Rafael Jess Portillo, 62, San Salvador, El Salvador
Rafael Portillo found and enthusiastically served the Baha’i Faith in the United States, then in midlife returned to assist in the development of Baha’i communities in his native El Salvador. He passed away December 14, 2012.
A letter of tribute from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States says in part, “[W]e wish to convey our especial gratitude and admiration for his services to our beloved Faith … as a pioneer in the international field. Without doubt, [his] heartfelt dedication and love were keenly felt by those who knew him and will be fondly remembered.”
Born in 1950 and brought to the United States as a child, Rafael found his calling as a chiropractor and practiced in Burlingame, California, for a number of years. He also coached youth soccer.
A Baha’i since 1971, he taught the Faith enthusiastically. He joined several traveling teaching projects during the 1970s including in the deep South, in Guatemala and in Watsonville, California.
With his family he moved to San Salvador, El Salvador, in 1998. Traveling widely over the years to various locales in Central America, he also helped his family organize regular Baha’i Youth Workshop performances and later was active in developing Baha’i training institutes in the region.
Rafael Jess Portillo’s survivors, all of El Salvador or California, include his wife, Lisa Groger Portillo; two daughters, Joanna and Jessica; and a son, Michael.
Yousef Mostaghim, 88, San Francisco, CA
Yousef Mostaghim was a lifelong teacher of the Faith who arose twice to support development of Baha’i communities in southern Africa. An accountant by occupation, he passed away January 7, 2013.
In a letter of condolence to his wife, Pari Dokht, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States wrote in part, “[W]e note with deep gratitude your husband’s service as a pioneer in the international field. The spiritual fragrance of your husband was certainly imbibed by many who will remember him for many years to come.”
An Iranian native, Yousef was educated at the University of Tehran and worked at various times for the U.S. Agency for International Development and Shahpur Chemical Co. He was a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Mahshahr as well as various committees, and conducted deepening classes for youth and children.
He spent a while as a pioneer in Swaziland in 1971–1972, traveling frequently within the country to teach and consolidate Baha’i communities. In 1979 his family moved to San Francisco as Iran was in revolutionary turmoil. It was three years later that Yousef moved for a few months to Gaborone, Botswana, and continued to support Baha’i activities both there and after returning to California.
Yousef Mostaghim’s survivors, all of California, include his wife, Pari Dokht; a daughter, Afrookhteh; and a son, Aref.
Paul H. Stern, 81, Grants, NM
Paul Stern, a psychological counselor, was a pioneer for the Baha’i Faith in Japan for 19 years. In later years he was active for animal rights in his region of New Mexico. Paul passed away October 4, 2012.
Born in 1931 in Wetonka, South Dakota, Paul started out following his father’s path into the ministry, attending Church of the Brethren College in Kansas and seminary in Chicago. He later earned a master’s degree in psychological counseling at the University of Arizona.
Some time after accepting the Baha’i Faith, in the mid-1970s Paul moved to Japan with his second wife, Terri, where he served in various capacities. After moving back to the United States in 1994, he worked as a prison psychologist and AA counselor in Grants.
He was a member of a local animal rights group and was appointed by the mayor to the Grants Animal Board.
Paul was preceded in death by his second wife as well as his third wife, also named Terri, and by all five of his siblings.
Wilford L. Johnson, 78, Asheville, NC
Wilford Johnson’s country-folk singing and songwriting, including such Baha’i-inspired songs as “Wildfire” and “Let’s Try Peace for a While,” leavened many a gathering over the years.
In greater society he was acknowledged as a founding father of the Sourwood Festival, an annual family-oriented, alcohol-free festival of song, dance, arts and crafts in Black Mountain, North Carolina.
Wilford passed away October 22, 2012. Born in 1934 in McDowell County east of Asheville, he lived a number of years in Ohio, including Kent, Akron and Cincinnati.
His survivors include two daughters, Cynthia and Neva; two sons, Joseph and Hugh; two sisters, Sara and Helen; a brother, Bill; 12 grandchildren; and 23 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a sister, Pauline, and a brother, Earl.
Anselm W. Schurgast, 91, Meriden, CT
Anselm Schurgast, a psychiatrist and a Baha’i virtually all his life, traveled many times in retirement to support Baha’i communities abroad. He passed away October 24, 2012.
Born in Berlin, Germany, in 1921, Anselm was brought to the United States at age 4. He was educated in Cincinnati, Ohio, and served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in the wake of World War II. In addition to private practice, he served at numerous hospitals in Providence, Rhode Island; New York City; and finally for many years in Meriden. One of his duties was as chief of psychiatry at a veterans hospital.
Enthusiastic in promoting the teachings of the Faith, Anselm served on several regional and area teaching committees in New England in the 1940s through 1960s, and also was a member of the Spiritual Assembly of Meriden for many years. He represented Rhode Island and later Connecticut three times as a delegate to the Baha’i National Convention.
After the passing of his wife, AnnJane Schurgast, in 2002, he began a series of trips of several weeks each to support teaching of the Faith, most often in Bermuda but also in Alaska, South Africa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Ezzatullah Varjavandi, 79, Columbia County, OR
Ezzatullah George Varjavandi had an eventful Baha’i life that included wholehearted service to the Faith since his childhood in the Yazd region of Iran, and continuing in the Pacific Northwest including Alaska. He passed away September 15, 2012.
Born to parents who converted to the Faith from Zoroastrianism, Ezzatullah told stories from his childhood of “going door to door on a borrowed donkey” in his hometown of Maryam Abad, Iran, gathering rugs from homes of Baha’is to use in the local Baha’i Center for Feast gatherings, according to his family.
