By AMANDA METSKAS
Mar. 03, 2010
The following is written in remembrance of Helen Kagin, beloved co-founder of Camp Quest, who died two weeks ago at the age of 76.
It's hard to begin writing about what Helen Kagin has meant to the freethought movement. There is simply too much to say.
Helen contributed to our movement in so many ways. She was a founder of her local group, the Free Inquiry Group of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, which was established in 1991. In 1996, Helen and her husband Edwin founded Camp Quest, a camp for the children of nontheists, where Helen was the registrar and co-Camp Director for ten years. She also helped others start new Camp Quests in other locations. In 2005, Helen and Edwin were awarded the Atheists of the Year award at the national convention of American Atheists. In 2007, Helen helped organize the Rally for Reason outside the gates of the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky. Most of these accomplishments came after she retired in 1995 from a long, successful career as an anesthesiologist.
But that long list of what Helen has done barely scratches the surface of who Helen Kagin was, and what she meant to us. Helen's kindness, amazing smile and gentle caring welcomed me, and so many others, into the freethought community. I met Helen and Edwin in 2003, not long after realizing that there was an organized atheist and humanist community. They immediately made me feel like part of the family, and encouraged me to get involved.
Helen had that effect on many people. Over the last two weeks, I've seen so many Facebook posts and blog entries from Camp Quest campers and counselors talking about what Helen meant to them. Here's one of those stories, shared by a longtime Camp Quest counselor, Sarah Menon:
I met Helen (and Edwin!) back in 1997 at a Center for Inquiry event. Somehow they convinced me to join the staff of Camp Quest that summer, and so I found myself on a 20-hour trip by Greyhound bus from Boston to Ohio a few months later. People don't always believe me now, but I was a very shy and quiet kid, even in college, and going off to be a camp counselor in a faraway land with a bunch of strangers was extremely nerve-wracking for me. I spent the whole bus ride thinking this was a huge mistake and way beyond my abilities. Then I walked in the Kagins' front door and Helen greeted me with a hug and integrated me right into the ongoing pre-camp activities.
Helen, I am so incredibly grateful to you for reaching out to me and drawing me into the community–the camp family, really–that you helped to found and shape. In bringing to Camp Quest your intrinsic kindness and warmth, and your infectious enthusiasm, you helped create a safe place for me and so many others to share our experiences and thoughts, and to form our identities as freethinkers. You probably never knew how much you helped me grow as a person. I feel honored to have known you.
Edwin Kagin, co-founder of Camp Quest, wrote of his wife Helen, "If you would honor her accomplishments and memory, do not send flowers; do not send money to some charity. Help send a kid to Camp Quest." Thus, to honor Helen's legacy, and in keeping with Edwin's wishes, Camp Quest has established the Helen Kagin Memorial Campership Fund. The Kagin Fund will provide free or reduced registration fees at any Camp Quest camp for campers with financial need. Donations to the Helen Kagin Memorial Campership Fund can be made through PayPal at http://www.camp-quest.org/ or by mailing a check to Camp Quest, Inc.; P.O. Box 2552; Columbus, OH 43216 and writing "Kagin Fund" in the memo.
Helen died two weeks ago at age 76 from complications following lung surgery. She will be greatly missed.
For more stories about Helen, please see the following links:
Amanda K. Metskas is the executive director of Camp Quest, Inc. (www.camp-quest.org). She has been involved with Camp Quest since 2003, and became executive director in 2007. Currently, Amanda focuses on providing coordination and support services to all of the Camp Quest programs. She is co-author with Dale McGowan, Molleen Matsumura and Jan Devor of Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief.