Meet an ‘Out’ Outdoors member: Neysa Marie Dickey

Name: Neysa Marie Dickey.

Where I live: As of 2014, Green Valley, Ariz., roughly from November-April; Bozeman, Mont., May-October. (I bought a condo last summer up there.)

Where and when I was born: Neenah, Wis., (then headquarters for Kimberly-Clark), Oct. 26, 1949; raised in Appleton, Wis.

Family: In Appleton, a brother, Pete; niece, Dawn; great-nephew, Dominic; former sister-in-law (love her as a sister), Emma. My husband, Skip Baese, died in 2010, so my only immediate (living with me) family is my 13-year-old cat, Boo. I’ve had her since she was 8. She’s known variously as Boo, Boo-kitty, Boo-Boo, Ba-Boo-shka, Kitten-ca-Boo-dle, Bam-Boo-zler and the Boo-Meister.

Education: From the above, apparently not enough! B.A. in 1974 from Adams State College (now University) in Alamosa, Colo., in biology and environmental science, one of the first two graduates with that double major; endless training during 30 years with the National Park Service.

Occupation: Retired supervisory park ranger (Interpretation) for the NPS. Now I’m “occupied” with volunteering at an elementary school (Reading Seed program) once a week, theatrical productions, community chorus, reading, walking, hiking, traveling, weekly game night with “the gals,” book club and other fun things.
Military service: None, but my brother was a conscientious objector back in the Vietnam days and finished his two years of service in Illinois children’s homes. His action had such an influence on me, that, had I been drafted, I would’ve done the same.

How I got where I am today: This could take a while — as I understand it, it began billions of years ago. More seriously, it’s too big a question, but it might be easier if I limit my answer to how I got where I am in my atheistic thinking.

That began in the First Congregational Church (before it merged and became the United Church of Christ) in Appleton, in confirmation class. To an emotional, hormonal, bright, questioning teen, so much of the bible made no sense, was contradictory and seemed like fairy tales. I witnessed a great deal of hypocrisy in the church. Luckily, we had a liberal, open-minded associate minister at the time, Bill Charland.

When I told Bill I felt I couldn’t write the last assignment (a personal credo), he said I could write what I didn’t believe. After that, I was probably more of an agnostic than an atheist for a few years, but since nothing intervened to “prove” the existence of a god or gods, I realized I was clearly an atheist.
Where I’m headed: Bozeman, in late April or early May. Arizona summers do me in. I love having three or four seasons in Montana and returning to Arizona for the mild winters.

Person in history I admire: Since [the guidelines don’t let me] pick my father, Ed Dickey, I will go with two: Charley Scribner, my high school biology teacher, and Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. Charley was a longtime summer (“seasonal”) naturalist in Glacier National Park. It’s hard to say, but I suspect (at least subliminally) he influenced my choice of college majors and my life’s career. Dawkins? Read the book. And Charles Darwin fits well with my other two choices, don’t you think?

A quotation I like: “It is good to tell one’s heart.” (Native American proverb on a refrigerator magnet I bought in an airport.)

These are a few of my favorite things: The northern Rocky Mountains, waterfalls, New Zealand, writing, acting, singing, hiking, Boo, wolves, owls, open-minded humans, laughter, languages, accents, limericks, UpWords, playing UpWords with BFF Susan, family and friends.

These are not: Mixing of church and state (surprise!); poor grammar and spelling, especially in letters filled with typographical or other errors from supposed professionals (education administrators, bankers, etc.); rotten and/or aggressive drivers; people who mispronounce my first name (rhymes with Lisa) after they’ve been told the correct pronunciation several times.

My doubts about religion started: See above. Somewhere along the line, I came across a copy of Freethought Today. I thought the atheist equivalent of “I’d died and gone to heaven.” Here were like-thinkers, mentors, role models, activists, folks who understood my struggle. I felt as though I could breathe. That’s not when my doubts started, but when they solidified.

Before I die: I’d like to feel joy and contentment with my everyday life and feel hope for the planet.

Ways I promote freethought: Mostly with my words and actions, having long ago come out of any closet I might have been in regarding my atheist status. I write letters to newspaper editors and other entities reminding them of the need to follow the U.S. Constitution and to be open and accepting of all people, regardless of religion or lack thereof. Every year I send out a winter solstice poem summarizing my year.

I wish you’d have asked me: What national park areas I worked in. They were (current names) Great Sand Dunes, Colorado; Timpanogos Cave, Utah; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota; Rocky Mountain regional office, Denver; Dinosaur National Monument, Utah-Colorado (where I met my husband); Pacific Northwest regional office, Seattle (now merged with the San Francisco office); Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, Montana (a lesser-known treasure); Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming-Montana-Idaho (we lived in the park at Canyon).

You also could have asked how did you get your name? My parents were looking in a book of baby names when my mother was pregnant with me. Neysa is the Slavic form of her name Agnes. We weren’t Slavic, but my parents liked the name, so she was Agnes Marie and I am Neysa Marie. Also at the time, there was an illustrator for McCall’s and other magazines, Neysa McMein, who was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, and Mother liked the name from her, too. Ironically perhaps, she died about five months before I was born.

Freedom From Religion Foundation