If you are an atheist and say so fairly loudly, you probably will not have as many friends as if you attended a big church. You could have a lot of friends, but they might be seeable only at conventions and meetups. And some of the people in your local group or meetup might be persons you would not care to interact with for any known purpose.
When I met Helen, she had just quit attending the Episcopal Church. We discussed religion and, when she said she believed in god but was not so sure about the Jesus part, I knew she was almost there. I had been a non believer for some time. Did not take her long. She soon became an atheist and proud of it, by dog.
When I suggested the idea that became Camp Quest, Helen took to it like a piranha to the Amazon. She was totally dedicated to Camp Quest and worked seemingly nonstop on it for ten years. She authorized expending thousands of dollars of our own money to keep it going. Our barn was full of the products of our adventure and imagination. After ten years, she and I retired to put our vision into younger hands. And we have been satisfied beyond all expectations at what they have done.
We attended the conventions of all major freethought organizations, and we spread the word of Camp Quest in every way possible—by talks, letters, telephone calls, and by being generally pushy. We recruited unpaid staff by telling the target about this new summer camp for the children of un-belief and by asking them “Do you have something more important to do this summer?” Lots of very good people signed up for this abuse. Some have now started CQs in their own states. A number of former campers are now on staff. As Helen put it, Camp Quest has reached critical mass. We had lots of friends, but none of them were our neighbors.
I once said to her that if she was to be remembered at all, it would not be because of twenty five years of work as a physician. It would be because she was a founder of Camp Quest.
Her last public appearance was with me at a talk at a Unitarian Church. I had horrified some of the attendees by, inter alia, using the A word, which they appear not to like. When I condemned the attempt to teach Creation in place of, or together with, Evolution in the public schools, one fellow in the back asked what was wrong with giving the children “both sides.” Helen was on her feet, oxygen line removed, to tell this fellow just why—that Evolution underpinned all of the life sciences, that it was not a guess, but a fact. The audience was stunned. People are supposed to be more willing to consider all everythings, many in the audience seemed to think. Helen did not. She thought that the substitute for teaching Evolution was ignorance.
If you go to the Answers in Genesis website, and put Helen Kagin into the search engine, you should be able to find all sorts of awful things being said about her. Didn’t bother her a bit. She was proud of it. When she discovered that the great nonsense, the Creation Museum, was to be built in rural Kentucky farmland about ten miles from our house, Helen got going. She, and an equally horrified female veterinarian actually went door to door to tell people just why the project was nonsense and that the architects thereof were attempting to violate the zoning laws. And the governing body of the County rejected Answers in Genesis’s request to rezone and let them do as they wished was defeated. The credit for this goes largely to Helen. To be sure, they did eventually build somewhere else, as you probably unhappily know, but it is not in our back yard and we did not oppose that effort. We are in fact in favor of free speech. But we are also in favor of following the law.
Helen Kagin, my wife and best friend, died two years ago today, February 17, 2010, at 6:55 pm. She was 76 years old.
Today is also the death day of Giordano Bruno, who was murdered by the Christian Inquisition. He was burned alive on February 17, in the year 1600, Common Era. Helen’s death was far more gentle.
Not a day passes in which I do not think of her. I have been painfully widowed for two years.
Here are a few photos from her remarkable life.
Readers are invited to submit more.
Thanks for sharing her wonderful story.
Darrel Ray says
Edwin, we are carrying on her legacy in Kansas and Oklahoma. Oklahoma starts this summer and Kansas next summer. As people learn about Camp Quest, volunteers and leaders seem to come forward. Thanks to you and Helen for a great idea.
I had the great good fortune to have met Helen several times (Marshall University and New Jersey Humanists. I loved her strength and her forthright attitude. “We are all perfect human beings” she said. “We make mistakes, but every human does–we are perfect in our mistakes.” I always carry that phrase with me.
Thanks for this essay, Ed. And, as always, I am sorry for your loss.
She sounds like a wonderful person. I’m sorry for your loss.
Beautiful tribute, Edwin. Thank you.
Her office looked like mine does! She was obviously a superior person.
I am sorry you lost her, Edwin. When I think of people I have lost, I try to focus on how bloody lucky I was to have known them. This post shows that you do that, too.
Timid Atheist says
What an amazing lady. Thank you so much for sharing just a small part of her life. She sounds like a wonderful person and the kind of person I look up to. If only I had the courage to be like her, to be loud and proud of being an Atheist and to fight against ignorance and breaking the law. Sadly where I live I could easily lose my daughter if I were to admit I’m an atheist right now, while in the middle of a custody battle.
Those pictures are gorgeous. She has such a wonderful smile. Thank you again for sharing.
Jana TheVegan Piranha says
What an utterly stunning human being she was. You were lucky to have found each other, and smart enough not to lose each other. Camp Quest was only a part of the legacy that was your life with Helen, and I know she’d be so happy for you in continuing your life and work as you are now. Namaste.
I’m sorry for your loss, Edwin. Although she may be gone, the good memories will remain.
