Friends leader helped victims of war and poverty

Louis W. Schneider
Louis W. Schneider
Posted: October 07, 2012

Louis W. Schneider, 97, of Glenmoore, who aided victims of war and poverty for more than four decades as an administrator with the American Friends Service Committee, died Thursday, Sept. 20, at his farm.

Mr. Schneider grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. He earned a bachelor's degree from Columbia University and graduated from Union Theological Seminary.

Mr. Schneider, whose grandfather and four uncles were Protestant ministers, then became a minister at a nondenominational church in Riverside, N.Y., after graduating from the seminary.

In 1940, he was required to register for the draft. As a clergyman he would receive an automatic deferment.

He explained how he refused the deferment in an interview in 2003 for an oral history of the Downingtown Friends Meeting: "I started thinking about this, why should clergymen be absolutely exempt? Why aren't all men absolutely exempt from military service?"

Mr. Schneider was eventually drafted as a conscientious objector and credited his association with the AFSC with helping him become an objector.

He first encountered Quakers as a student in 1936, when he was a summer counselor at a work camp in Tennessee operated by the committee.

As an alternate service during World War II, he worked at a U.S. Forest Service facility operated by the AFSC in Cooperstown, N.Y. He was then director of an AFSC work camp in Elkton, Ore., before moving to Philadelphia to be director of AFSC programs countrywide.

Mr. Schneider and his wife, Frances Eleazer Schneider, married in 1942. They met when he was a student at Union Theological and she was at Columbia University. They had lunch together and found they shared strong opinions, their daughter, Susan Temple, said.

The couple joined Germantown Friends Meeting in 1945, when they were living in Germantown.

"I was not a member of the Society of Friends throughout the whole interval of World War II. I decided not to be a Friend at that time because I had taken my position against military service quite privately and independently," he said in the 2003 interview.

In 1948, Mr. Schneider became AFSC commissioner for Europe, and assisted with relief efforts in 13 countries over the next 21/2 years.

He later was involved in AFSC programs in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America.

During the Vietnam War, he made sure a clinic that was providing prosthetics in South Vietnam stayed open. He carried letters north to Hanoi from the families of prisoners of war, and brought home the POW responses.

He always had permission from the U.S. government to travel, his daughter said: "He was very much a diplomat and believed in getting things done. People trusted him," she said.

Back home, Mr. Schneider was active in the civil rights movement and marched in Selma, Ala., with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

From 1974 until retiring in 1980, Mr. Schneider was executive secretary of the AFSC, guiding programs of service in the United States and abroad.

At an annual AFSC meeting in 1977, he said: "The AFSC is a religious organization. We measure our religion by practice. Holding moral principles without making efforts to apply it to the human situation is without significance."

Mr. Schneider later explained his beliefs for the oral history. After he had been asked to list his religion on a medical form, he said, "I went to the dictionary and looked up 'religion' and I thought the definition was a definition of Quakerism: 'Religion is a quest in search of those values that make up the ideal.' And it goes on to suggest it then is concerned with the application of this ideal in pragmatic ways to the life around us in the universe."

Mr. Schneider and his wife joined Downingtown Friends Meeting when they purchased the 40-acre farm in Glenmoore in 1951.

"The farm was a place of boundless discovery for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a place rich with a bursting garden, fabulous food, endless projects, and array of animals," Susan Temple wrote in a tribute. "Lou and Frances," she said, "shared a lifelong curiosity and modeled for all a generosity of spirit."

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Schneider is survived by sons Lou and Robert; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife died in 2007.

A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at Friends Center, 1515 Cherry St.


Contact Sally A. Downey

at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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