Whether or not you agree with him, no one can deny that Cedaredge resident Chuck Worley is truly a man of principle.
One of ﬁve children born to Glenn and Emma Worley, Charles Vincent Worley (Chuck) was born in Omaha, Neb., on Feb. 2, 1918. A graduate of Omaha Technical High School, Chuck attended the University of Omaha, where he met his wife to be, Elizabeth Ann Ross (Betsy), and was also a volunteer in the National Guard.
In 1940, both Chuck and Betsy attended a YMCA/YWCA “Fellowship of Reconciliation” Camp in Estes Park, where they heard A.J. Muste, a well known Christian paciﬁst and activist, explain why he was a conscientious objector (CO).
At the time, it never even occurred to Chuck that he might be a conscientious objector. But after listening to Muste, he knew in his heart that violence, including war, is immoral and that all disagreements should be resolved through peaceful means.
“I think everybody, except Betsy, came back from that camp a paciﬁst,” quipped Chuck.
After the camp, Betsy asked Chuck why he felt he was a CO. Chuck told her he was simply “not willing to kill people. That war and killing people does not work. Jesus made that clear, and the early Christians all were paciﬁsts.”
One year later, while in his senior year at the University of Omaha, Chuck was drafted, and as a CO, was sent to work in one of the Civilian Public Service (CPS) camps set up around the country for COs. Noting that he had no problems with being drafted, Chuck explained that during World War II, the CPS offered COs an alternative to military service, for those willing to serve their country in some other capacity. Chuck explained that the COs were usually draftees from the historically peace churches, assigned to the CPS and were credited with bringing about signiﬁcant advancements in forest ﬁre prevention, erosion and ﬂood control, medical science and reforms to the mental health system. For his tour of duty, Chuck was assigned to work in soil conservation, eventually transferring to a CPS camp in Santa Barbara to work with the US Forest Service on ﬁre prevention.
But the COs worked without wages, explained Chuck, and served longer terms than those serving in the military. In fact, many COs were not being released until well past the end of the war. “The churches provided some clothing,” said Chuck, “and the government provided the work. But no one offered to pay any stipend for the work we did.”
In May 1943 Chuck and others protested being conscripted into doing slave labor, as a violation of the US Constitution, and walked out of the camp. He was eventually arrested and sent to prison, for refusing to go back to CPS.
“Some draft boards even refused to recognize any COs so there were thousands sent to prison just for being a CO,” he explained. Chuck eventually served two separate terms in prison, spending two weeks in solitary conﬁnement for participating in a work strike and going on a six-month hunger strike.
Chuck and Betsy were married on Feb. 9, 1945, “between prison terms,” he smiled.
After being released from prison for the last time, Chuck met Fred Smith, who had also spent time in prison as a CO, and the two became fast friends. On Christmas Day, 1959, the two families moved to Cedaredge to start a plumbing business.
The two men’s evolving awareness of social injustice and destructive environmental issues resulted in personal activism on their part, “and gradually evolved into doing our own thing,” laughed Chuck, reminiscing about the time they protested the nuclear detonations at Project Rio Blanco.
According to Chuck, early one morning, with the help of four college students, the two climbed up a steep hill and placed a plastic banner that read, “Down with Nuclear,” on the cable to be used for hanging Christos famous “orange curtain” across Riﬂe Gap. “It worked,” laughed Chuck. “When we let the banner go, it slid down and along the cable, straight to the center of the cable, to be seen by all the workers when the sun came up.”
At the beginning, Chuck said he was not into organizing, just in educating people on issues via ﬂyers and brochures, but that all changed. Word got out about some of the things he and Fred were doing, and Rita Murphy, from Paonia, called to ask if he would help organize a group struggling against the coal companies in the North Fork. Chuck explained to Murphy that he was not an organizer, but he did agree to listen. That was the beginning of the Western Slope Energy Research Center, now known as the Western Slope Environmental Resource Council (WSERC.) After coming together, Rita Murphy, Mark Welch, Charles Gilman, Chuck Worley and Don Burrows signed the original documents formally creating WSERC. That was 30 years ago.
And in 1980 Chuck was one of the “founding humans” of Western Colorado Congress (WCC). “Things were poppin’ down in Montrose,” said Chuck, “Federal land issues, water issues, etc., with no organization to address those issues. I was contacted by Theresa Erickson to see if I would help organize a group. So I went down to work with her and other activists, and together, we created WCC.”
Chuck also spent more than 40 years making annual pilgrimages, sometimes two, to take locally donated fruit, onions and clothing down to the Hopi Indian reservation in Arizona. He took others with him, making them aware of the plight of the indigenous people of our country. Chuck noted that the word “Hopi” means “The People of Peace.” Among the Hopi, Chuck was known as the “Onion Katchina.”
Well known for his outspoken letters to the editor, and other writings, life after retirement has not been mundane for Chuck. He has remained pro-active as a pro-peace, anti-war activist; as an unwavering advocate for the environment; and as a voice for both human rights and civil rights, all of which are based on his understanding of the gospel message, as seen through the eyes of justice — “Reverence for all life; overcoming evil with good; and to love God with your whole heart and mind.”
He has even been known to call into accountability the very organizations that he helped create, for failing to adhere to the purpose for which they were created.
In 1980, at the age of 62, Chuck wrote, “Any solution based on non-renewable resources is a temporary solution – if not for us, then for our grandchildren, or theirs. To my way of thinking, the only real solution, and one that any conscientious citizen can wholeheartedly support, is one that relies on conservation and on non-polluting renewable resources. The knowledge and skills for this kind of program are already here.”
Fifteen years later, in his book, “Ruminations of a Certiﬁed Groundhog” (published in 1995), Chuck writes, “ . . . an even greater threat to our survival is the wanton destruction of our physical environment. This piece of the world we occupy was probably one of the most generously endowed with natural resources of any on earth. Now, most of the readily available resources have been reaped and destroyed. Our oil reserves are about gone, and would be if we hadn’t been importing oil from other countries. Now we are looking at natural gas as a possible replacement as though we [think] it will last forever, which it won’t. We’re down to the last ﬁve percent of our old-growth timber. A big part of our top soil has washed down the rivers, and what is left is becoming poisoned. Our air is badly polluted and much of our ground water is unﬁt to drink. Environmental destruction has probably been the chief cause for the failure of other great civilizations . . .”
“But then, why should a civilization that is so violent and destructive and wasteful and unjust go on forever? Like a 75-year old body, its days are numbered.”
Through the years, Betsy has become his strongest supporter and loving critic. Sadly, however, Fred passed away in February1997.
No matter what some people may call him—“tree hugger; bleeding heart liberal; environmental radical, or peace-nik,” this 90-year curmudgeon remains true to himself, a man of integrity and principle, authentic in his faith in God and committed to making the world a better place for everyone. blog comments powered by Disqus