Bio: Quaker House Director Chuck Fager

Quaker House is a manifestation of the Friends' Peace Testimony. Based in Fayetteville, NC, home of Ft. Bragg, Quaker House provides counseling and support to service members who are questioning their role in the military; educates them, their families, and the public about military issues; and advocates for a more peaceful world.

GI Rights Hotline: 877-447-4487 or 919-663-7122

Steve and Lynn Newsom

Quaker House Directors since December 2012

Steve and Lynn Newsom are both longtime members of the Religious Society of Friends. Together they have been involved with Monthly Meetings in Chapel Hill and Charlotte NC, Cincinnati OH, and Roanoke VA.

Steve has experience growing up in a military family, as a veteran, and as a volunteer with the Plowshares Peace Center in Roanoke and the Center for Peace Education in Cincinnati.

Lynn served on the early Quaker House board in the 1970’s. She brings extensive classroom teaching experience and conflict resolution training, as well as her leadership skills in clerking Quaker meetings and committees. Lynn and Steve both served on the Quaker House board beginning in 2007.

Quaker House welcomes Lynn and Steve as our new co-directors. We are confident that they will enjoy the continuing support of the many loyal individuals and meetings to whom the mission of Quaker House is so important.

Chuck Fager

Quaker House Director, 2001 – 2012

Chuck Fager retired as Director of Quaker House on November 30, 2012. He was born in Kansas in 1942. The oldest of eleven children, he was raised in a Catholic, military family on Air Force bases, principally in California, Puerto Rico and Wyoming. After nearly enrolling in the U.S. Air Force Academy, he attended Colorado State University, where he won medals in Air Force ROTC. He later left the ROTC program, and completed a B.A. in humanities in 1967.

In the fall of 1964 Chuck went south, to Atlanta, Georgia, where he managed to gain a spot on the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He worked for SCLC in Selma, Alabama, during and after the historic civil rights campaign there which culminated in the Selma-to-Montgomery March and passage of the Voting Rights Act. During this campaign he was arrested three times, once spending the night in a cell with Dr. King. This campaign is recounted in Chuck's book, Selma 1965: The March That Changed the South, and a memoir, Eating Dr. King's Dinner. (Bibliography below)

In the late fall of 1965, Chuck applied for classification as a Conscientious Objector to the draft, as a non-religious pacifist. Given his military background, he was surprised when the request was granted.

About the same time Chuck met some students and staff from Friends World College (FWC), a experimental Quaker college just starting in New York. He was soon hired as a junior faculty member, which took him in early 1966 to Westbury, New York, where the college was then located. It was here that Chuck was initially exposed to Quakerism, and became a "convinced Friend." During his time at FWC, Chuck's first book, White Reflections on Black Power, was published.

Leaving FWC in midsummer, 1967, Chuck lived in New York City for almost a year, then moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to enroll at Harvard Divinity School (HDS). He attended HDS part-time for almost four years, migrating steadily away from academia toward work in writing and reporting. In 1969 he joined the Friends Meeting at Cambridge. By late 1970, he was writing essentially full-time, principally for what were known then as "alternative" newspapers. He was also active in numerous peaceful antiwar protests, submitting to arrest twice. In these years he published two more books, Uncertain Resurrection: The Poor Peoples Washington Campaign, and Selma 1965: The March That Changed the South.

After seven years in the Cambridge area, Chuck crossed the continent to San Francisco in late 1975. There he continued to write for "alternative papers," and began work on some fictional projects as well. In the fall of 1977, Chuck returned east, to the Washington, D.C. area. There he freelanced until late 1985, except for a period of about two and a half years when he worked as a congressional staffer, primarily for then-Rep. Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey, Jr. of California. During this time he also launched Kimo Press, a small publishing operation, A Friendly Letter, an independent monthly Quaker newsletter, and transferred his membership in Friends to Langley Hill Friends Meeting in McLean, Virginia.

