Chuck Worley: Fearless voice for peace, justice

courtesy of Tim Worley

Charles V. Worley passed away peacefully May 26, 2016 in Delta, Colorado. Chuck, age 98, was known by many in Western Colorado as an advocate for environmental causes, for peace, and for action against economic and social injustice. Although he often found himself pushing against the tide of public opinion he was never afraid to stand up for his beliefs, or to explain them to anyone who was interested.

Chuck was born February 2, 1918 to Glen and Emma Worley, the third of six children. He grew up in and around Omaha, Nebraska where he graduated from Omaha Technical High School and studied at the Municipal University of Omaha (now University of Nebraska, Omaha). His study for a degree in sociology was interrupted by World War II, when he was drafted and his life took a very different turn.

Chuck and Betsy took their message of peace to the White House after the end of World War II.

Although he was raised in the Methodist Church which had not opposed the war, Chuck had become committed to a pacifist understanding of Christianity through his own study. He was granted status as a conscientious objector and performed alternative service such as working on soil conservation in Arkansas and fighting wildfires in California. Ultimately, he rejected this assignment on grounds that it supported the war effort and went against his pacifist beliefs, which led to prison terms for noncompliance with mandatory conscription.

Following the end of the war, Chuck and Betty Worley, his wife of 66 years at her death in 2011, began a family and lived in several states as he tried his hand at several occupations. The family moved to the Cedaredge area in 1958 where he established a plumbing and heating business with long-time business partner Fred Smith. Both of the men had the shared experience of being conscientious objectors to war.

Chuck remained a strong pacifist throughout his life, and promoted his point of view within his church and frequently in letters to the editor of local newspapers. He and his son Hank once walked from Cedaredge to Delta and back, carrying signs of protest against the Vietnam War.

As the federal Atomic Energy Commission searched for viable peaceful uses of atomic bombs in the 1960s and 1970s, Chuck was among a small number of protestors against underground tests near the town of Rulison and later in Rio Blanco County, Colorado. These experiences led him to understand the value of organizing people with shared beliefs and goals, as opposed to being a single voice of protest.

Chuck at WCC’s 1985 Annual Meeting in Montrose.

In 1976, Worley co-founded the Western Slope Energy Resource Center (WSERC, later renamed the Western Slope Environmental Resource Center) as a counterbalance to the rapid coal development appearing in the North Fork Valley with inadequate safeguards. As individuals and local groups from across Western Colorado sought to have a bigger impact on quality of life issues in their communities, Worley co-founded Western Colorado Congress in 1980. He served  as President of WCC from 1983 to 1985, and served on the Board of Directors into the late 1990s. He also served as WCC’s representative to the multi-state Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Western Colorado Congress memorializes his commitment to citizen empowerment by naming their annual leadership award in honor of Chuck and Betsy Worley.

Chuck gained an impressive knowledge of rural electric cooperatives and electric utility planning issues from disputes over the aggressive expansion plans of Montrose-based Colorado-Ute Electric, which later filed bankruptcy in 1991. After the WCC and other consumer advocacy groups successfully secured the creation of the Office of Consumer Counsel in 1984, he was appointed by Attorney General Duane Woodard to its Utility Consumer Advocates Board and served a term as its chairman.
A prolific writer, Chuck frequently expressed his views on environmental and economic issues in letters to various Colorado newspapers. His letters from prison to his wife during the tail end of World War Two were published in a book, Out of Bounds, edited by John Ellison. That book also included a selection of his poems, a form of expression he enjoyed for many years and shared with other members of the Writers Group in Cedaredge.

He was an active member of the Cedaredge United Methodist Church, where he sang in the choir for many years. While outspoken in his beliefs, Worley also displayed a keen sense of humor and quick wit. He enjoyed being known to some local residents as “the singing plumber” and often literally whistled while he worked.

Preceding him in death were his wife Betty and daughter, Dawn Worley. Chuck is survived by one sister, Mary Ellen Campbell of Sandpoint, Idaho; sons Ross, Hank (Sharry), and Tim (Anne); daughters Susan Worley and Faith Heckman (John); and by 11 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled at 10:30 am, Saturday, June 25 at the Cedaredge Community United Methodist Church. Taylor Funeral Service is handling arrangements. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be given in his name to either Western Colorado Congress or the Cedaredge Community United Methodist Church.

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