The family returned from India and lived in Baltimore, Md., and Kentucky before settling in Ohio in 1970. They joined Community Friends Meeting in Cincinnati, and Marian became active in Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting (OVYM), clerking the Advancement Committee responsible for revision of the Discipline and representing OVYM with Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC).
After her marriage dissolved, Marian joined Dayton Meeting in 1979. She clerked the Ministry and Oversight and the Peace and Social Concerns Committees, worked with the children, and was an active member of the women’s group. She worked as a field secretary for Friends General Conference (FGC) in 1980–81 while studying to update her license in social work. She then served as a social worker at Quaker Heights Care Community, later taking a seat on the board, and finished her career in elder care with Catholic Social Services.
Marian served and inspired others as a teacher, social worker, mother, and Quaker activist. During her lifetime she was a member of nine monthly meetings; active with American Friends Service Committee, FGC, and FWCC; and was part of the committee that developed the Right Sharing of World Resources Fund.
In retirement Marian shared a home with her son, delighting in creating a garden to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Marian was injured in a car accident in 1996 and wrote that she “experienced more profoundly the ‘Presence’ in [her] life as Comforter, Guide, One Who Loves Unconditionally—the Inner Light to help with life’s challenges and paradoxes if we but pay attention.” Marian often recorded her experiences, sharing her pearls of wisdom when there was an opportunity. Her presence as an elder strengthened Dayton Friends, calling members back to the heart of Quakerism. Her messages were brief but full of wisdom and rich natural imagery. As an elder, she showed that wisdom can include expressing doubts and limitations. She dealt with her diminishments with grace, expressing gratitude for the family and friends who enriched her life.
Marian is survived by two children, Robert Alter and Janet Alter (Kevin Lovas).