Despite witnessing persecutions against the Baha’is, he continued to be active in the Faith and traveled as a youth to promote Baha’i teachings in other areas of Iran.
In his early 20s he came to Chicago in 1958 to learn English, then attended Millsaps Methodist College in Jackson, Mississippi, where he met and married Bobbie Jean Potts. Threats related to their mixed-nationality marriage led to their leaving the area, family members say.
The couple moved to Sitka, Alaska, supported teaching there, and served on the Local Spiritual Assembly. This experience reportedly “opened his eyes” to the idea that Baha’is whose lifestyle differed from his traditional upbringing could be sincere and dedicated to the Faith.
Ezzatullah brought up a family mainly in Cowlitz County, Washington, and Columbia County, Oregon. In both places they supported every aspect of community life and hosted regular potluck fireside gatherings, even though he was plagued with infirmities much of his adult life.
Ezzatullah Varjavandi was preceded in death by his wife, Bobbie, in 1998. His survivors include three daughters, Diane Varjavandi and Nancy Graves of Washington and Linda Zahl of Oregon; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Ford E. Otey, 92, Nashville, Tennessee
Ford Essex Otey was patriarch of a four-generation Baha’i family and a well-loved pillar of Nashville’s Baha’i community. He was a believer more than 70 years, having been taught the Faith in 1938 by the Hand of the Cause Louis G. Gregory and by his future brother-in-law, Albert James, Tennessee’s first Bahá’í youth. Ford passed away December 30, 2012.
Born in 1920, Ford lived in Nashville virtually his entire life except for his Army service in Japan and Korea during World War II. He married Elnora James in 1942 and they brought up three children, including a nephew they raised as a son after Elnora’s sister-in-law died in childbirth.
His loving spirit and willingness to help others was well-known among Bahá’ís and friends as well as those Ford knew from his work in funeral homes, the family grocery stores, and his salvage yard. Over the decades the family hosted innumerable Baha’i meetings and housed visitors of many cultural and religious backgrounds despite the prevalence of segregation.
Ford was preceded in death by his wife, Elnora; a daughter, Julia; a granddaughter; and six siblings. His survivors include sons Ford R. (Ron) Otey and Robert James; seven grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
Parvaneh Kanani Adlparvar, 75, Lake Forest, California
Parvaneh Adlparvar worked for 37 years alongside her husband to strengthen the national Baha’i community of Lebanon, a country where the Baha’i Faith has not been recognized. They braved several wars and hardships, including a 1997 fire at the nation’s principal Baha’i center. She passed to the next world November 11, 2012, after contracting pancreatic cancer.
In a letter of condolence to her children, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States wrote, “Your mother’s indefatigable labors on behalf of the Cause of God and loving obedience to its institutions, as evidenced in her remarkable record of service as a stalwart pioneer under formidable conditions, will forever illumine the annals of Baha’i history. This exemplary maidservant of Baha’u’llah will surely be heralded by the Concourse on High for her heroic efforts on this earthly plane.”
A native of Tehran, Parvaneh moved with her husband, Zia Adlparvar, at the call of the Guardian to support the small national Baha’i community of Kuwait. “There she hosted Hands of the Cause of God, Arab dignitaries, and many Persian friends who traveled there, as well as the local seekers and believers,” according to her son Payam Adlparvar.
In 1964, on the instruction of the Universal House of Justice, the family settled in Lebanon. Zia and Parvaneh stayed there until 2002, when they moved to Louisville, Kentucky, for access to advanced medical care. Parvaneh returned to Lebanon following Zia’s passing in 2004, but was evacuated during the 2006 war and moved near family members in California.
Ruth Borah, 64, Voorschoten, Netherlands
Ruth Borah transplanted herself to the Netherlands as a Baha’i pioneer only two years after committing herself to the Faith as a college student. She co-founded and for many years helped maintain a Local Spiritual Assembly in Voorschoten, a suburb in The Hague/Leiden area, despite decades of debilitating illness. She passed away December 25, 2012.
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, in a letter of tribute addressed to its sister Assembly serving the Netherlands, wrote, “We join you in mourning her loss, yet rejoice in remembrance of Ruth’s devoted services to the Cause of God, particularly in her role as a pioneer to the Netherlands for a period of forty years. Now freed from the infirmities of this mortal world, we pray that this beloved bird of the Kingdom may soar forevermore in the heavenly realms.”
Brought up in Berkeley, California, the daughter of a professor, Ruth embraced the Faith in 1970 while attending Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On graduation she spent a year in Wayne County, North Carolina, where she served on a fledgling Local Spiritual Assembly and worked to consolidate Baha’i communities in the wake of rapid growth in numbers.
She moved to the Netherlands in 1972 and, on gaining increased command of Dutch, put her musical and speaking talents to work in presenting the Baha’i message locally, helping establish and maintain an Assembly in Voorschoten. She built up the local Baha’i library to contain several hundred volumes in about 20 languages.
Ruth worked in the editing and publications field for a number of years until chronic Sjögren’s syndrome disabled her. She survived a bout with cancer in the late 1990s.
Gerald F. Sen, 76, Alejuela, Costa Rica
Gerald Sen, a Hawaiian-born believer who lived at times in the United States and Canada, was a Baha’i pioneer in Costa Rica for 17 years. He passed away October 13, 2012.
A letter of tribute from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States to the National Assembly of Costa Rica, says, “Mr. Sen was known as a good friend to others and an admirable co-worker of the Cause, whose service included a number of years on a Local Spiritual Assembly in your country. Surely, such signs of service will influence the hearts of many for years to come.”