Ed Buckner says
Helen Kagin was as good as it gets–a woman of such vigor, intelligence, beauty, wisdom, graciousness, friendliness, and charm that there can never be another like her. She had as good a sense of humor as anyone I’ve ever known, and all who knew her and know Edwin (not, please, “Ed”–Edwin demands, rightly, to be distinguished from the likes of me), know that the most important thing Edwin brought to the marriage was that he made her laugh. And her laugh was glorious music. Any who, like me, love Edwin must second his grief on this day. All of us who knew her loved and miss her–but I know for sure Edwin misses her more than all of us combined. Best, Ed B.
My memories of my Mum.
I am not an Atheist. My memories of my mother were not so much about her Atheism obviously… because her life as an Atheist occurred after I had left home. While I participated in the first few Camp Quests and attending a couple towards the end.. I almost kind of “forgot” or perhaps wasn’t paying attention to how much my mum and Edwin traveled around the world and the country talking about Camp Quest and going to Atheist events as Camp Quest Ambassadors.(Conferences, Lake Hypatia etc) and of course Camp Quest OHIO and Camp quest Michigan every summer!.
I remember how much my mother worked on Camp Quest as the registrar and camp doctor. For 10 YEARS she was registrar and she did it all by HAND.. no computers (she was mostly computer illiterate so no databases or excel spread sheets for her!). I would occasionally attend Free Inquiry Group meetings (FIG), when a good speaker was in town.. and there are many find and nice Secular Humanists/Atheists that I got to know. OH.. and lets not forget the ANNUAL FIG picnic that my mum and stepdad would host at their house in KENTUCKY (complete with POOL and Pool toys and lots of dogs). Oh.. and the Creation Museum “Rally For Reason” I attended. My mum was out there, in front of the mike.. always with a smile.. She was very passionate about freedom and free thought and being a critical thinker..
I would probably disagree with my stepfather on how hardcore of an Atheist she was.. however. I was raised an Episcopalian and every Sunday my mum and I would go to Calvary Episcopal church (she told me strangely that it was a toss up between Calvary and St. Johns Unitarian.Although they have the CHURCH OF CANADA but her family wasn’t that religious and I don’t think they attended church much) She used to sing in the choir and we were both pretty active in the church. She was married to my father at Calvary Church in 1966. Anyway.. I eventually became a Pagan and she went on to becoming an Atheist… which was fine.. We both cared a lot about free thought and freedom from persecution, for Pagan’s and Atheists throughout the 80’and 90’s were seriously persecuted by Fundamentalist Christians.
Why I disagree she was a hardcore ATHEIST is because one time when she had a bad bout of pneumonia I remember connecting with her in a very special way. I spoke to her of the Anne Rice ball and of the waltzing that Anne Rice had dancers for. My mother and I went out and she bought me a bunch of CD’s with Strauss waltzes on them. We also talked about religion and spirituality. She said that when she was a girl she often would go out into nature and feel a deep connection with it.. a spiritual nature and felt that there WAS SOMETHING larger than us.. something that connects us all.. She also accepted the idea of CHI and the efficacy of healing modalities such as Acupuncture and other reasonable alternative healing practices such as massage, acupressure (of which helped “cure” her of her severe vertigo).
She had a story she would tell a lot about this wart she had on her finger as a girl. No doctor could get rid of it. They tried medicine, burning, icing .. nothing worked. Until a friend of hers said “my mother can remove your warts”.. so . figuring .. why not try.. went to her friends mother who merely tied some string around each wart and then removed it and said … “ your warts will disappear”.. and they did!.. I think within a few weeks… and they NEVER came back. She was a very open minded person. I think she was more critical of Organized Religion than anything else. She cared about critical thinking but always listened and kept an open mind. She often would be writing letters to this person or that person. Always by hand.. She was very outspoken. Most of my later memories was having engaging social political discussions with her.. always commiserating about some issue.. some idiot that said this or did that.. “Can you believe it.. !!..” we would always be on the same page. I enjoyed those discussions. She was always engaged in what was going on in the world.
And she was the most generous mother anyone could have. She probably deserved a better daughter than I was.. but I cared about her and loved her a lot and a lot of the early mother daughter child/parent squabbles faded away as maturity and wisdom and compassion grew. I was her only child and so that care was present in my life. I have a lot of wonderful memories that I need to write down more… but I was inspired to write this (poorly written off the cuff) missive.
I miss her everyday and there is so many things I would love to continue talking with her about..
Thinking of you today, Edwin. I’m sad that I never got the chance to meet your wife. I am constantly hearing wonderful things about her. Thanks for all the hard work that both of you put into making Camp Quest the faulous place it is. I’m glad I’m part of it.
Allen C. Dexter says
You were so fortunate to have found this wonderful woman, just as I am fortunate to have found my Phyllis. I only wish she was more activist minded, but we at least agree and she lets me pursue my blogging, etc. and goes with me to local free thought meeetings.
I see that we must be of similar age (I’m 77). It’s rewarding to see that more and more younger people are coming along. Our time is limited.