Louis W. Schneider, a Friend who served AFSC as a staff member for more than four decades, died on Sept. 20, 2012. The American Friends Service Committee is grateful for Lou Schneider's lasting contributions in shaping our history and laying a strong foundation for the future.
A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 27 at Friends Center, 1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia.
During his service as Executive Secretary (the position is now called General Secretary) from 1974-1980, Louis guided AFSC programs of service and reconciliation both here and abroad, steadfast despite controversies.
“The AFSC is a religious organization. We measure our religion by practice. It will be the practice of our faith that both challenges some to controversy with us and some to co-labor with us. Both the controversy and the collaborative effort are instructive, stimulating, enlightening and very real,” he said in 1977.
“Holding moral principle without making efforts to apply it to the human situation is without significance. Taking practical steps based on moral principles involves us in making political judgment; it follows that our judgments will be controversial. ”
During the course of his service at AFSC, Louis travelled extensively, visiting 38 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America – including Chile, Guatemala, Korea, Russia, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Louis was among the first outsiders to enter and liberate the Nazi death camps after Germany's surrender, as part of AFSC’s post-war relief work. He made sure a clinic in Quang Ngai, South Vietnam providing prosthetics stayed open during the worst of the war. He took letters to Hanoi, North Vietnam, from the families of prisoners of war, and brought home the POWs’ responses.
Louis’ first involvement with AFSC came in 1936, when he served as a counselor in a Thorn Hill, TN volunteer work camp. Along with helping to build a stone masonry dam, he learned more about AFSC and its mission from staffers, including the legendary Clarence Pickett, during stimulating evening conversations.
While serving as a minister at a nondenominational church in Ridgefield NJ, he faced a quandary that eventually led him back to AFSC and to the Religious Society of Friends. When the U.S. instituted the draft, it exempted members of the clergy – an exemption that disturbed him greatly.
“I knew by then that I was a pacifist and if I were not in this profession I would be a conscientious objector, but I would not have any opportunity to express myself under the circumstances of being exempt from the draft. So I challenged the classification I had been given,” he said in a 2002 interview.
After several months, he won a reclassification as a conscientious objector, receiving his notice to report for service and chose to be assigned to an AFSC camp in Cooperstown, NY in September 1941. A year later, Louis became a camp administrator in wartime Civilian Public Service camps run by AFSC. He joined the Religious Society of Friends in 1946.
In 1944 he became assistant director of Civilian Public Service for the entire organization. That was the beginning of his decades of service as he held various posts in both domestic and international programs, becoming AFSC's Executive Secretary in 1974.
Throughout his decades of service and through tumultuous times, Louis remained sure of AFSC’s durability despite its broad range of programs and the complexity of issues it addresses.
“My greatest confidence in the capacity of the AFSC to address the future effectively arises from the unswerving commitment of the AFSC to those truths and beliefs which are basic to Quakers,” he wrote in 1977. “The AFSC will struggle in unprecedented and venturesome ways to contribute to reconciliation – but reconciliation with justice – a common justice that relates alike to both sides of a conflict.
“As we look and step ahead let us remain free in the spirit, stalwart in our insistence on human rights, and may love prevail among us as we continue the great experiment which is the American Friends Service Committee.”