Memories of John and Ann Rush
From a biography of Ann Rush by Nancy Poer
While John and Ann were still living in California, our friend, Nancy Poer conducted a series of interviews with Ann that served as the basis for Ann’s biography. Excerpts are presented here. The entire text can be found on our website at: peacepilgrim.org/htmfiles/annrushbio.htm
Ann met John Rush at a YMCA dance in Whittier, CA. While most young people of the time were swinging to fox trots, jazz and the Charleston, John and Ann both managed to find one of the few places where folk dances were held.
Because he refused to take up arms out of principal, John was sent to a conscientious objectors’ camp in California, where he did work that was being neglected because of the war. As an adamant pacifist, he would not consider joining the military, even the medical corps, because he believed that would still serve the “killing machine.” He’d come to the dance with friends from his camp.
He stood in the dance hall that night like a young Jimmy Stewart, with a country guy stance, feet apart, and swath of curly brown hair over his brow, mouth slightly ajar over a stubborn lower lip and chin, and a mischievous twinkle in his big, guileless blue eyes. Ann, though uncommonly beautiful, had given up the cosmetic trappings most women then adopted for allure – plucked eyebrows, high heels, silk stockings, curled hair and carefully applied makeup. John walked Ann back to her house after the dance that evening. In telling the story, Ann allowed that she did tell him on that first meeting that she was a divorcee, but did not mention that she had two children. She said, “But I had been praying and praying for a man who would be a good father to my children!” (John smiled as she told this and remarked, “And I thought I had free will!”) John soon was a regular part of her life.
Here is John’s description of their first meeting: “It was the custom for each boy at the end of the dance to take a girl to her home. I asked a girl but she already had a date. I saw Ann nearby so I asked her. This was one of the most important decisions I ever made. It was the start of a long relationship that continues today, 60 years later. We sat on the front porch talking, sharing and exploring ideas with each other and found we had much in common. This exchange gave me an insight into her character. She told me how she had been inspired in college to devote her life to service. She had wanted to help the Farm Workers in their struggle for justice and had not been able to fulfill this desire. The next morning at the Sunday school in the Quaker Church we agreed on most of the issues considered. There seemed to be a flow of spiritual union between us.”
John was hardworking, stubborn, principled, kind and often skeptical. But he wasn’t cynical and, later in life, had a song or joke for every occasion. Ann couldn’t have made a better choice for a husband.
John said his family was shocked that he was considering a relationship with a divorcee – one with two small children to boot – hardly a suitable match for a nice Quaker boy. They felt he had been “taken in” by her beauty and charms. “I was taken by her glamour,” he admitted, even though he met her as a “natural” beauty after she had stopped using makeup. In an act of understanding, typical of Ann’s openness and concern for others, she wrote a letter to his relatives, explaining that she could understand why they would be worried. Then she described how much she admired John. (Later in life, 86-year-old John quipped: “I wish I could find the letter that said so many good things about me. I’d like to read again what a fine fellow I am!”). In time Ann won his relatives over.
Ann describes one evening kneeling by her bed, praying and wondering about marrying John. As she was thinking of him with intense concentration, she turned to her 5-year-old son who had just come in. He put his hand on her shoulder and said, “Mom, you look like John!” That was certainly a sign. Neither John nor Ann later remembered him making a formal proposal. “We just knew,” they said.
It is a Quaker custom to send a community member to counsel a couple before marriage to see if they are prepared for the responsibility. A Quaker friend who met with Ann and John expressed concern that John had no job and virtually no assets aside from his aging car. Ann and John were also concerned, but not deterred.
They were married at the Orange Grove Friends Meeting House in Pasadena, California, on June 24, 1945, with 5-year-old Heath and 3-year-old Pamela sitting beside them. The wedding was one of Heath’s happiest early memories – “Our wedding” he called it, though he was mad when they didn’t take him on the honeymoon. Even though Ann’s mother knew Quaker customs of prolonged silence during worship, she became impatient with the long quiet during the ceremony, and with Ann’s sister Martha stood up to congratulate the couple. Other attendees persuaded them to wait a little longer. Thus began the union that lasted more than half a century. On their anniversary 60 years later, John still remembered the pledge that resonated so deeply:
“In the presence of God and before these,
our friends, I take thee, Anna Laura Trueblood,
to be my beloved wife, promising, with divine
assistance, to be unto thee a loving and faithful
husband as long as we both shall live.”
(Editor’s note: In 1952, John and Ann with the addition of their third child, Erica, moved to British Columbia along with two other families where they helped found the Argenta Friends Community on the wild shores of Lake Kootenay.)
Rush Family 1952
Erica, Ann, Heath, Chava (Pam), and John
Destiny Walks In
Peace Pilgrim came to Argenta, on her one trek through Canada, to visit a family she had met in Salt Lake City. She spoke to the Quaker group on the shores of Kootenay Lake. Ann was profoundly moved. Here was an extraordinary woman, vital and vibrant with wisdom, ideals and joy. Ann wrote:
“I felt very close to her and was thrilled to find someone so dedicated to peace. Here was someone living what we had worked for all these years. We Quaker pacifists were in the same nation-wide peace movement. I tried to convince her to stay a few days, after all, she was a free pilgrim without strict schedules, or so I thought. I was disappointed to learn that she had tightly scheduled herself on her trek across Canada and could only stay a night.”
They drove her to the ferry and stopped in Kaslo, where Pam, especially taken with Peace, who said she never carried a penny, playfully put a penny in her pocket. Ann spoke of how much fun she had with Peace. It was 1957. Ann was 40 and had just met the person who would change the rest of their lives.
A 24-year friendship began, nearly spanning the 29 years that Peace walked North America, more than six and a half times across, from 1953 to 1981. She stayed with the Rush family eight times during those years in many different parts of the US and Canada. In the early days of her pilgrimage, after a radio speech Peace Pilgrim made, one of the radio employees was so impressed he printed her speech and added maxims from her newsletters, forming the booklet called “Steps Toward Inner Peace.” Peace Pilgrim left a copy with the Rushes during their Whittier days and Ann was so excited by it that she wanted to send it to all her relatives and friends. The Rushes asked if they could print more copies and Peace Pilgrim agreed. It would become an international classic, eventually circling the globe with the sustaining message of life, meaning and peace. Once before one of their many moves, Ann was feeling troubled and wrote to Peace Pilgrim who answered with sterling wisdom. It not only guided her life in that moment but has steadied countless others through crises, “Live in the present, do the things that need to be done, do all the good you can each day, the future will unfold.”
A Fulltime Career for Peace
Peace Pilgrim died instantly in a car crash on July 7, l981. John and Ann were visiting Erica in New Hampshire when they received the news from their grandson, Martin, calling from their home in Whittier. It was so hard to believe. It had always been such a source of comfort to know that Peace was out there somewhere bearing the message of peace to all who would listen. It seemed impossible that she was gone.
Now began a series of events, which in retrospect seem divinely guided. Peace had left the name of a contact person in Pennsylvania, Molly TenBroek, who had sent out Peace’s occasional newsletter. Ann happened to have Molly’s contact information with her in New Hampshire, and when they reached her, she asked the Rushes to take a list of 6,000 names and addresses Peace had compiled during her pilgrimage. Next they learned that Peace had a sister, Helene Young, living in New Jersey. She was the mystery person who had forwarded mail for Peace. Fortunately they were in nearby New England, Erica had a truck they could use and they were free to pick up the mailing list names and take them to Helene. Once there they learned that Helene needed help answering letters pouring in from people all over the country. Soon Ann was amazed to find herself writing on behalf of Peace Pilgrim. Ann addressed Peace’s far-flung supporters with the first of many letters to come:
“Greetings from Cologne. I am typing next to Helene’s vegetable and flower garden where Peace typed her letters when she was visiting her. It is all a bit overwhelming…so much mail…. One outstanding fact emerges, we each feel she is our special friend – she somehow belongs to each of us…”
Richard Polese, a longtime friend of Peace’s who had been recently urging her to write a book, planned a memorial in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for close friends and invited Ann and John. Before they went to Santa Fe, John and Ann were able to gather materials such as news articles and church bulletins, which had been archived at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania at Peace’s request.
