In good conscience

Before Cornelius Steelink ever heard of AFSC, the seeds of his interest in the organization’s work were planted by a harsh event when he was a child: His father was arrested in 1920 during the Palmer Raids and spent three years in San Quentin prison for union organizing activities.

“That’s when I got some idea of what it was like in there,” Cornelius says. And once he crossed AFSC’s orbit, Cornelius stayed engaged in part because of the organization’s ongoing efforts to reform the criminal justice system, as well as its support of the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s and immigrants’ rights.

Cornelius, a retired chemist who was born and raised in Los Angeles, first came into contact with AFSC when he was drafted in World War II. He was a conscientious objector (CO) and was sent to a service camp for COs run by AFSC in the mountains of Northern California.

“Then one of most important things I did in my life was meet my first wife Jean in 1948 on a picket line,” he says. “We were picketing against World War Three, if you can imagine that.”

He had lost touch with the Service Committee, but after he and Jean moved to Tucson, Ariz., in 1957, Cornelius reconnected with AFSC when Jean volunteered with—and later became a staff member of—the organization.

“There were AFSC staff there, but no official office,” he says. “A number of us, including Jean and myself, gave and raised money to get AFSC’s Arizona office started. I’ve given ever since—albeit a bit sporadically.”

“I also had a personal interest in that office,” Cornelius says, half-joking. “I put myself through college as an electrician’s assistant and I rewired the AFSC office since the wiring was maybe 60 years old. I guess you could say it was an in-kind contribution!”

In addition to his annual giving, Cornelius also established a gift annuity with the organization and has included the Service Committee in his estate plans.

“I give for general work,” he says. “You guys are the experts. You know what you need most.”