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Edith Tschudi [Cole]

Beloved mother, counselor, lifelong pacifist

Edith Tschudi [Cole], a resident of the Claremont community for almost 50 years, died on July 2, 2014 in Lahore, Pakistan, surrounded by her daughter Sarah, son-in-law Arif and several of her grandchildren. She was 86.

Ms. Tschudi was born in the city of St. Gallen, Switzerland on May 25, 1928, the younger of two daughters. During her early years, Switzerland was in the shadow of Germany during the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. As a child, she found herself in attendance once at a Nazi rally across the border in southern Germany. As she told the story, she must have been on an outing with neighbors or family friends curious to hear the dictator for themselves. Hitler’s shrill voice and hateful rhetoric scared young Edith out of her wits, and made a lifelong negative impression on her.

Soon Germany invaded Poland and, in a matter of 18 months, Germany had occupied all of the countries surrounding Switzerland. In spite of—and perhaps because of—their strict neutrality, the Swiss lived in constant fear that they were next on Germany’s list. Life during the war was characterized by frequent, abrupt sirens at all hours warning citizens to take shelter against possible misdirected Allied and German bombs. In addition, they heard the strident German propaganda via the radio news, and the war was an ever-present part of life.

As Ms. Tschudi described it, it was routine for families to take in, feed and shelter without question refugees who had crossed the border to flee the war. The economy was bad, as the country was virtually cut off from the rest of the world. Goods and food were in short supply, and with the refugees there were many more mouths to feed. Every extra square inch of land was cultivated with vegetables, including the parking strips next to the road. From these seven years of hardship and fear, from ages 10-17, Edith came away with a lifelong hatred of warfare.

An excellent student, she studied Swiss history and Germanic philology at the University of Basel. She spoke knowledgeably on how the similarities between languages of certain countries or regions (i.e., the Germanic languages or the Romance languages) reflected migration patterns of peoples in the early centuries of the first millennium AD, or how you could observe the extent of the Protestant reformation movement of the 16th century by the architecture of the cathedrals in the towns of Switzerland. She told stories of the Swiss mercenaries who for centuries were sought all over as personal bodyguards by the monarchs of Europe (and the popes in the Vatican) because of their excellent swordsmanship, bravery and, of course, their neutrality in regard to regional conflicts or local politics.

Her studies of religion drew her interest toward Quakerism. As a graduate student, in the summer of 1953, she was drawn to a Quaker youth camp sponsored by The American Friends Service Committee. There she met Clifford Cole, a graduate of Whittier College, a Quaker school. A romance quickly ensued and they decided to travel together after the two-week camp was over. They bicycled together through many countries in Europe for the rest of the summer. The two decided to get married, but first Clifford had to return to California to find a job.

Meanwhile, Edith had to wait for a visa to come to the United States, which in those days might take a year or more. She decided to travel with her sister Margrit to Australia, where Margrit was looking forward to meeting her fiancé, but Margrit returned to Switzerland after several months as her intended fiancé turned out to be not a good match for her.

Ms. Tschudi had been exchanging letters with Mr. Cole in California the entire time since he returned home. Since she was in Australia and he was in California, they decided to meet and have their wedding in Honolulu, where Cliff had spent time, having rehabilitated there after being wounded during the invasion of Guam in 1943. And so it was that, in 1955, they were married under the care of the Honolulu Friends Meeting.

Mr. Cole drew on some connections he had made at Whittier College and was able to land a job in the Claremont Unified School District working as a teacher at Vista Del Valle School, due in large part to recommendations he received from members of the Claremont Friends Meeting. With the births of children Samuel, Daniel, Sarah, Benjamin and adoption of daughter Hannah, the Coles soon had a large family.

After their friends, Claremonters Glenn and Anne Davenport, spoke highly of their experience of living a year in Bogotá, Colombia, the Coles decided to follow in their footsteps. To get there, the entire family drove down though Mexico and Central America in a 1953 International Travelall, pulling a trailer. From 1966 to 1969, Edith and Clifford taught at Colegio Nueva Granada, a Colombian/US bilingual school. Son Aaron was born in Bogotá.

While raising this large family, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Ms. Tschudi was continuously involved in the progressive causes of the day, attending anti-nuclear weapons rallies and demonstrations, organizing fundraising for UNICEF, doing newspaper drives to promote ecology and boycotting grapes and Gallo wine in support of César Chávez and the United Farm Workers. She was always an advocate for the poor and disadvantaged in society as well as for non-violence and disarmament, and spoke her mind early and often for these causes. At the same time, she saw to it that a delicious homemade meal appeared on the table every night of the week for her six children.

By the early 1980s, most of Ms. Tschudi’s children had grown up and started their own lives in various places throughout the country, and she had more time to devote to her Quaker values and the actions she felt such values require. Edith was a very passionate and dedicated woman who was not an armchair philosopher, but a person of action. When she fasted for nuclear disarmament, it was no food for five weeks, only stopping when she saw evidence that others were taking up the cause in greater numbers.

She traveled to Guatemala and, together with the other volunteers working for the NGO Peace Brigades International, worked to persuade the military junta to provide medical care and water to the internally displaced peoples’ camps. As she put it, “There is only one faucet and no medicine for 1,000 people, and you don’t want the publicity of a humanitarian disaster on your watch, do you?” She felt called to these actions as part of her understanding of the Light.

Ms. Tschudi spent more than 20 years doing similar humanitarian work in Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, Quebec and Pakistan, as well as along the US border with Mexico. Together with Joe Franko and other volunteers, she raised funds to establish a school for Afghan refugee girls at a camp outside of Peshawar, Pakistan.

After Mr. Cole was offered early retirement by the Claremont school district in 1974, Edith assumed the role of primary supporter for the family. Along the way, she earned a PhD in family counseling from Claremont School of Theology. All of her sons and daughters had the opportunity to attend college because of her hard work and financial support. In addition, she was a dedicated grandmother and aunt, traveling all over the world in support of the births and rearing of her grandchildren. 

In the Coles’ house on 10th Street, there was always an extra seat at the table and an extra bed for whomever presented. In later years, Ms. Tschudi offered a hand up to many who had fallen on hard times for one reason or another, allowing them to stay for periods of time at the Cole house for free or inexpensive rent. For many others, she was a generous and caring landlady who would routinely offer tenants her table and home-cooked food. She baked her own bread, and Christmastime meant special Swiss cookies and gifts of delicious Swiss holiday bread to friends and neighbors.

In late August 2004, Ms. Tschudi was infected with West Nile Virus from an insect bite, which resulted in her getting encephalitis and falling into a coma. Miraculously, with the prayers of her family members and many friends who came to the hospital ICU to sing and pray beside her bed, she came out of the coma and faced a long rehabilitation. Thereafter, no longer able to live independently, for several years she spent half of each year in Honolulu with her son Daniel and the other half with her daughter Sarah in Lahore, Pakistan. Finally, in 2010, when she could no longer make the long trip, she remained with Sarah. She passed away peacefully after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and is buried in Lahore.

A memorial meeting in the style of Friends (Quakers) will be held for Ms. Tschudi on Saturday, August 16 at 5 p.m. at Claremont Friends Meeting House, located at 727 Harrison Ave. in Claremont.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Claremont Friends, 727 Harrison Ave., Claremont, CA 91711, or to Afghan Refugee Girls’ Primary School with checks made out to “Orange Grove Monthly Meeting” with the memo indicating the contribution is for the Afghan Girls’ School. Checks should be sent to the Afghan Girls’ School Committee Treasurer, Percy H. Severn, at PO Box 972, Newbury Park, CA 91319-0972.