Now in Santa Fe began an amazing collaboration of souls who barely knew each other, to create a Peace Pilgrim book. The timing was perfect for Ann and John. Only months before John had retired from the postal service and he and Ann were free to concentrate on the work. With the retirement pension, they could be independent and live where they chose. As the collaborators came together, Richard described how their tasks fell in place with such ease. He often “had the feeling that Peace Pilgrim was right there with us….”
Each of the five compilers, Andy Zupko, Cheryl Canfield, Richard Polese, Ann and John, later described the “miracle” of their collaboration in the same terms. Coming from diverse backgrounds and bringing strong personalities and confidence in their own capabilities, they were able to relinquish control for a collective vision of what the book should be. Richard said: “A greater spirit prevailed…almost by magic it seemed, or by truly light and strong guidance from Peace herself.” In the weeks they worked together, the book came together from her letters and writings in a most amazing way.
When a friend reviewed the first draft, though impressed, she pointed out several redundant passages. Her comments stimulated John and Ann to continue editing. John would later say, “I don’t think I ever spent a more enjoyable time in my life than working on that book. Ann and I went over it again and again.” John would awaken at night inspired to go over the text to find where each part would best fit. John and Ann were fascinated and inspired throughout the whole process.
Cheryl and Andy had left for a few weeks to visit a relative and when they returned they were at first concerned that the original work had been undone. They soon realized it was a necessary refinement to make the text flow. John laughingly described how someone said he didn’t know John had such editorial ability and he said he didn’t either. It was, of course, Ann’s revelation by the ocean, that the book had to be in Peace’s “own words,” that guided the primary decision on how to organize the book.
They spent nearly five months to finish and the five knew they had been part of a profound spiritual process. Yet even with that realization, they did not fully know at the time what an important deed they had done for world peace.
Andy Zupko put up $2,500 for the first printing and Richard, who had publishing experience, had 5,000 books printed in February of 1983. John and Ann, after praying about their next step, agreed to take on the job of mailing the books. They received the blessings of their grateful colleagues. Ann was overjoyed when the first box of books was delivered to their home in Whittier. “I opened the box and the first thing I saw was the photo on the book cover,” she said. “I immediately thought, ‘Peace Pilgrim is back among us, both walking and speaking, although not in person but still in a manner with which she can reach the lives of thousands.’ ”
They began with an incredible plan. The books would be given away free. Peace Pilgrim had said that spiritual truths should not be sold, and they made this a hallmark of distributing her words to the world. This bold leap of faith would be blessed with an amazing response from appreciative recipients all over the world. Donations in grateful letters have continued to flow for more than 20 years, making it possible to reprint the book time and again. In all that time they were true to the Quaker saying “as the way opens.” A quarterly newsletter helped draw a steady stream of volunteers, grateful to add their help to such a worthwhile universal project.
John and Ann were always clear about the principles they wanted to live and teach by, and now about the vocation they had chosen. Peace Pilgrim said the important thing was to live the message of peace. They agreed and their actions showed it.
After 18 years in Whittier, Ann and John made the prayerful decision to move to Hemet, a town Southern California’s San Jacinto Valley. They had gone to visit for a day but bad weather led them to stay overnight. The next day a real estate agent friend showed them a modest home near a seasonal river, bordering an Indian reservation. They both immediately felt it was the right place to be. In November 1983, they moved in, and opened the Friends of Peace Pilgrim Center.
Trucks would arrive at their tiny two-bedroom home and cases of books would be stacked to the garage ceiling awaiting requests from around the world. Using and expanding Peace Pilgrim’s mailing lists, they compiled the newsletter informing people about the work around the world and adding Ann’s vignettes about the beauty of nature and everyday events in a simple life. Letters were carefully read, answered and orders filled, and always Ann was there with her lovely warm voice answering the phone “Peace Pilgrim Center.” Ann never tired of proudly showing the array of books displayed in many languages and eagerly telling of new translations, in such languages as Swahili, Serbo Croatian, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, Tamil, Finnish and Gujarati.