In November, 1985, Chuck "retired" from writing for a living, and joined the U.S. Postal Service. As a postal employee, Chuck worked first as a substitute rural mail carrier, later as a mail handler, and in the early 1990s as an EEO investigator on discrimination cases. At the same time, he continued to be very productive as a writer and author, producing several more books, fiction as well as nonfiction, for both adults and younger readers. He laid down regular publication of A Friendly Letter, in early 1993, after 134 issues. However, in 1998, it was revived for a special investigative report on two multi-million dollar frauds perpetrated on many Quakers. (More on this in the Bibliography below.) Since then A Friendly Letter has been updated with occasional blog entries at http://afriendlyletter.com/index.php

In the summer of 1994, Chuck accepted a position at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation near Philadelphia. Chuck directed the Pendle Hill Issues Program for three years, overseeing conferences and publications on issues important to Friends. (You can see some examples of this work at: http://pendlehill.org and in the Bibliography below.)

During this time he also published a book, Without Apology: The Heroes, the Heritage and the Hope of Liberal Quakerism, which in 2006 was reissued in a Tenth anniversary edition. Following up this field of interest, he published a collection of original research reports and interpretive essays on the evolution of liberal Quakerismin the US in the volume, Shaggy Locks & Birkenstocks: Exloring Liberal Quaker Theology.

In 1997 Chuck was also appointed Clerk of the Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts (FQA), an international network. He served in this position until 2004.

In late 1997, Chuck left Pendle Hill and headed to Central Pennsylvania, where he continued writing, editing and publishing, and taught several courses at nearby Penn State University. A continuing focus of his study and publications since this time has been the history and evolution of liberal Quakerism in America, particularly its theological evolution. In 1999 he established Quaker Theology, a semi-annual journal which is available both in print and online. Chuck edits the journal with Friend Ann K. Riggs.

In 1998, he and FQA created the Lemonade Art Gallery at the Friends General Conference annual Gathering. Chuck served as Curator of the Lemonade Gallery, now a part of the Gathering program, through 2002. During this period he was also Clerk of the Planning Committee for the 2001 Quaker Peace Roundtable, hosted by State College (PA) Friends Meeting. He also served on the working group that planned the 2003 North American Quaker Peace Conference at Guilford College.

Following the onset of the terror war of September 2001, Chuck, like many others, reassessed his situation in light of the Quaker Peace Testimony. To aid his own and others' reflection on this turn of events, he established the Quaker Peace Web Page and later published an essay, A Quaker Declaration of War.

At the beginning of 2002, he moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, to become director of Quaker House, which has been a front-line Friends peace witness project there since 1969. As part of this work, he has been a member of the planning group which became QUIT: the Quaker Initiative to End Torture, as well as a founding member of NRCAT: The National Religious Coalition Against Torture.

After a friend of his, Tom Fox, was kidnaped and murdered while doing peace work in Iraq in 2006, Chuck published a memorial book of essays and reflections by Tom and an interfaith group of writers, Tom Fox Was My Friend. Yours, Too. And in 2009, Chuck was General Editor of a book, YES To The Troops. NO To The Wars. a history of the first four decades of peace witness by Quaker House.

Chuck has been married and divorced twice. He has four children, three daughters and a son, and two granddaughters. Many of his stories were written for them.


Phil Esmonde

Quaker House Director, 1998 – 2000

Phil Esmonde, who served as Director of Quaker House from 1998 to 2000, died on December 27, 2011, after a struggle with esophageal cancer. He left Quaker House to return to Sri Lanka, his wife's home country. There he worked for several years with Oxfam. Then in 2007 he was appointed Capacity Building Director for the relatively new group, Nonviolent Peaceforce. He was in charge of NP's recruitment and training of field staff. Alongside that work, he also more recently facilitated reconciliation sessions in a conflict-torn area of northeast India.

Here is more biographical information about Phil, with special focus on his time in Fayetteville, edited from the Quaker House book, YES to the Troops, NO to the Wars:

Phil Esmonde was born in England and spent part of his childhood in Canada, but enlisted in the US Air Force in 1968, at the age of 17, while living in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was naivete that led him to sign up, he said, so he wouldn’t get drafted.

