Friday, June 4, 2010


Gwynedd Friends Meeting House, 2010

Our daughter’s first taste of formal education took place at a Quaker school. She moved on later to public school. But I’m convinced it was those several years of Quaker values that most influenced the person she is today.

I was reminded of this last week when I was in the Philadelphia area interviewing the leadership of a large Quaker retirement community. It was a beautiful day and I arrived early enough to have a little time to kill. The cream colored Gwynedd Friends Meeting House was just up the road. I parked in the Meeting House parking lot and went out and sat on a bench under the trees until it was time to go back and do my interviews. I was only there for about thirty minutes. But that was enough time for the good vibes of that peaceful place to surround me. I hope the photo above gives you some sense of that moment.

The retirement community was impressive. It’s one of many I’m visiting for this study, and just one of hundreds of places I’ve visited through the years to interview people in their places of work.

If you visit a lot of retirement communities, it’s easy for them to start looking and sounding alike. But there is something different about this place. A board of directors dedicated to sturdy Quaker values oversees the community. As much of the decision-making about the community as possible is made by residents of the community after thoughtful consideration and consensus building.

The layout and décor of the various buildings is quite nice, but not ostentatious. The campus consists of a series of low, cottage-style residences nestled among trees on gentle hillsides. In the middle is a busy community center. Even the new state-of-the-art skilled nursing facility looks no more imposing on the verdant landscape than a rambling stone family home. Indeed, the whole campus feels more like a lively college campus where interesting things are being discussed than a place where old people go to spend their last days.

Compare this to the very nice Episcopal retirement community I visited the day before near Washington. The Episcopal facility was quite posh, with very much of a country club feel to it. If the unofficial vehicle of the Quaker community was a non-nonsense Subaru Outback adorned with pro-Obama bumper stickers, the Episcopal place was all Cadillacs and Buicks with Bush and McCain bumper stickers. The Episcopal place has beautiful, professionally tended floral gardens. The Quaker place is beautifully landscaped, as well, but has a grand communal vegetable garden that looked like something right out of a Rodale publication.

I don’t know that I could ever afford either of these places. But if given the choice, I think you know where I’d feel most comfortable.


  1. I had no idea retirement communities were so political!

  2. I love the photo. I was in a watercolor workshop last week, and one woman was a Quaker. She, like any other Quakers I've known, had a certain calm about her that I found appealing. I've often been fascinated by them.

  3. Lovely photo, and place.
    Reminds me so much of the Quaker Meeting House very near here in Lincoln, VA, a Quaker founded town.