ALBANY — For 75 years, those seeking a more peaceful planet have found a second home in the World Fellowship Center in Albany.
Situated on 455 acres, with a view of Mount Chocorua, the center calls itself a place "where social justice meets nature." According to Andy Davis, co-director with his wife, Andrea Walsh since 2001, it's basically a summer camp for adults and families who have progressive values.
People can attend a speaking event, stay for a day or two or even the whole summer. Accommodations range from campsites to modern guest rooms. There is also a dining hall where members of the public are welcome to have dinner (at 6 p.m., for $19.75) prior to the talks, discussing important issues of the day, that take place over the summer.
World Fellowship has access to nature trails and Whitton Pond, and guests are free to hike, swim, canoe and fish.
The mission to make the world a better place and give a voice to the voiceless hasn't always been easy, and the center's mission was tested in the age of Sen. Joe McCarthy and the Cold War.
Today, it is focused on leading the charge on such things as economic injustice and climate change. Speakers have included social critic Noam Chomsky, peace activist David Dellinger, writer Grace Paley and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The center, which started its summer season Thursday, opened at its present location at 368 Drake Hill Road in the summer of 1941.
According to Davis, the center has its roots in the so-called Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century. "That's when the founders, Charles and Eugenia Weller, came of age politically, so they were exposed to the massive discrepancies between rich and poor," said Davis.
At the time, the Industrial Revolution was gearing up, bringing waves of immigrants, and the country was rebuilding after the Civil War, so former slaves and others were moving North to work in factories.
In Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, the Wellers were involved in movements to help people better understand each other across lines of race, class and ethnicity.
They had vacationed in the White Mountains, and after their grown son died, Charles Weller decided he needed a peaceful place for poetry and prayer. He camped at Mount Whiteface in the Sandwich range for two weeks.
"He came down from the mountain with the idea that the World Fellowship of Faiths needed a more permanent home than his and Eugenia's kitchen table, so they began looking around in this area for land," said Davis. The 225-acre parcel they bought is the site of today's World Fellowship Center.
The price was all of $5,000. Wealthy benefactress Lola Maverick Lloyd — from a family of Texas cattle barons — contributed, along with small donors.
In 1941, World War II was raging, and the World Fellowship Center opened with the slogan, "In a time of war, prepare for peace."
It held a world government convention, believing that if war was to be avoided, there needed to be some type of world government. This was before the League of Nations, which, formed in 1920, turned into the United Nations in 1945.
"They proposed their land here in Albany, as a site for the (revamped) League of Nations," said Davis. "They got back a very nice letter that said, 'Thank you, but we are hoping to site it in an urban area like Boston or New York.' I think all of us are pretty happy that the United Nations didn't end up being located here."
During World War II, American anti-communist leanings were "put on hold" because the Soviets were American allies. That tide turned with the arrival of the Cold War. By the late 1940s, the Soviets had tested a nuclear weapon.
In the 1950s, New Hampshire Attorney General Louis Wyman, an ambitious young man serving under Gov. Hugh Gregg, became the World Fellowship's chief nemesis. The Wellers had retired and passed leadership of the center to Willard and Ola Uphaus.
Willard was an activist in the labor movement who then found a job with the American Peace Crusade, which eventually closed its doors rather than face "spurious" investigations. After speaking at the World Fellowship, the Uphauses were invited to take over the center, and they agreed.
One day, Willard picked up a copy of The Union Leader and read a story that said a communist sympathizer had taken over the World Fellowship. A sidebar written by Attorney General Wyman said the AG's Office would investigate. At the time, the small center only served 40 people, as opposed to the 150 it does today.
"Willard decided it was clearly a misunderstanding and that no illegal things were happening at World Fellowship, and all he had to do was go and meet Wyman directly, talk to him man to man, and the whole misunderstanding would be sorted out," said Davis.
Wyman responded by serving Uphaus with a subpoena to get the names of guests and staff.
Rather than turn over the names, Uphaus was convicted of contempt of court. The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1958. In June 1959, the justices ruled 5-4 that the sentence should be upheld. Willard Uphaus served a year in the Merrimack County Jail, and his wife ran the center in his absence. Wyman pledged to jail Uphaus until he was "purged of contempt," and Uphaus' supporters feared he would be served with another subpoena once that year was up and the cycle would continue.
"His case had become a cause celebre," said Davis, who said Uphaus received more than 700 letters of support while he was in jail. "There were demonstrations throughout the Northeast. When he left court the final time, there were people singing his favorite hymns on the courthouse steps."
By the time of Uphaus' release, McCarthyism had sputtered, and Wyman was apparently distracted by other issues.
"When the Concord Monitor came up with the list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, Willard Uphaus was on the list, and Louie Wyman wasn't," said Davis, adding that Uphaus died in 1984, and a documentary called "Rights and Reds" was made about the case.
The center will host a program called Uphaus v. Wyman on Aug. 31.
The Uphauses ran the center until 1970, when they turned the reins over to Kit and Christoph Schmauch. Davis credits the couple with holding the organization together for decades and growing it, including creating a children's program. Willard Uphaus was 80 when he retired.
