Fred Orville Lanphear, an important contributor to the communities movement and cofounder of Songaia Cohousing Community (Songaia.com), died on September 9, 2010 at the age of 74. Fred passed surrounded by his loving family, including Nancy Lanphear, his wife of 51 years, his three children, and most of his grandchildren. Earlier in the evening, his Songaia neighbors sang with and for him. We sang four of his favorite songs including Simple Gifts and Song of the Soul. This blend of family and community was core to Fred’s way of being in the world.
Fred’s life was one of quiet accomplishment. He was a doer, a hands-on greener of the earth, a student and teacher of spirit, and a builder of community. His leadership was expressed through collaboration—he helped gather people into groups and empowered them to tell good stories, make good symbols, and sing good songs. Throughout the last stage of his life, he accepted and embraced his final journey. He shifted into an inspiring life of being; he helped others face mortality as they participated and supported his gradual transformation to spirit.
Fred’s tireless devotion to the Songaia community began with the first articulation of its vision in 1990. His organizing skills served the forming community well during its 10-year journey to construction in 2000. As the 13 Songaia families moved in, his nurturing support continued the development of a strong community culture with frequent gatherings over common meals, celebrations of the earth, circles, singing, and many events—both internal and outward-facing. His most visible contributions are the landscape and garden designs which enhance the natural beauty of the Songaia land. In recent years, Fred and Nancy invested in Songaia’s expansion as some Songaia members acquired two adjoining properties, allowing additional families to join the community.
Many of those in the intentional communities movement came to know Fred through his volunteer work on national, regional, and local levels. Fred served on the board of the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) from 2003-2009. He cofounded the Northwest Intentional Communities Association, which has hosted regular community gatherings in the Pacific Northwest since 1992. He also attended and presented at National Cohousing Conferences. At the 2009 Conference, he was honored with the first FIC Geoph Kozeny Communitarian Award, which is given to someone whose life’s work has promoted community.
Fred served many as a role model and mentor. People felt good when they were around Fred and he enjoyed their company. His work was play and his play was work. Many at Songaia lived with Fred for many years and witnessed his growth into an Earth Elder, a role he helped define and embraced fully as he shared his love of the Earth and told its story in the context of the universe.
Until his 72nd year, he was a tireless worker. He thoroughly enjoyed garden work, carpentry, and designing landscapes. Although he was a professor of horticulture at Purdue University in his 30s, he was “Farmer Fred” to his fellow Songaians, especially the children.
Fred’s passing was expected because he lived with ALS for about three years. He faced this devastating disease with grace and good spirit. His community-based approach to ALS had a strong positive impact on the people around him. Shortly after his diagnosis, he invited Songaia members to be part of his final adventure. He was not asking for help, he was inviting others to participate in his journey to the degree that it felt right to them. The community whole-heartedly responded to Fred’s invitation and as the disease progressed, his community and family provided increasing levels of personal care, with some supplementary professional support.
In anticipation of his passing, Fred recorded 35 video messages in which he shared his appreciations of Songaia Community members. These two- to four-minute videos have been viewed privately by members, who heard Fred tell about the ways he treasured their relationships. These video clips have had great impact on our children, as they continue to learn about losing a person they love.
Fred was an important role model for many. His inspiration spanned many realms of community: residential intentional communities, communities of spirit, alternative medicine, and more.
Fred will continue to share with the Universe for years to come, both through his direct impact on others, the organizations he supported and helped create, and his writing. Communities magazine readers can learn more from Fred through several articles he contributed to Communities over the last decade. Most recently, he wrote of Songaia’s involvement in his final journey in Issue #145, Winter 2009.
—Craig Ragland, Songaia Cohousing Community, Bothell, Washington