James Dennis Wilcher

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Biographical Information

Denny Wilcher, (1914-1993)

"James Dennis Wilcher was born August 25, 1914. He was a member of the Methodist Church, but attended Friends Meeting. Got his A.B. in English, B.D. in Religion, and had completed 1.5 years of his doctorate in Philosophy of Education at Yale University by the time that he was drafted. He had been employed in 1940-1941 as the Director of Religious Activities at Washington and Lee University. He was a conscientious objector during World War II, and was ordered to report for alternative service, called Civilian Public Service (CPS), in June 1941. He was first sent to CPS Camp #10 in Royalston (MA); he was transferred to Camp #14 in Merom (IN), and then to Camp #37 in Coleville (CA). He was assistant director of the Royalston and Merom camps. In November 1943 he went AWOL from Camp #37. He was arrested and paroled (?) until his trial on February 25, 1944. During his parole he worked for the American Civil Liberties Union's National Committee on Conscientious Objectors in Washington (DC). He was sentenced to prison, and wrote from the Sacramento County Jail on April 6, 1944: "Days of imprisonment here have meant much. There is the intellectual insight which comes from a month of living on the 'other side of society.' There is also the emotional identification with a group of men, many of whom are no more 'guilty' than the society which sent them there. There is a real ministry we can offer here. Our backgrounds of experience and contacts have been of tremendous value, I find." He was transferred to McNeil Island Federal Prison Camp, where he was a prisoner from circa June 1944 through circa January 1945.

"After his release his life is primarily undocumented by his papers. However, it is known that he, along with Roy Kepler, Lewis Hill, and E. John Lewis helped start the first listener-sponsored radio station (KPFA), and Pacificia Foundation, a larger umbrella organization, which connects KPFA and other public radio stations. Wilcher, with other pacifists, started the Walden Center and School in Berkeley (CA) in the late 1950s, as they did not want their children to have to endure the "brainwashing" of the public school system. Then he went on to work for the Sierra Club for 20 years, where he served as the assistant to the Executive Director and developed the Club's books division. The Denny and Ida Wilcher Award of the Sierra Club was established to honor Wilcher's outstanding leadership in developing the Club's fundraising programs. In 1980, Wilcher co-founded the Alaska Conservation Foundation, which has an award in his honor that recognizes youth for their activism. Wilcher's wife, Ida Shagaloff, was a professional dancer and an exhibiting artist." [1]

Alaska Conservation Foundation

"Launching Alaska Conservation Foundation was co-founder Denny Wilcher’s “retirement” project. It was 1979, and Denny Wilcher was nearing age 65, coming to the end of almost two decades at the Sierra Club. His leadership of the club’s publications and development operation had helped turn the organization into a national political force. At the same time, Congress was nearing the end of the decade-long battle to pass the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The bill would protect over 100 million acres in new or expanded national parks, refuges and national forests in Alaska. From his post at the Sierra Club, Denny had helped convince people around the country to give money to pass the historic Alaska lands bill. As part of that work, Denny got to know Alaska conservationists like Celia Hunter and Peg Tileston...

"With help from Robert Allen of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation and Aggie and Louise Gund, Denny joined the matriarch of Alaska conservation, Celia Hunter, in launching ACF... Denny stayed at ACF for ten years, stepping down in 1990." [2]

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch


  1. Denny Wilcher Collected Papers, 1941-1946 James Dennis Wilcher, organizational web page, accessed June 8, 2012.
  2. Alaska Conservation Foundation Denny Wilcher, organizational web page, accessed June 8, 2012.