Claremont Insider: A Moment of Silence

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Moment of Silence

Longtime Claremont resident T. Willard Hunter died this past Monday at the age of 93, and the city's 4th of July festivities will never be the same.

Hunter, who lived in the Pilgrim Place retirement community, started Claremont's 4th of July Speakers Corner back in 1977 as way of reminding people what the true meaning of the holiday is supposed to be. Daily Bulletin columnist David Allen explained:
Just as Charlie Brown lamented that Christmas was too commercial, Hunter, who died Monday at age 93, felt the message of Independence Day had been lost amid hot dogs and fireworks.

And so in 1977 Hunter created the Speakers Corner, an area of the park with a lectern, microphone and stage. Patterned after London's Hyde Park speakers corner, the Claremont version became an annual event and a distinctive part of the city's approach to the holiday.

Anyone who signs up in advance gets 10 minutes to reflect, hold forth or spout off on any topic they choose - city politics, organic farming, the Iraq war, whatever.

Of course, no one is obligated to pay attention - it's not called the Listeners Corner - but people do wander over and linger a while. This year's event is scheduled from 10:45 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In years gone by, you'd see Hunter get up and fill the unscheduled Speakers Corner slots with famous speeches he'd committed to memory - the Gettysburg Address or Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

So, sometime today we can expect an ironic moment of silence to remember Hunter, who, as David Allen noted, once orated for a world record 34 hours 8 minutes. The list of speakers for today's Speakers Corner is full except for noon when there will be a memorial to Hunter. The event ends with Hunter's friend Claremont Graduate University president emeritus John McGuire reading the Declaration of Independence, according to the Bulletin's obituary for Hunter.

Hunter was also the author of several books, but he may have achieved his greatest notoriety in 1930's and 1940's for his involvement with the Moral Re-Armament movement. MRA grew out of something called the Oxford Group, which was founded by an American Lutheran pastor named Frank Buchman.

The Oxford Group's Wikipedia entry tells how the group became MRA and how the group influenced the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous:
By the 1930s the Group had fallen into public disfavor, the public associated it with revivalist Protestantism which many mainstream Protestants and most Roman Catholics rejected. It began to be ridiculed in popular plays and books.[7]

In 1938, a time of military re-armament, Buchman proclaimed a need for "moral and spiritual re-armament" and that phrase - shortened to Moral Re-Armament - became the movement's name. Protest grew towards the group grew after it underwent the name change and its style became less religious and more political. It fell from favor and lost respect. Many of its critics believed it influenced appeasement policies at the beginning of the Second World War. The group later became identified with anti-communism stances before and during the Cold War.[8][9]

The Oxfords Group's influence can be found in Alcoholics Anonymous. Both Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, the two founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, were members of the Oxford Group. Though early AA sought to distance itself from the Oxford Groups, Wilson later acknowledged: "The early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Group and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else."[10] image

Hunter's involvement with MRA brought him into contact with Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman, and Hunter later corresponded with Truman's daughter Margaret. In 1988, Hunter the Truman Library interviewed Hunter as part of an oral history project.

Hunter told the Truman Library how he got involved with MRA:
I decided that I wanted to get into politics. When I was graduated from Carleton in 1936, I went to the Harvard Law School, which has sometimes been known as a "stepping stone to greatness." Michael Dukakis is one of those that followed a similar trail.

Before too long I decided that law and politics and diplomacy weren't really going to do that much. Besides, I had always from the beginning felt that I was called to get into something that dealt with people and changing people. Unless you deal with human nature, you're still always going to have the same problems, I think, because most problems stem from human nature.

While I was still a student, the program of Moral Re-Armament came by. It had been initiated by Frank Buchman back in the twenties. It was known as the Oxford Group for a while, and out of it came Alcoholics Anonymous. He was so good at life-changing that a number of alcoholics were changed. Some of them wanted to apply the Oxford Group idea only to the one problem. So they separated off. The twelve steps of AA were Frank Buchman's life-changing principles. There are over a million living recoveries and it is growing around the world.

I kept on with the Moral Re-Armament program for 18 years fulltime and a good deal of that was in Washington, D.C. I was one of the movement's Washington operatives, you might say.

Hunter's funeral will be held 10:30am Tuesday at the Claremont United Church of Christ. The UCC is located at 233 W. Harrison Ave.

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The Claremont Courier gave a rundown of today's T. Willard Hunter Speakers Corner, which begins at 11am in Claremont's Memorial Park:
11:00 - Claremont Mayor Corey Calaycay
11:10 - CUSD Board Member Steve Llanusa
11:20 - Barney Path
11:30 - Richard Harris
11:40 - Butch Henderson
11:50 - C. Freeman Allen
Noon - Tribute to T. Willard Hunter
12:10 - Claremont Councilmember Sam Pedroza
12:20 - Chuck Doskow
12:30 - Claremont Courier Publisher Peter Weinberger
12:40 - Michael Fay
12:50 - Claremont Mayor Pro Tem Linda Elderkin
1:10 - Claremont Councilmember Peter Yao
1:20 - Dick Bunce
2:00 - Michael Keenan
2:10 - David Levering
2:40 - John D. Maguire

Also, don't forget today's 4th of July Parade, which starts at 4pm at 10th St. and Indian Hill Blvd. The parade runs south on Indian Hill to Harrison Ave. and then heads west to Mountain Ave.

And the gates for tonight's concert and fireworks show open at 6:30pm. The show takes place at Pomona College's Strehle Track at the corner of 6th St. and Mills Ave. The fireworks start at 9pm. If you haven't purchased tickets, you might still be able to get them at the gate for $8 if there are any available.