Francis Hole

Francis Hole told a story once in his Touching the Earth program: a Professor of Soil Science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, one day he was lying on his stomach on a patch of grass on the campus.  He was examining the ground for worms.  After a time, he glimpsed a pair of feet nearby.  He looked up and saw a teary-eyed coed staring at him.  She murmured, “You poor man!”, scurried over, placed a dollar by him and dashed away.  Smiling, Francis noted, “I guess she thought I was drunk!”

Francis Hole (1913-2002) was a musician, puppeteer, writer and teacher.  He was known for his contribution to recording the soils and their properties in the Wisconsin region.  He was also known for his use of humorous talks and arts to popularize soil science, employing his violin and puppets, especially in the Touching the Earth program.  Another high point of his career was his campaign to get Antigo Silt Loam recognized as the official state soil of Wisconsin.  Francis published over 50 books on technical and pedagogical aspects of soil science.  His work led him to be dubbed the “Ambassador of Soils” and the “Poet Laureate of Soil Science”.  He, on the other hand, always introduced himself as “Francis D. Hole, TNS” (Temporarily Not Soil).

Francis Hole grew up a Quaker in Friends Churches in Richmond, Indiana.  He attended Haverford College and Earlham College, where he first participated in unprogrammed worship.  During World War Two, he was a conscientious objector, serving on a trail-clearing crew in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and as an assistant in U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratories.  In 1946 Francis became one of the founding members of Madison (NYM) Meeting.  (He stated that he liked Madison Friends very much, not the least because it was marvelous that scholarly people could be silent most of the time).   He wrote for Friends Journal and other Quaker publications, and he co-wrote, with Ellie Shacter, A Little Journal of Devotions Out of Quaker Worship, a collection of spiritual messages. He was also a regular speaker at Friends events.

I saw Francis Hole perform his Touching the Earth program at Friends General Conference Gathering, and I danced when he played his violin for square-dances at Northern Yearly Meeting at Wild Rose.  He struck me as sprightly and wise, one of those wonderful older Friends I met when I first came into Friends Meetings in the early 1970’s.  They were the kind of people I wanted to grow up to be.

Below is a link to an interview with Francis Hole.  There’s not much talk about art but I was touched to see one of those older Friends again.

And a quote:

“Green vegetation and the ground on which we step are bathed in sunlight – but not plant roots, not our own Inner Light. They work in blessed darkness.”

Gary Sandman

February 2020

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