Early Tacoma Bahá’ís – Richard & Lois Nolen, Knights of Bahá’u’lláh



The first Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Terceira Island, Azores, April 1958. Photo from The Bahá’í World 1954 – 1963.


Seated left to right are Lois Nolen, Fran Plummer, Josie Wallace, and Ethel Kerns. Standing left to right are Charles Sperling, Jack Kerns, Don Plummer, Nelson Wallace and Richard Nolen. Charles Sperling later lived in Lakewood, Washington (Pierce County).








Richard and Lois Nolen

Knights of Bahá’u’lláh


          Lois A. Nolen (born on 23 July 1917) and her husband, Richard H. Nolen, became Bahá’ís in 1949 in Lansing, Michigan after studying with Kenneth and Roberta Christian.


In 1953 the Nolens pioneered to the Azores, arriving with their three children, Jean, Cynthia and John, on 8 October 1955.  For this service they were named by the beloved Guardian Knights of Bahá’u’lláh.  After a period of struggle, Mr. Nolen eventually found employment as a draftsman, first for a U.S. contractor, and then for the U.S. government at Lajes Air Force base on Terceira Island, where the first Local Spiritual Assembly was formed at Ridván 1958.  Lois Nolen, having been trained for general office work, also worked between 1954 and 1959 as supply clerk with the U.S. Corps of Engineers at Lajes Field.


Mr. Nolen diligently applied himself to a study of the Portuguese language in order to equip himself to teach the Faith.  Two more children, Christopher and Sylvia, were born to them before Mr. Nolen’s failing health forced their return to Tacoma, Washington in 1962.  Mr. Nolen died on 5 May 1964.


Throughout most of her Bahá’í life, Lois Nolen served on Local Spiritual Assemblies, at least half of that time as either corresponding or recording secretary.  She also served for two years on the Western Washington School Committee under the aegis of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States.


From 1966 until 1971, in Tacoma, Washington, Lois was in sole charge of the office of Northwest Processing Company.


       Between 1971 and August 1973, Lois Nolen and her two youngest children, Christopher and Sylvia, pioneered in Belize, Central America.  Here, she served as corresponding secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly from April, 1972 until August 1973 when the family returned to the United States.  In 1973 she was privileged to attend the International Convention in Haifa as a delegate from Belize.


Upon returning to Tacoma, Lois worked as a procurement clerk at McChord Airforce Base until she came to the World Centre in March 1981.  In the Holy Land she served for a brief time in the Department of Finance before transferring to the Pilgrimage Department.  She left the World Centre in September 1985 to return to the United States.  Her time in the service of the Universal House of Justice was enhanced by the presence of two of her children, Cynthia Walcott O’Shea, and Christopher Nolen, who served at the World Centre for varying periods of time.


(Compiled by Roger White, 17 July 1986, from information in World Centre files and from “In Memoriam”, Richard H. Nolen, ‘The Bahá’í World’, vol.  XIV)



History of the Bahá’í Faith in the Azores

Prepared for Ridván 116 (1959)



    In 1953 our beloved guardian, Shoghi Effendi, gave to the Bahá’í world the Ten Year Plan. This plan for the period, beginning in 1953 and to end in 1963, was to be a world crusade to spread the message of Bahá’u’lláh to those countries and islands where no mention of the Blessed Beauty, the Lord of the Age, had been made.  Our greatly loved Guardian asked for the Bahá’ís to leave their homes and move to these virgin territories.


The name our Beloved Guardian gave to those who answered his call, was the Knights of Bahá’u’lláh.  At this time, hundreds of Bahá’ís from all over the world and from all walks of Life, packed up and moved to those areas the Guardian deemed most necessary to further the Cause of God in this newly ordained Springtime.


    Two of these Knights to answer the Guardian’s call were Mr. Richard Nolen and his wife Lois, of Lansing, Michigan.  They, together with their three children – Jean (aged twelve), Cynthia (aged seven), and John (aged five), volunteered to go to a virgin territory.


The American N.S.A. suggested the Azores Islands because the temperate climate would be easier for the children.  They knew little of the Islands except that they were Portuguese and had a mild climate.  Application was made for passports, and the Nolens sold their house and furniture, reducing their possessions to what could be carried in suitcases, plus eight packing crates.


By September 1953 they were ready to leave Lansing for New York City. At New York they boarded the Portuguese cargo ship “Ribiera Grande” bound for the Azores Islands.  On October 8, 1953 the ship arrived at the harbor of Angra do Heroismo on Terceira Island.  For several weeks the family stayed at the Hotel Atlantico near the docks, while Mr. Nolen looked for work.  He found it was just about impossible to find employment on the Portuguese economy. The Nolen family experienced very trying difficulties while seeking employment, and it was only their possessing a strong faith in the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh that enabled them to stay at their post.  Finally, through the will of God, Mr. Nolen was employed as draftsman with the Prime contractor, Snare Irons and Reynolds, at the American Air Force Base at Lajes Field Azores, on the other side of the Island.  Soon after this they moved to a rented home in the town of Praia da Victoria, located about two miles from the Base.


