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Cleo Kocol

October 8, 2106—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 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.

Subsequently, 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 the editor.

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 Bellevue.

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.

Cleo’s final 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 sorely missed.

—Bill Potts, President, HAGSA


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