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Herbert F. Vetter, Founding Director

Herbert Vetter


On August 31, 2011 the Rev. Dr. Herbert Vetter concluded forty-four years of Ministry-at-Large on behalf of the First Parish Church in Harvard Square.

He began a community ministry in 1967, beginning a series of Sunday afternoon sessions on “Harvard Square: the Future.”  The first meeting featured the Mayor and the City Manager.  Soon former City Counselor Cornelia Wheeler began hosting a weekly luncheon group confronting the challenges facing the city over the next ten years.

Other weekly dialogues also took place concerning the city and the world.  Dr. Vetter hosted dialogues which first were broadcast by Harvard College students via WHRB-FM and soon also by WGBH-FM and classical WCRB-FM.  Cambridge Forum is now broadcast by National Public Radio throughout the country.  The prestigious Lowell Institute voluntarily gave us a grant, which has continued annually through the years.

In 1983 Herb was honored by the Meadville Theological School affiliated with the University of Chicago with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree “for his work as founder and director of the nationally known Cambridge Forum.”

Soon there were weekly commercial television broadcasts of “Cambridge…USA” broadcast weekly for five years by TV in Boston.  Public television also began broadcasting a series “I Call That Mind Free,” as well as other series on war/peace and family life.  A total of 30 programs sponsored by us featuring Japan was aired on public television.  The culminating act after his retirement from Cambridge Forum was a one hour special which Dr. Vetter produced for national public television:   “Harvard Honors Nelson Mandela”.

Once he retired as the Cambridge Community Minister, he focused his time on designing colorful geometric liberal religious “Symbols of Power” for free worldwide distribution online via the Internet.  They are now among the most popular views of all of the years of the Harvard Square Library online.

Incidentally, Harvard Square Library, from which he is now retiring as Director, distributes monthly free online books to 100 countries on six continents.

Dr. Vetter served for years as a member of the United Ministry at Harvard and Radcliffe and as a member of the Leverett House Senior Society of the College.  He is a member of the Harvard Faculty Club.


Herbert Vetter was born in Baltimore, Maryland on September 27, 1923.

His father’s first wife died in childbirth delivering twin daughters, Muriel and Minnie.

His mother, Kathleen Wilson, had three brothers in varied professions:  Clarence Wilson, Chemist with Sunkist Oranges; McCulloch Wilson, executive with Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; Noble Wilson, U.S. Mint engraver.  His father was proprietor of H.F. Vetter & Company, auto accessories.  His sister, Bertha, worked for the company.

His mother worked at home and cared for a growing family of seven children.  His twin sisters did war work and sales work.  One of these two identical twins born in 1920 is still alive, as are all of his brothers except Ernest, who was a Lutheran pastor and administrator of a home for the elderly.  Ernest’s twin, Robert, a Quaker, was a social worker.  Walter a lawyer; and Donald, a social science administrator – all are now retired.

After graduating from Forest Park High School in Baltimore, Herb decided to be a conscientious objector to both the war and conscription for war.  When he was sent to a Public Service Camp for religious objectors, he discovered that the work they were doing under peace church auspices – to fell immense chestnut threes to be used to tan shoes for the military – he walked out and was sentenced to three years of federal imprisonment at Mill Point, West Virginia.  There he was assigned the job of librarian of the prison library and editor of the attractive quarterly prison magazine, The Pioneer.

After one year he was paroled to study the Great Books at the College of the University of Chicago.  His parole advisor was Dr. Albert Palmer, president of the Chicago Theological Seminary.  He lived in the CTS dorm and was employed as an oxygen therapy technician at the University Hospital.

After graduating in two years from Chicago, he chose to study at Harvard.  His parole advisor was the New Testament Professor Henry Cadbury, who that year traveled abroad to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee.

The following year he returned to Chicago to study with the Federated Theological Faculty of the University, from which he received his Bachelor of Divinity degree.  During three of these years he was the Director of Student Work at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago.  Working with Dr. Leslie Pennington was fascinating.  During this time he married a fellow divinity student, Dorothy Hagquist, who has been an inseparable companion, fellow minister, professional educator, and mother of three children.  They had their first child in Chicago:  Kathleen Ellen, who attended the opening of pioneering Hampshire COllege in Massachusetts.  Her daughter, our granddaughter is now a M.D. with the Boston Children’s Hospital. Our grandson is now a graduate student.

Herb was ordained as the Minister of the First Church in Sharon, Massachusetts.  However, he became ill and had to resign.  After recovery he became the minister of the Unitarian Congregation of Franklin, New Hampshire.  Here their second child, John, was born.  He went to Harvard and worked with the Harvard Cooperative Society.  Herb’s delightful ministry in a small church ended after several years when he chose to become the minister of a brand new church of Delaware County, Pennsylvania.  Here was a bold new opportunity for Unitarian growth.  Not only were the Church and Church School bursting with growth, but he actively encouraged the beginning of a new congregation on the famous Main Line.  The Main Line Unitarian Church, begun in 1958, is one of the foremost of all of our liberal religious congregations.  It recently celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary.  Their third child, James, was born in Pennsylvania.  He is now a graduate of Yale College and is an education researcher.

Now it became time for Herb to seek a new mode of ministry.  They returned to Massachusetts.  Malcolm Sutherland, was about to become the vice-president of the Boston Liberal religious headquarters and needed someone to server his distinguished First Parish in Milton.  A member of Herb’s Pennsylvania congregation, who held responsibility for a Forbes family Estate of 40 acres in Milton, offered free use of the property, so they moved to Milton to server the Church temporarily.

When they returned to Cambridge, Mrs. James Luther Adams, mentioned to her minister, Dr. Ralph Helverson of the First Parish in Cambridge, that their church needed a second minister to serve the community, and she suggested that Herb might fill that role.  Ralph spoke to me about this nee but said his church then had no funds for a second minister.  Hearing about this, Herb decided to server without a professional level of compensation.  That was agreeable to the church.  His new ministry began with a series of Sunday afternoon events focused on the Future of Harvard Square.  What soon developed was Cambridge Forum, which is now the longest running public affairs series broadcast by National Public Radio.  It is now broadcast locally by WGBH-FM, Boston, and 50 other radio stations.


Many of Dr. Vetter’s books that he prepared for Harvard Square Library are also available in print through the Lulu print-on-demand service, here.

hartshorn-cover  HarvardsUnitPresidents

HSqBook  isgod-cover

JLA-cover   prayers-power-cover