“Quaker House and its important work seems a natural cycle of return for me,” he told supporters in a 1998 letter. “I can very much relate to the young men and women who are struggling with deep questions concerning violence with little or no support.”

“I went through a very lonely process with my [Conscientious Objector] application and had no outside counseling or other support,” he said. Before ultimately being denied conscientious objector status, Esmonde had letters of recommendation and support for him torn up by commanding officers and was refused access by the Air Force to certain documents that the lawyers from the ACLU who were helping him needed. He was told to state in writing why he wanted the documents so that the Air Force could decide whether or not to provide them. “That was a few days before I was slated to go to Vietnam,” he remembered. “I came very, very close to deserting, but instead felt compelled to go to Vietnam.”

Once there, he refused to fight and was assigned to do maintenance on the Air Force telephone system. “The process of fighting the system before going (to Vietnam) as well as while there, turned me into an activist,” he explained in a letter to the QH Board.

He first encountered Quakers while in college at the University of Victoria in Canada, meeting some British Quakers who gave a talk about their opposition to the war. “They were trying to go onto a base to prevent it from being bombed,” he explained. “I may or may not have agreed with what they were doing...but what struck me was their strong faith and inner conviction.” He didn’t feel that his own religion, Catholicism, supported his position on war and violence and eventually became a Quaker.

One morning in late 1998, while Sandy Sweitzer was helping Phil Esmonde settle in at Quaker House, a letter arrived from Fort Benning, Georgia. It was from a soldier in basic training there, complaining of the harassment he was receiving as he awaited discharge. He felt so isolated he had even considered suicide, he wrote. Later they answered calls together on the GI Rights Hotline and within three hours they had spoken with three soldiers, including one who was preparing a conscientious objector application and an AWOL soldier looking for advice on turning himself in.

“In that one day I was able to get a deeper glimpse of the need for Quaker House and also the deep gratitude with which GIs receive Quaker House’s work,” Esmonde recalled.

By the time Esmonde arrived, most new counseling cases came in via the GI Rights Hotline. By 1998, total calls reached 2800. Of all the Hotline calls during this period, 45 per cent or 1,872 calls were channeled to Quaker House. That was an average of over five calls per day. Hotline phone charges for Quaker House that year totaled $2,100. This was a significant budget item, and represented a 52 per cent increase in call volume and cost over the previous year.

Although Quaker House and other network groups continued to advertise the Hotline in military newspapers like Fort Bragg’s Paraglide , it was the Internet that facilitated the boom in calls. The new technology made the free, private counseling relatively easy to find.

Esmonde answered calls coming into the Hotline from area codes in eleven states, providing coverage during daytime and early evening hours five to seven days a week. A message machine picked up calls at non-answering times and he would follow up with a phone call back or information through the mail.

Gone were the days of fretting about whether there was still a need for the project. Instead, the rising tide of Hotline calls was by now beginning to swamp everything else. Esmonde found it increasingly difficult to maintain the diverse program Quaker House was accustomed to having. Of particular importance to Esmonde was visiting high risk prisoners in the brig at Camp Lejeune. As official visitors sanctioned by Prison Visitation and Support, he and his wife Kaushalia, whom he had met in Sri Lanka, relished their opportunities to relieve some of the isolation and loneliness the young men suffered.

“The Board does not want the director to spend all of his or her time just on calls,” the Overseers instructed, “but to also respond to other leadings as able.” In hopes of giving Esmonde some space for other work, in early 1999 the Board put out a call, seeking Friends and others around the Southeast willing to be trained as volunteer Hotline counselors. Steve Woolford & Lenore Yarger answered the call and began training to take calls also.

Doing military counseling on the phone began as part-time volunteer work for the couple, but in less than a year’s time they would come to play a much larger part in the work of Quaker House.

“About half of the calls coming to Quaker House are from new recruits at Fort Benning, Georgia,” Esmonde reported in the Quaker House Newsletter in early 1999. “Our existence is one of the hottest topics and pieces of information in circulation.” The reports from Fort Benning, where many new recruits were in basic training, told of high levels of harassment, physical and mental abuse resulting in high numbers of AWOL soldiers. The parents of one soldier at Fort Benning who was a potential suicide asked Esmonde for help in contacting their congressman.

“Quaker House is trying to get better documentation of the abuse that is taking place in hopes of passing it to those who can do something about it,” Esmonde wrote.

The majority of new recruits that Esmonde spoke with entered through the Delayed Entry Program, or DEP, which was notorious for trapping young people, like Trey Rogers, before they had a chance to consider their options. One common problem with the DEP that counselors saw frequently involved recruits with identified prior health problems being told by recruiters not to say anything about them on enlistment forms. Once in the military, when such problems surfaced, the enlistee was subject to being court martialed for falsifying the enlistment application – and the recruiter would by then either be long gone, or would deny everything.

Esmonde began checking with some of the counselees to see if they would be willing to speak to the media once they were discharged. With the help of the CCCO based in Oakland, California, Esmonde sent out a press release about the situation at Fort Benning and by that summer he was in touch with a producer from one of the national TV networks in Atlanta. The resulting media attention focused on the DEP. The two-part series, “GI Lies,” aired in early November, 1999 on Fox 5 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Using stories from Esmonde’s counselees, the news programs showed how many young people were maneuvered into the DEP by recruiters’ promises. Discovering later that they’d been misled or lied to, many tried to drop out of DEP.

Although it was in fact legal and easy to quit DEP, many were falsely told by recruiters that quitting was illegal and they would end up in jail. Thus many went on to boot camp, and once sworn in there, it was in fact a crime under military law to leave, or be Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL). Esmonde put the Fox News producers in touch with several individuals who had been falsely threatened with jail time, dishonorable discharges, and cutting off of scholarship money if they quit the DEP and failed to report to boot camp.

The program also featured an ex-recruiter speaking out about the pressure tactics used to keep individuals in the DEP. He had concern for the legality of such tactics and noted for the need for groups like Quaker House to support these recruits.

The program reached the conclusion that recruiters “intimidated, threatened and even outright lied to young people in an effort to bully them into enlisting.” Georgia Senator Max Cleland, a vet and member of Senate Armed Services Committee, publicized the report saying that he had sent copies of the program to the Pentagon. Esmonde remembered the expose as one of the highlights of his work at Quaker House.

Abuse of the DEP by recruiters would be a continuing problem, which GI Hotline counselors still grapple with, more than a decade later.

Over the next year, growth and change were rapid at Quaker House. Hotline calls continued to increase, taking up all the volunteer time Steve Woolford and Lenore Yarger could spare.

Their involvement with GI counseling took an unexpected jump in late 2000. Early that year Phil Esmonde was offered a position with Oxfam. The London-based NGO asked him to direct their programs in Sri Lanka. Although he had signed up for a three-year stint at Quaker House, this was an offer he felt he could not refuse. It would allow him to get back to work he had grown to love while living in his wife’s home country. And though the work at Quaker House meant a lot to the couple, especially the counseling and the prison visitation, in truth Fayetteville seemed not to suit them. For one thing, the lack of public transportation frustrated Kaushaliya, who didn’t drive. Friends also noted that she was homesick. Here was a situation where the absence of Bruce Pulliam’s ability to smooth the adjustment was almost palpable. The Board accepted their sudden departure with regret, but recorded appreciation for their contributions to Quaker House.

At the time, Quaker House was receiving close to 100 calls a month from the GI Rights Hotline. During one particular week in late July of 2000, Esmonde fielded 27 calls. The GI Rights Network web page was getting 75,000 hits per month.

Steve and Lenore took over the Quaker House part of the GI Rights Hotline, a role they continue to fulfill. The Director's post was vacant for fourteen months, until Chuck Fager was appointed to the position.

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