8, 2016—Cleo Fellers Kocol, who lived a life of constant achievement, died
after a short illness at the age of eighty-nine on July 5, 2016. On October
16, 2010, she was inducted into the Freethought Hall of Fame.
On January 12,
1927, Cleo was born to non-religious parents in Cleveland Ohio. After high
school, as World War II was ending, she worked for the Department of the
Navy, following which she worked as a medical secretary, doctor’s assistant,
and assistant hospital administrator.
Cleo succeeded as a social activist, a feminist, a Humanist, a poet, a
historian, a novelist (both historical and fictional), a teacher, an
actress, a playwright, a public speaker, and a prolific writer of letters to
In 1960, Cleo
married Hank Kocol, a health physicist. Her feminism and atheism came to the
fore when she and Hank lived in New Jersey in the 1970s, moving to
Washington State in 1979. They joined the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF)
and the American Humanist Association (AHA). She served on AHA’s national
board, co-chaired its Feminist Caucus for many years, and received an award
as AHA’s Humanist Heroine in 1988.
In 1980, Cleo
and Hank became part of a weekly Sunday picket at the Mormon Temple in
Bellevue to protest the LDS church’s opposition to the Equal Rights
Amendment. She and twenty others were arrested for chaining themselves to
the temple gates to stop Mormon President Spencer Kimball from entering. Two
subsequent acts of civil disobedience were in front of the White House in
Washington D.C. and at the Federal Building in Seattle. While in Washington
State, Cleo put her talents to good use by teaching creative writing at
Nathan Hale High School in Seattle and the Vocational/Technical Institute in
In 1981, Cleo
and Hank moved to Sacramento, where they became members of the Humanist
Association of the Greater Sacramento Area (HAGSA), which was and still is
an AHA Chapter. At the 1988 AHA Conference, Cleo received the Humanist
Heroine Award. In 1993, they also joined the newly-formed Atheists and Other
Freethinkers (AOF) as charter members. They were loyal members of both
organizations, with Cleo making presentations at regular meetings of each
one. As a poet, she did many readings from her collections and her magazine
submissions (e.g., The Humanist, Freethought Society News, and others).
Along the way, she won many awards for her activism and her writing and
performing talents. She also received accolades for their presentations in
the Sacramento area to meetings of both HAGSA and AOF.
In 2003, she and
Hank drove most of the route followed by the Lewis and Clark expedition. The
following year, one month prior to the bicentennial of the start of the
expedition, they kept an audience of HAGSA members and others in rapt
attention as they presented a short history of the expedition itself and of
their own experiences along the route. Cleo’s presentations were typically
followed by a lively discussion. This one was no exception.
Much earlier, in
1986, Cleo and Hank had traveled to China to lecture before learned Chinese
audiences, she on American literature and he on nuclear medicine. Prior to
their departure, Hank, already multilingual, spent a year learning Mandarin.
At HAGSA’s November 2011 HAGSA meeting, Cleo made a presentation on their
experience and her knowledge that was breathtaking in scope, ranging from
the 1949 Communist revolution to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s,
Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 visit, and to the Tiananmen Square massacre. She
delighted her audience with an additional but related presentation of The
Good Foreigner, a romantic quasi-historical novel, set in both China and
America. Reviews of this and other books by Cleo can be found at Amazon.com.
A more complete
description of the brilliant and engaging Cleo Kocol can be derived,
implicitly, from her books. Her own very detailed insight of her life with
Hank and of his death may be found between the covers of her final book,
The Last Aloha.
public appearance, on March 27, 2016, was her one-woman, two-act play, My
Thomas Jefferson, in which she breathed life into the roles of Martha
Jefferson, daughter Patsy Jefferson (née Martha), and Harriet Hemings,
Jefferson’s daughter by Sally Hemings, who was one of the Jeffersons’ house
slaves. Her March appearance at Sacramento’s Reason Center was the second of
only two showings of the play, the first being at Sun City Roseville, where
Cleo and her husband Hank lived and founded a Humanist group. She received
standing ovations for both performances.
Cleo will be
Potts, President, HAGSA
HAGSA News Archive
Click below to see the
HAGSA News Archive, containing news items going back to December 2003.