‘Forward Thinking’ Kotulas Honored (May 1994)

More than 90 friends, colleagues and admirers feted Jo and Charline Kotula, founding members of the national Freedom From Religion Foundation, at a recognition dinner sponsored in New Jersey by the Foundation on April 10.

Following a sumptuous catered dinner, the couple was lauded for their freethought activism dating to the 1950s and for 16 years of generous support and commitment to the Foundation as executive officers and directors of the New Jersey chapter.

Anne Gaylor, Foundation president, gave brief biographical sketches. She noted that Charline Kirkpatrick Kotula is an ardent feminist and freethinker who had a wonderful role model in her politically active mother.

Jo and Charline met in San Antonio, Texas. Charline said they were married two weeks after their first date. Jo, though, says he would never marry someone after only two weeks. He thinks they were married three weeks after their first date. They have been married more than 60 years. They went east in 1931 when Jo’s career as an illustrator and fine artist took off. They have five children, three of whom attended the gala.

In 1954 they helped to organize the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, which met at the local Y. Charline was on a committee searching for a place to buy, with a cap of $50,000. She found the wonderful brick mansion now housing the Society, which was for sale for $53,500. In order to make sure they would be able to purchase it, the Kotulas (with their usual optimism and 150% commitment to a cause) borrowed on their insurance and mutual fund and put up their house for collateral, remaining active in the Society for many years.

Charline became a Planned Parenthood volunteer. She and Jo made many trips to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate for civil rights, farm workers, against nuclear proliferation and the Viet Nam war. Jo became famous for his letters to the editor. In 1978 they became founders of the national Foundation, driving thousands of miles to attend meetings and conventions, sending monthly donations, organizing regular New Jersey events for Foundation members and arranging public relations.

Jo Kotula is an acclaimed artist. When aircraft production burgeoned, the demand for illustrations of airline, business and military planes grew, and Jo developed his special style of aviation art. He not only painted airplanes, but flew them, sometimes delivering paintings by plane.

Jo’s interest in flying safety resulted in his design of an inflatable air bag in 1941. He is credited with the air bag’s design now used for cars.

He painted every cover for Airplane News, a total of 400, for 38 years. In 1939, he sent a preliminary sketch of a four-engined airliner to the Saturday Evening Post. To his astonishment, the drawing was approved “as is,” which may be the only such instance in the publishing history of the magazine.

In a single month in 1939, he had covers on four magazines: Saturday Evening Post, Air Trails, Model Airplane News and Popular Science.

His story and artwork are featured in the April 1994 Private Pilot.

Foundation member Leonard Amada praised the Kotulas not just for taking “the path less trodden, but for inviting me along to take that walk with them.”

Longtime friend Vera Williamson said when she heard about the dinner, she was “inundated with wonderful memories,” calling Jo and Charline “prime movers … who gave us courage and support to separate from the church, always enthusiastic, sharing of news, events and ideas.” She praised Charline’s “feisty spirit,” and the couple’s “determination, commitment, enthusiasm, energy. Life is to be lived. That is what Jo and Charline Kotula are all about!”

Larry Churchill, a Foundation member, presented the Morristown UU Society with a lovely painting by Jo.

On behalf of the Foundation, Anne Gaylor presented the couple with a thank-you plaque engraved with a favorite photo, along with other gifts and expressions of gratitude. The evening ended with a warm standing ovation in the Kotulas’ honor.

A daughter who could not be in attendance, Nella, sent a note congratulating her parents, observing: “The usual relationship with parents and their offspring is one in which the younger generation feels their elders are ‘behind the times,’ therefore, the offspring who represent the future have to ‘rebel’ and ‘pave a new way.’

“You, two, however, have been forward thinking role models who have not only stimulated our thinking with advanced ideas but because you have reinforced your thoughts with action, you have inspired us to become partners in your quest. We thank you for your pioneering efforts and most importantly for your continuing efforts over an extraordinary period of time.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation