Passing of Phyllis Wetherell, 1936-2020

Phyllis Wetherell, long a member of this Meeting, passed from life on April 25, 2020 in Richmond, Indiana where she had been living at Friends Fellowship Community.  With many friends in both communities, she had oscillated between Durham, Maine and Richmond, Indiana all her life. 

Phyllis May Curtis White Wetherell Obituary

She was born of solid Maine stock in Portland, Maine, the first child of John and Mary Curtis.  She grew up in Durham Friends Meeting and remained a member here all her life– one of our many beloved members of the family Curtis. 

After her first husband, Ira Donald White, and her daughter, Lisa, passed away, she married David Wetherell, the pastor of Durham Friends.  They moved to Richmond, Indiana so that David could attend the Earlham School of Religion.  After David graduated, they moved to Bar Harbor where Phyllis and David helped start Acadia Friends Meeting.  About a decade later they moved back to Richmond, Indiana.

Phyllis became receptionist/secretary at the Earlham School of Religion, a position she held for fifteen years, from 1985 to 2000.  Hers was the first face that prospective students, faculty, and staff encountered.  She welcomed them and treated them graciously and with a kindness that came from her heart.  David passed away in 1990. 

After retirement from ESR she came again to live among us in Maine, and then returned to Friends Fellowship in Richmond, Indiana in 2013 for the last seven years of her life. 

Phyllis is survived by her children Susan (Dale), Linda (Rick), and David John (Jennifer); her sister Charlotte, brother Johnny (Mildred), and stepdaughter Lynne. Her grandchildren that will carry on all she taught them: Hickory (Trisha), Ryder (Amanda), Rossy, Marjorie, Korey, Brandon (Jenna), Ashton (Wyatt), Nate and Genesee. As well as her great-grandchildren Jack, Mason, Max, Samuel, Lumen, and (due in July), Sawyer. Those already passed on include her parents John and Mary Curtis, brother David, daughter Lisa, and the two loves of her life, husbands Donny and David.

Celebrations of her life will be in Richmond, Indiana and Durham, Maine later in the year.  If so moved, contributions can be made in her name to the Woman’s Society, Durham Friends Meeting.

A decade after she retired from ESR, Phyllis wrote this:

The Best Seat at ESR, by Phyllis Wetherell, 2010

The best seat at ESR was at the receptionist’s desk. The unending parade of students, faculty, staff, guests, who opened that front door of Barclay Center and walked to that receptionist’s desk was a bountiful source of opportunities and possibilities for me. Those delicious folk approached the receptionist’s desk where I sat for fifteen years–1985 to 2000. What an education to listen to people wrestling out loud about their beliefs or lack of beliefs, to see the profound impact a feisty professor has on someone who finally sees and feels the Light, to watch as a programmed Quaker meets head on an unprogrammed Quaker, when neither one knows anything of the other’s practices. Do you know how exciting it is to listen to folk trying to sort out their beliefs and try and figure out where those beliefs will lead them?

ESR really is a microcosm of the world. It is not a place to escape from the world. One of the most positive aspects of this microcosm is the support and caring available. I have a give-away-my-feelings face. Generally, my smile is welcoming. When it’s not, you know it! At those difficult times for me there was always a receptive student, calming co-worker, supportive faculty member to help get through a rough time. Well, not all the time. One time a nasty rash had appeared on my face and I was not able to be at the desk. Needing to stop by the office, I encountered someone and asked if he would like to lay hands on my face and cure me. He raised his hands in horror and uttered, “Oooo-eeee-yuck” and backed away. So much for caring!

Name dropping: Madeleine L’Engle, Elton Trueblood, Wil and Emily Cooper, John Punshon, Phil Gulley, Douglas and Dorothy Steere, Noel Paul Stookey, Tom Mullen. Can you imagine the gems I picked up from these strong folk?

When told I would be Tom Mullen’s secretary, his then secretary, Sue Kern, told me his correspondence was as delightful as he was! I eagerly received my first assignment, which was to a contributor to ESR. The letter read, “Thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I’ve always been grateful to Stephanie Crumley-Effinger for her being unable to attend a small (eight people) dinner for Madeleine L’Engle when she was on campus. I was asked to be a last-minute substitute for Stephanie and what a treat. Madeleine was as thoughtful as her writings.

John Punshon gave the best long-lasting advice I ever received: “Those who try to help, seldom do!”

One of those terrific students with whom I take great pleasure in having a continuing friendship, took me into a cornfield one night to bay as a wolf at a full moon to help open up my spirit and senses. I don’t recall opening up as much as laughing my head off. But, I don’t think it hurt me any either!

Another advantage for me at the reception’s desk was that my husband, David, and daughter, Linda, were both students at ESR–another way for me to be even more involved with the ESR community. When David was a student in 1968-1972, those first years of being introduced to ESR were filled with challenging ways of looking at life. Living in “Brick City” there were delightful new folk to meet and who, over thirty years later, are steadfast friends. Classes were open to spouses and many of us were able to take advantage of those resources. I remember sitting in on a class on psychology taught by Bill Rogers. When asked why I chose to be there, I replied, “I feel like a sponge, just soaking up everything.” When returning to ESR in 1985 as a secretary/receptionist, I was still a sponge but got paid for sitting in the best seat in the house while sponging! Thank you ESR for gracing my life. Please continue for 150 years more! Phyllis Wetherell lives with family in Maine.