Hope Foote, 1917 – 2011

07/14/2011

Hope Stephens Foote, a devoted peace activist, world adventurer and caring mother and wife, passed away on April 30. She was 93. Hope’s rebellious spirit and daring convictions made her a local mainstay, and West Marin is truly diminished for losing her generous social character.

“She was a very opinionated, funny, lovable person,” said her friend Jody Farrell. “I loved her, and we really miss her.”

Hope was born on October 4, 1917 to Ingeborg Schande and Donald Stephens in Wilmington, Delaware. Ingeborg was a social worker who came from a proud line of women’s suffrage activists. Donald was a furniture maker with grand ideas for world peace.

Donald and Ingeborg were drawn to international peace work and, in the early days of the Soviet Union, traveled to the rural South Caucuses to help modernize Russian agriculture, and stayed for two years. “For them it was not a political thing,” said Hope’s daughter, Heather. “For them it was a Peace Corps experience.” Hope, who was seven at the time, and her younger sister, Margaret, were fully immersed in Russian culture. “They went to neighborhood schools, and they sponged up Russian,” Heather said. “I always felt that the two years in Russia contributed to her openness to new things, her spontaneity.”

After returning to the United States, Donald exchanged his carpentry skills for his daughters’ tuition at prestigious East Coast schools.  Hope attended Shady Hill School in Massachusetts, where Julia Child’s husband, Paul, was her eighth grade teacher. She graduated from Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where she studied under famed artist and educator Joseph Albers. She was noted for her skills as an actress in Black Mountain College theater productions.

When Hope was a teenager, her father was invited to Hyde Park, New York, to have dinner with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor. Donald took Hope with him. “All she remembered is that Franklin and Eleanor disputed and disagreed with each other,” said Hope’s friend, Doris Allen. Hope taught at a school in Poughkeepsie, New York, before driving cross-country to California with several friends in 1941. She lived in a Quaker work camp in Hidden Villa, near Santa Monica. The camp was led by social activist Josephine Duvaneck, who used the camp to provide refuge to escaped European Jews, and later to Japanese Americans returning from U.S. internment camps.

While working at Hidden Villa, Hope met a young activist named Caleb. Caleb had been sent to California by pacifist A.J. Muste to serve as the western field representative for the anti-war organization Fellowship of Reconciliation. He visited Hidden Villa to lecture on the forced internment of Japanese Americans, and fell in love with Hope during a Virginia Reel dance at the settlement.

Hope and Caleb were married in 1942 on Santa Monica Beach, and moved to San Francisco. Hope soon gave birth to a son, Robert, and a daughter, Heather. Supposedly, Hope’s obstetrician became a proponent of natural childbirth after her insistence on giving birth without drugs. She later gave birth to her son Andrew, and twins Ethan and David.

Once, when Robert was a young boy, he lost his prized pocket knife somewhere in a large, grassy commons. “[Hope] said, ‘We’ll just go out and find it.’ I was pretty skeptical, because it was a huge area,” Robert said. “We started walking back and forth, she looked down and there it was. It gave me a sense of the possibility of impossible things.”

The Second World War was raging, and Caleb—an ardent conscientious objector—refused to serve. A judge sentenced him to a year in prison for refusing to honor the draft. Hope had a difficult time trying to raise a young family alone. “She struggled. She was there all alone,” Heather said. “He would write to my mother as many times a week as he was allowed, but she was essentially a single mother. They had virtually no money. It was not easy.” Caleb was released, but still refused to join the military and was sentenced to a further six months.

Hope never regretted Caleb’s decision, or her difficult start in family life. “She didn’t look back on it as a hardship,” Heather said. “It was something they both believed in, that war is not a way to solve problems. It was an unusual first few years, in terms of marriage.”

Caleb entered law school, and Hope became active at the alternative Walden School in Berkeley, founded by Second World War conscientious objectors. Her sons attended the school, and were taught by West Marin icon Jerry Friedman. “Family lore has it that they introduced [the Environmental Action Committee’s] first director, Jerry Friedman, to the area when he was a teacher at Walden School in Berkeley looking for a project for his students,” said Hope’s son Ethan. “Hope suggested West Marin, and Jerry brought third-graders to Limantour Beach in the late 1960s to pick up trash in red plastic-mesh grapefruit bags.” Hope came to Point Reyes on the weekends, and they eventually moved to West Marin in 1988.

Hope threw herself into the community. She was a National Park Service trail crew volunteer, a member of the Drakes View Drive road committee and a director of the Dance Palace Community Center. She delivered meals to the elderly and drove patients to medical appointments for West Marin Senior Services. Hope and Caleb were early and longtime supporters of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, EAC and Community Land Trust Association of West Marin, as well as other affordable housing organizations. “From the moment she landed she was always completely involved,” said Carol Friedman, founder of the Dance Palace. “She was a person who cared deeply about community and community connections, and creating a place where everybody could come. She was one of our best volunteers, ever.”

A lifelong, third-generation vegetarian, Hope loved to cook for her family and friends. “She passed on many family traditions and recipes, including [a recipe] for Norwegian Christmas cookies,” Heather said. She also cooked non-vegetarian meals for her carnivorous family. “She would draw one of us into the kitchen to taste a sauce or a gravy, and learned how to make a great variety of meat dishes,” Robert said. “Maybe she wanted to give her children a choice.” Robert eventually gave up meat and his daughter, Lauren, is now a vegetarian as well.

Hope never lost her adventurous spirit. She took several trips to Europe with her family, and took two long solo trips to France. On her frequent trips to visit family in coastal Maine, Hope took her children on rough expeditions to Duck Island, braving the choppy waters on lobster boats. “She had a tremendously adventurous spirit. It was a very important value to her,” Heather said. “She was somebody who was very outwardly oriented, and somebody who was much prone to say, ‘Yes, let’s do this.’”

Hope moved to downtown Point Reyes Station after Caleb sustained an injury at their home on Inverness Ridge. After his rehabilitation, Caleb was moved to Stockstill House for the remaining year and a half of his life. “She kept on going when Caleb was over at Stockstill House,” Jody said. “She had much determination, facing that steep hill, and visited him all the time.”

Even as she entered her 80s, and eventually her 90s, Hope remained active. “She was what, 93? Strong as an ox!” said her friend and caregiver Kitsy Lee. “She didn’t let grass grow under her feet.” Hope hiked, went bird watching and socialized with friends. “She really liked to push the envelope. She was strong, really smart, and had a great sense of humor. She was a very cool lady.”

 

Hope is survived by her sons Robert, Andrew, Ethan and David; her daughter, Heather; four grandchildren; nieces and nephews; and her beloved Tansy, born the kitten of a feral cat. A celebration of life will be held in early October at the Dance Palace. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Hope’s memory to West Marin Senior Services, P.O. Box 791, Pt. Reyes Station, CA 94956, or to Marin Agricultural Land Trust, P.O. Box 89, Pt. Reyes Station, 94956, or to Hospice By the Bay, 17 E. Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Larkspur, CA 94939.