Ralph Kendall Curtis

Curtis—Ralph Kendall Curtis, 95, on October 12, 2015, at Journey’s End Farm in Sterling, Pa. Ralph was born on September 11, 1920, in Aldenville, Pa., to Letha Crossman and Francis Henry Curtis Jr. He enjoyed farming as a child, driving the work horses at 12 and making maple syrup in his early teens. Exposed to the Methodist Social Gospel, he was convinced in early adolescence that Christians should not go to war. He worked on the farm after high school; hired out to neighbors for haying, logging, and carpentry; and in the winters cut ice to be shipped by rail to New York City. In 1941, he began studying agriculture at the University of New Hampshire, choosing the school because it didn’t require ROTC. At the end of the academic year, he was drafted as a conscientious objector (CO).

In Civilian Public Service (CPS) he first worked on a timber cruising crew at Big Flats, N.Y., and in 1943 he and seven others began a journey to China to work for the Friends Ambulance Unit. But then Congress forbade COs from serving overseas, and they disembarked in South Africa to await return passage, in the meantime volunteering at the Durban hospital in exchange for room and board. Ralph used his blacksmithing skills to help manufacture artificial limbs. Back in the United States, he worked at the Agricultural Experiment Station in Wooster, Ohio.

After CPS he enrolled at Earlham College, and the following summer worked as a counselor at Journey’s End Camp in Honeoye, N.Y., where he encountered Marie Allen, a College of Wooster graduate whom he had met earlier at a Fellowship of Reconciliation meeting. They married in a Quaker ceremony that December. Graduating from Earlham in 1950 with a degree in biology, he taught for a year in a one-room school in Trout Creek, N.Y., where he and Marie joined Unadilla Meeting. When they moved to Millville, Pa., for his work in a sawmill, they attended Millville Meeting. In 1954 they returned to the family farm, where Ralph made maple syrup and did dairy farming and occasional logging. In 1956 they helped to found a worship group that became North Branch Meeting in Kingston, Pa., and in 1960 he and Marie moved Journey’s End Camp from Honeoye to their farm. In 1988, they started the Sterling (Pa.) Worship Group, which still meets in their home.

Ralph was neither outgoing nor outspoken, but his integrity, quiet humility, and self-assurance, his all-around competence, and his dedication to the work he loved inspired the campers and counselors, fellow farmers, Friends, and peace activists who passed through his life. Like the trees he loved and worked among, he was solid and patient, firmly rooted, and oriented toward the sun, with roots and branches providing strength, shelter, and sustenance. He loved working in the woods, fields, and gardens of his home; enjoyed essays and poems about nature and about the lives of peacemakers; and admired Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Wendell Berry. He never felt really complete without a dog.

Ralph lost two of his children to leukemia: Dan, at 19, and Carl, at 49. His wife, Marie, died in 2011. He is survived by his son, Tim Curtis; daughters-in-law, Kristin Morton Curtis and Helena Guindon; and five grandchildren.

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