John had already registered as a Conscientious Objector to all wars when he began attending the Friend’s Meeting of Washington, DC where his interests in conscientious objection and in race relations were supported and encouraged. In 1944 John’s boss discovered that he was a conscientious objector and he was instantly fired in those highly charged war years. Within months, he married Carol Zens and shortly thereafter, he was ordered to report for induction. He refused to take the oath and was arrested and sentenced by a Federal court to serve 5 years in prison. He served a total of 22 and a half months before his release in November of 1946 because the war had already ended. While John was in prison, Carol gave birth to Susan and she and the baby were sheltered by a Quaker family where John joined her at the time of his release. Many years later John wrote and self published his book, "An American Prisoner of Conscience in World War Two," about his wartime imprisonment. This book is available free on the Providence Monthly Meeting website.
Right after his release from prison, John worked for the National Council for the Prevention of War, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation where he was one of four in the office the year of its founding. In 1947 in a program under the American Friends Service Committee, John was hired at Penn Craft near Brownsville, Pennsylvania to manage the construction of self-help housing by coal miners. While there, John’s daughter Wendy was born.
The City of Providence, Rhode Island hired John in 1950 as a City Planner and he continued in that job until retirement. The family joined the Providence Monthly Meeting of Friends and they were active in the Monthly and Yearly Meetings. In 1952, John chaired the committee of the Equal Housing Opportunities Group that wrote the fair housing law for the State of Rhode Island. In 1958 he had a leading role in founding the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.
John’s wife, Carol, died of cancer in 1967 after a long illness. He married Ruth Arnold in 1970 and they enjoyed 7 very happy years until she died suddenly in 1977. He married Ann Urey in 1978 and she and her two young children, Robert Clayton and Jessica, became the third Kellam family living in John’s house on Firglade Avenue. Tuoc Phan and Dat Phan were Vietnamese refugees who were informally "adopted" into the family in the 1980s. After retirement, John and Ann went cruising in their sailboat "Peace" including an offshore voyage to Bermuda, and other destinations.
In 1987 John and Ann and the American Civil Liberties Union brought a free speech suit against the United States Coast Guard which had interfered with their sailing protest flying anti war banners from the rigging of "Peace" against the building of nuclear submarines at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. The suit was successful and was covered as front page news in several major newspapers in America.
Ann and John separated in 1990 and divorced in 1995, but were able to transform the unhappy marriage into an excellent friendship to their mutual joy. When John was diagnosed with advanced and untreatable lung cancer in the spring of 2012, Ann and her husband Neville Clement rushed back to Firglade to take care of their good friend under the direction of Hospice nurses. He died July 25 at home with family and the Clements attending.
There will be a Memorial Meeting for Worship on Sept 29, at 2pm, in the Providence Friends Meeting located at 99 Morris Avenue on the east side of Providence. There will be refreshments to follow
In lieu of florwers, donations to:
Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island
1085 North Main Street
Providence, Rhoe Island