The Portuguese language proved slow to learn and difficult, and the progress in teaching the Faith at first was very difficult.  Meantime, they employed a Portuguese maid while Mrs. Nolen worked at the American Corps of Engineers, and in time they regained financial stability.


   For the next 3 years the Nolens introduced the Faith to many Portuguese and Americans without making any confirmations. Finally, after four years the first confirmations were made: they were S/Sgt. Nelson Wallace and his wife Josie, and Mr. Jack Kerns and his wife Ethel. They became Bahá’ís in January 1957.  The Wallaces are from York, Pennsylvania, while the Kerns are from Wilbraham, Mass.  From May 1955 to January 1957 the presence at Lajes Air Field of Airman William Rushing.Of Flint Michigan, was a welcome aid and comfort, and brightened the Nineteen-Day Feasts.


     With this group as a nucleus, the spirit of the faith grew to include Sgt. Charlie Sperling of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who became a Bahá’í in July 1957. Shortly thereafter, A/2c Donald Plummer and his wife, Francine, of Berlin, New Hampshire.


      S/Sgt. Wallace and S/Sgt. Sperling, then became co-teachers of the first Bahá’í Sunday School on Terceira Island, attended by Nelson Wallace Jr., Jane and Susan Kerns, and Cynthia and John Nolen. Sunday school was held each Sunday at one of the homes of the children. Classes included a study of the kingdoms, such as animal, vegetable, mineral, the Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God, then a study of the nine revealed religions, topped off by the study of the Faith.


          Since there were nine adult Bahá’ís on Terceira Island, on Ridvan, April 21, 1958 they automatically became the first Local Spiritual Assembly of the Azores.  In secret ballot, Mr. Nolen was elected Chairman S/Sgt. Wallace Vice-Chairman, Mrs. Kerns Treasurer, and Mrs. Nolen Secretary.  At this time committees were formed, volunteers for the different committees were: Teaching Commitee, S/Sgt. Wallace, Mr. Kerns, and S/Sgt. Sperling – they in turn elected S/Sgt. Wallace Chairman. The Feast Committee, a committee of one, was Mrs. Plummer.  The Archives Committe volunteeres were Mr. Kerns and Sgt. Sperling – as there only two members, no chairman was elected.  A photograph of the L.S.A. was sent to the Bahá’í News in Willmette Illinois. It appeared in the September issue (No. 331, p.119), Bahá’í year 115 (1958).


            In August 1958, M/Sgt. Lawrence Reynolds from Washington, D.C., and stationed at the base, declared and became a Bahá’í, thus bringing the roll call of members to ten, creating a community which the L.S.A. reported to at each Nineteen Day Feast.


At this time there were just a few Portuguese Nationals studying the Faith.Two of these were Mr. Edmundo Cabral and Mr. Emberto Goncalves, of Praia da Victoria.  Mr. Cabral became interested in the Faith through his contact with the Kerns, while Mr. Goncalves became interested through his contact with the Nolens.  For several months studies were held at the home of the Nolens, and finally after five years of work and prayer by those two beloved Knights of Bahá’u’lláh, the Nolens’ ceaseless work and prayers bore fruit, for on the lst of December 1958, both Mr.Goncalves and Mr. Cabral declared their belief in the Bahá’í Faith. And on the 6th of December they signed their Bahá’í Declaration cards and were accepted by the L.S.A. of Terceira, becoming the first Portuguese believers of the Azores Islands.  Future generations shall always remember and be extremely grateful to those four souls, the pioneers, the Nolens, who sacrificed so much in bringing the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh to the Azores Islands, and those two searching souls, Emberto Goncalves and Edmundo Cabral and the first Portuguese to accept Bahá’u’lláh. Although this is the end of this report for the Archives for the year (Bahá’í year 115 and part of 116) it is really the beginning.


Prepared by Archives Committee members:

Emberto Goncalves

Jack Kerns

S/Sgt. C.R. Sperling

Edmundo Cabral



Lois and Richard Nolen are buried beside one another in Pierce County, Washington.


     nolen-lois-12   nolen-richard-13  


1 Comment(s)

  1. On Jul 6, 2019, Scott Young said:

    Does anyone have this photo from “The first Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Terceira Island, Azores, April 1958. Photo from The Bahá’í World 1954 – 1963”. My Aunt Ethel Kerns (nee Young) and Uncle Jack Kerns are in this photo. Thanks, Scott Young

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