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Friends and the Promised Land

The journey of four Alabama Quakers to find their home in Monteverde.

Alexander Richey
Alayna Clay
Alexander Richey

In 1948, four young men from Fairhope, Alabama were arrested for refusing to register for the draft. The United States Congress had adopted the Universal Military Training Act of 1948, and all men between the ages of 18 and 26 were required to register, yet these four men refused.  

 

They were Quakers and held pacifist beliefs that were central to the tenets of their religion, but this did not matter to the law. All four were arrested and held in prison for months. Marvin Rockwell was one. He had served as a noncombatant in the Army Medical Corps during World War II, but this time around, Rockwell had felt an objection to the growing militarization of the country and refused to register in protest.

 

At the sentencing trial, Federal Judge John McDuffie laid out the  Quakers’ fate.

 

“This is a government of laws and not of men, and so long as you live here, you should abide by the laws of the land,” said McDuffie. “Those who oppose the laws of this country and this form of government, even when it goes to war, should get out of this country and stay out.”

 

So they did.

Dispatches
from Costa Rica
Presents:
The saying goes 'the grass is always greener...' Does this idyllic notion of the promised land really exist? Listen to this episode of Dispatches to hear their stories, and why you might
leave paradise.

Tune in to more

Dispatches
Rick Juliusson, Co-Director of The Monteverde Friends School, sits in the Friends meeting house, where the Friends gather on Wednesday and Sunday mornings to sit in silent reflection. Vida Magazine | Alayna Clay

The four young men along with 11 other families set out on a journey south looking to flee the country that had imprisoned them for wanting peace. From the window of an aircraft a few bought land, started dairy farms, built a school to educate their children and promptly integrated into the local community of Costa Ricans. They found their peace.

 

Now, 67 years later, the community of Quakers is strong, and the legacy of the original founders from Alabama lives on. The Friends of Monteverde have grown and attracted others from beyond Alabama and Costa Rica.

 

“For lack of a better word, this place is a mecca for certain Quakers,” said Rick Juliusson, Co-Director of the Monteverde Friends School. “People from all over the world quite literally make a kind of pilgrimage here, a pilgrimage for peace.”

 

The school they built has grown to teach over 120 students from both Costa Rica families and foreigners and is considered one of the highest academically performing schools in the country.

 

To this day, Rockwell lives about 100 yards from the school. Now 95, he talks to the visitors who eat at the cafe that his daughter runs in his house and spends his time consumed with his collection of 58,000 stamps.

Rockwell is one of the few original members who still reside in Monteverde. Others have died or moved back to the states, but a second generation of Quakers still inhabit the community.

Evan Cantu-Hertzler weeds the school’s garden so it is ready for the grades 9 and 10 to plant as a part of their sustainability project. Vida Magazine | Alayna Clay

Benito Guindon is the youngest son of original members Wilford and Lucky Guindon. Benito was among the first generation of children born in Costa Rica. Benito carries on what his father started and looks after goats, sheep and rabbits on their farm, which straddles the continental divide.

 

People from all over the world make a pilgrimage to Monteverde to see how these Quakers live in peace. And for 67 years, they have shown the world that the ideals of peace live on.

Ran Smith previously ran a radio station in San Jose, but moved to Monteverde to send his children to The Monteverde Friends School. Vida Magazine | Alayna Clay

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