Any special Friend in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has likely crossed paths with the prolific and indefatigable Dick Nurse at some point. Dick Nurse’s work has made him a known and appreciated figure among Friends. Dick is the immediate past Clerk of Aging Assistance Granting Group, which he stepped down from in 2022 after six years in that role.
Dick grew up in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Raised a Catholic, Dick began attending Quaker meetings in the 1980s, finally becoming a Quaker in 2000. Dick has worked as the associate director of admissions at Brown University, was the first African-American headmaster at a school he attended in his childhood, the Stockbridge School, and was the assistant vice president for academic affairs and undergraduate education at Rutgers University for over twenty years. Upon his retirement in 2000, Dick devoted five years to the darkened New Brunswick-based Crossroads Theater Company as their executive director to help bring the theater back to life and to its former glory. As Crossroads had once won a Tony award as best regional theater in America. Filmmaker Dick also worked with director Janet Gardner as the co-producer and narrator for the celebrated documentary “Quakers: The Quiet Revolutionaries.”
“I was a vice president at Rutgers University, wow, for 20 years. So when I retired, I took over a theater which was an African American theater and won the Tony for being the best regional theater.”
Q: What attracted you most to the Quaker faith?
I grew up as a Catholic, but Quakers seemed to be the perfect place for me. Quakerism with the ideas of equality and integrity, simplicity and community. All those things, those testimonies that Quakers have, led me right back to my roots learned at the Stockbridge School.
I think the biggest thing for me was first attending and then running the Stockbridge School. I went to the school as a kid back in the 50s, and the motto of the school was the motto of the UN – All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. My first roommate there was from Cuba. Others were from South America and Asia. There were students from Israel, befriending Arab students. Everybody got along. What I learned from that was that if you put a bunch of kids, especially diverse young people together in an environment which is encouraging rather than discouraging, they can work everything out together.
We Quakers, members of the Religious Society of Friends, hold strongly to the principle of speaking truth with integrity. We ground our speaking truth in our worship and our searching of ourselves, as we listen deeply and honestly within and across all differences. Our testimony to the world includes standing up for spiritually discerned Truth, the equality of all persons, the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and respect and care for our neighbors and the earth. Right now, we see many forces at work in our country and the world that are undermining these basic values. Accordingly, we call on Friends everywhere to act.
Q: What first got you involved with the Aging Assistance Granting Group? What was it about Susan White’s example that inspired you to join the Aging Assistance Granting Group?
Susan White was the Secretary of Princeton Monthly Meeting and the Clerk of the meeting’s PYM Aging Assistance Granting Group. She was very thoughtful and everyone respected and thought well of her. The quaintness of Quakerism was something she understood and she would write things and give explanations in those terms. And she wanted me to take over the AAGG Clerkship after serving on AAGG for several years.
One of the things I learned from Susan, well, I think that was partly my own feeling as well, was that publicly Quakers are well off. There is this idea that Quakers are wealthy, but a lot of us live rather modestly, so that’s not necessarily the case. Susan insisted that one of the most important things about Quakerism is simplicity. So, you know, you don’t go out and spend a lot of money on a lot of showy things. Quakers look for other things to spend their money on. But she also recognized that there are an awful lot of Friends who haven’t done quite as well as others.
Q: You’ve said you grew up poor and that you know it takes courage to ask for money. You feel especially attuned to people in need. What would you like to say to Quakers in need who may be holding back and not asking for assistance?
I know from growing up in Brooklyn and in Manhattan, and as an African American. Our family worked hard but was basically poor. I know that it takes a lot of courage, sometimes to ask for money. My experiences helped me to understand that many older Quakers struggle with needs while possibly just living on Social Security or just trying to get by. Sometimes older Quakers are ashamed of having needs. After all, we Friends are just people.
And we have these funds available through AAGG for individuals and groups because Quakers in the past have left donations and investments. We don’t promote the fund that much. And, when we do, people are maybe a little wary about showing vulnerability, going out and saying, Well, look, I’m in need.
Last year we selected Sheila Sorkin as the successor of George Schaefer in a staff role supporting Aging needs in PYM. Sheila has helped many friends this past year with her appreciation of their anxiety or unspoken needs. That’s providing aging assistance.
Q: Can you speak a little bit about who should be more aware of the Aging Assistance Granting Group and the work you do and resources you offer?
Granting is the reason I took over as the Clerk because I remember about the needs in my childhood community. The biggest thing is being alert and attuned to the fact that people are needy and trying not only being willing to help them, but also willing to steer them in the direction that they can get help with resources in addition to ours as well.
Clerk was to be attuned to people’s needs, recognize them and reach out proactively. I believe the AAGG could serve PYM by being more proactive in helping Friends identify those in need in their meetings. We’d like more people to know about us. Care and Concerns Committees exist in every monthly meeting, but a lot of them don’t know that they can call on the AAGG.
When somebody does call on us for all sorts of reasons, we respond. Aging Friends might need a new roof or their taxes hadn’t been paid properly when they were ill. There are medical problems, automobile problems, there are all sorts of problems that come up. So we want to be alert to that and that it is another way our Aging Support Coordinator helps in identifying outside resources or providing useful information.
For Friends needing long-term care without Medicaid or private pay funds, there’s a grant for pocket money to help them with incidental needs. The Aging Assistance Granting Group has also provided resident services grants to Quaker long-term care communities. There have been a variety of other supports granted over the years. I encourage all Friends, monthly meetings and Clerks of meetings to become aware of this valuable resource and submit applications when the needs arise.
This article was prepared by Paul Jepsen, previously PYM Interim Communications Director in collaboration with Sheila Sorkin, PYM Aging Support Coordinator to provide support to those in the aging community of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting as part of the “To Brighten Your Day” series.