John Cotton Wood Kennett Square

John Cotton Wood, a resident of the Kendal Community in Kennett Square, died on Oct. 9, at the age of 97.

Born in New York City on March 8, 1917, he grew up in areas around Boston and San Francisco and summered in Europe. He attended the Ojai Valley School in southern California, St. Marks School in Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard College in 1938, and served for four years in the Army, rising to the rank of captain, during WWII. He attended white-tie dances at FDR’s White House, meeting the president and dancing with Eleanor Roosevelt and then listening to Gershwin himself play Rhapsody in Blue. Yet he was never a snob.

At age 18, John met Dr. Frank Buchman, founder of Moral Re-Armament, a network of people of many nationalities and backgrounds, committed to building trust and constructive relationships within and between nations. From Buchman, John learned, “If I listened to God, He would tell me what to do.”

Listening became the cornerstone of his life, enabling him to forge deep friendships with people, who were sometimes enemies, as he sought to help them overcome personal pain and prejudices sufficiently to unite to solve problems in their communities.  For 25 years, together with his friends in MRA and his wife, Denise Hyde Wood, whom he married in 1967, he practiced conflict resolution and reconciliation in post-war Germany and France, Zaire, Finland, India, the Philippines, Morocco and on the docks of Brazil.

In 1967, during the Vietnam War, the chief of staff of the U.S. Army asked John to organize a tour through the major army training bases, and to West Point Academy, of the 120-member cast of the musical review “Up with People,” with such success that the U. S. Air Force and the Navy made similar requests.

When John and Denise moved to Pasadena, he became the director of development for The Braille Institute in Los Angeles, with training centers for visually impaired persons of southern California. In his volunteer hours, he put together an unprecedented coalition of school district, community college, and city government to create a community skills center, training people, particularly recent immigrants, in the skills needed for the types of jobs available in the region. The center has been attended by 4,000 trainees a year ever since, an example of John’s talent for inspiring people to found organizations that would last years after he relinquished a leadership role.

John was also named chairman of a school for African-American and Latino children in an impoverished, drug-infested area of Pasadena; he was appointed senior warden of Pasadena’s All Saint’s Episcopal Church, and the city chose him to be chairman of Pasadena’s centennial celebrations, giving John and Denise “the keys to the city.”

In 1990, John and Denise moved to Kennett Square and once again listened to their community to see what they could do to improve it.  Commissioned by their church, The Episcopal Church of the Advent, and joined in the lead by their colleague Marshall Newton, they created an after-school program, “After-the-Bell,” for Kennett’s middle school students, approximately 600 of whom have signed up for each of the three sessions that have been offered every school year since 1998, at no cost to their families or to the school district.  Its novel structure and popularity resulted in its being written up in Time Magazine.

John is survived by two nieces, Elizabeth Masten Hammill of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, Marion Canfield Wood of Mill Neck, N.Y.; a nephew, John Masten of New York City; five great-nephews, Anthony and John Hammill, William Ahmed, Benjamin and Andrew Masten; and a great-great nephew, Joshua Hammill.  On the Hyde side, he is survived by a niece Cynthia Hyde Kinnealey, and two nephews, Nathanial Hyde and Dwight Hyde.

The family would like to thank the staff of Kendal and the Home Instead aides who embraced John with the love he deserved at the end of his life.

A funeral service will be held at the Episcopal Church of the Advent, 201 Crestline Drive, Kennett Square, PA 19348 on Saturday Nov. 1 at 10:30 a.m. Interment will be in Union Hill Cemetery. A luncheon in the parish hall will follow the graveside ceremony.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Kennett After School Association Founders Fund, which benefits the After-the-Bell Program.  Checks may be made out to KASA-Founders Fund, PO Box 1068, Kennett Square, PA 19348 or visit www.afterthebell.org .

Arrangements are being handled by the Foulk & Grieco Funeral Home Inc. (610-869-2685) of West Grove.  To view John’s online tribute and to share a memory with his family, please visit www.griecocares.com

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