"Similar institutions were closing, and World Fellowship kept going because of the determination of the board and the vision of Kit and Christoph," said Davis.
"Being 35 when we began the directorship, following Willard Uphaus meant to inherit the positive and negative aspects of 'The Uphaus Case' — an adoring constituency on the one hand and a suspicious community, brainwashed by the McCarthy propaganda — specifically The Manchester Union Leader," wrote the Schmauchs in an email to the Sun. "Through our active relationship to First Church Congregational, United Church of Christ in North Conway, and Christoph's ministerial standing in the New Hampshire Conference, United Church of Christ, and living almost 40 years in the North Conway community, community relations were greatly improved, so that the World Fellowship Center not only survived but prospered — not to mention a first prize for World Fellowship's organic vegetable garden, under the motto: 'If you know how to grow vegetables in New Hampshire, you can't be all bad.'"
The Schmauchs believe the mission of the World Fellowship is still important today.
"Given the political trends in this country at this time, a place like World Fellowship, demonstrating the possibilities for greater justice and peace, for a more perfect union and a better world is more important than ever," said Schmauchs. "We are on the summer program Aug. 8 and 9."
Davis noted that the Schmauchs raised four children, who graduated from Kennett. The Schmauchs eventually moved to Ohio to be with Christoph's mother during her last days.Davis and Walsh then arrived to take the helm of the World Fellowship Center. The couple had met in Guatemala while working for a group called Witness for Peace. Davis was born in Rochester, and Walsh was from Michigan, but she agreed to follow Davis to New Hampshire.
While serving on the board of the American Friends Service Union, Davis got an application for the directorship for the World Fellowship.
Davis and Walsh, and their 16-year-old daughter, Fiona Davis-Walsh, spend the off season in the directors' quarters, a house within a short walk of the center. (Davis said they had asked the board to build one during their first year on the job, and the board agreed.) For the summer they move into one of the cabins.
Board member Alex Melman, 26, of Madison, Wis., said his Hoboken, N.J.-based family started coming to the center about 45 years ago. He said while growing up he would spend a summer week at the center and his cousins would be there as well. This year he's spending a week at the center.
"It was really wonderful," said Melman, now a freelance website designer who worked on the Sanders presidential campaign. He recalled trips to the nearby pond and various fun activities in his childhood. "It was magical and safe," he said.
After graduating from Brandeis University, he worked the kitchen and eventually became the center's head cook.
Melman's 22-year-old brother, Scott, is now head cook, preparing meals for up to 200 people.
"One thing we are trying to do as World Fellowship goes into its 76th year and onward is to attract more new and young people to World Fellowship," he said.
Scott plans to become a full-time cook after graduating from the College of New Jersey, where he is studying art education. He said he enjoys cooking different cuisines at the center, including Italian, French, Greek, Chinese and Indian styles, as well as vegan dishes.
In the past, said Davis, people had to have long histories with World Fellowship to sit on the board, but that requirement has been removed.
Former board member Linda Wheeler, 71, of Brooklyn, New York said this is her 30th year coming to the center after her partner discovered it in a newspaper ad.
Wheeler is a retired food co-op coordinator who now runs a bed-and-breakfast in Brooklyn when the World Fellowship. Wheeler said she enjoys the programs that she's attended over the years. She said the topic doesn't matter so long as the speaker is good.
There are a wide range of programs slated for this summer, according to the center's calendar. (See accompanying story.)
Davis said events are open to the public, and most are free. Davis said if people call ahead, they are welcome to have dinner at the center and then attend a program later that evening.
Writer, actress and radio personality Caraid O'Brien, 41, of New York City has been coming to the center since she was in her 20s. She and her 9-year-old son, Mannix, love the country setting and adore the Davis-Walsh family.
"We have had many epic conversations about art and politics, spirituality and history, we unwind from electronics and city stress and dream together about a better future for our world," said O'Brien.
"Also the food served at the center is healthy and delicious. A great feeling of love and possibility and happiness and, well, fellowship, pervades the campus," she said.
"This summer, I am returning not only to perform but am bringing my childhood friend and her three children with us to share in the beauty and relaxation of World Fellowship. We go back every summer if we can for a few days — we hate to a miss a summer there."
O'Brien will be doing a program about early 20th century labor leader Leonora O'Reilly on July 25.
Wheeler, who has two adult daughters, Emma Potik, 40, and Clara Kramer-Wheeler, 34, also enjoys the World Fellowship community and the country setting. She has been spending four months per year at the World Fellowship Center.
"It was a vacation when we started, and now it's part of our lives," she said of her family. "I couldn't wait until I got to be a grandmother and then I could say I have three generations here."
Wheeler said people find their life's work at the center while others test their romantic relationships by seeing if their partner enjoys a stay there.
Places like the World Fellowship Center, Davis said, "are really important in terms of providing for a place for people to educate themselves and to talk freely and dream about the kind of world they want to have, to dream of a world of justice.
"Sometimes, that mission seems more obviously important and this is one of those times."