Celebrating the life of freethinker Kenneth Taubert Sr., 1921–2013

ken taubert protest ken taubert volunteer

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is very sorry to report the death last fall of longtime member and former treasurer Kenneth F. Taubert Sr., at Hart Park Square in Wauwatosa, Wis.

Ken was born in Madison, Wis., in 1921, and was raised, along with his sister, in a strict Catholic foster family. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age 20 and spent six years in that service. He married his wife, Virginia, in 1942.

Ken worked for many years as a supervisory custodian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was an avid golfer.

He joined FFRF in 1980. In an October 1990 article, he poignantly detailed his secular awakening:

“I left the Catholic Church when I was about 30 years old. I became disenchanted with religion in general, when we were told by a priest that our third child, whom doctors told us would not live more than one month, would not go to heaven unless he was baptized. I argued that this little fellow had done nothing wrong, and was sure to go straight to heaven. The priest insisted, so we had him baptized, but I never set foot in the Catholic Church again.” 

He went on to form the first Wisconsin group to support the rights of the mentally impaired, back in the days when it was not unusual for them to be hidden away.

Ken attended church with his wife for a number of years. “During this period, I read the bible for the first time and became a born-again atheist. From then on, I read every religious book I could get my hands on. I also read every freethought book I could find.”

He served as volunteer treasurer for more than a decade and was known to many convention-goers and readers of Freethought Today. Ken “faithfully” helped prepare Freethought Today mailings for more than a decade back when that work was done in-house. He and professor Michael Hakeem, then-chair of FFRF’s Executive Board, and Helen Hakeem, who was secretary, often engaged in freethought activism together.

Co-President Dan Barker recalls a memorable road trip with Ken and Mike to monitor a “faith-healing” event in Milwaukee featuring Peter Popoff, after Popoff’s exploits had been debunked by James Randi on “The Tonight Show.”

Ken and Mike took in another Milwaukee faith-healing event (“An Evening with W.V. Grant,” June/July 1991), with Ken noting, “I cannot think of a group more loathsome than the faith healers.”

He once turned out at 6:30 a.m. with a few hardy FFRF “non-souls” to picket the appearance of U.S. Senate Chaplain Richard C. Halverson at a prayer breakfast attended by 600 religionists on a snowy morning in Madison. 

“Ken was such a good activist and joined us in several other pickets, including in front of University Hospitals to protest Gideon bible distributions,” said Anne Nicol Gaylor, FFRF president emerita.

In the May 1992 issue of Freethought Today, Ken recounted “a sweet victory” — getting his polling place in Monona, Wis., changed from a Catholic church to a public school. He also persuaded the city of Madison to enforce its own ordinance prohibiting anyone from advertising on city property, including a church that was a repeat offender.

When Ken presented his annual treasurer’s report to the convention, including recapping the annual Form 990, he invariably pointed out that churches are uniquely exempted from filling it out by the IRS. “We know Ken was 100% behind our current litigation contesting that inequity,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

She added, “Ken was genuinely the most congenial man I’ve ever met. He had a twinkle in his eye and something cheerful to say to everyone. We’re told he loved debating religion with his mostly Catholic peers at his nursing home, and vice versa. Due to Ken’s genial nature, these debates never became personal.”

Ken was an avid runner who, in retirement, turned to brisk walking. He liked to boast, after having a pacemaker placed, about keeping pace with Annie Laurie and another young woman on a 13-mile walk around a Madison lake in the early 1990s.

More than 500 books in FFRF’s library bear Ken Taubert’s initials from previous donations. FFRF was honored to be given Ken’s remaining personal library upon his death.

He was featured in a major story in The Capital Times (April 3, 1950) for his innovative volunteerism with a neighborhood “tiny tots” group. He continued throughout his life to volunteer and participate in athletic fundraisers. In retirement, he volunteered for Mobile Meals and once wrote, “I get lots of hugs, and I don’t mind that a bit.”

Ken is survived by his son, Bruce, and daughter, Marcia Hochstetter, and their families, plus several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Ken and Virginia’s sons Kenneth Taubert Jr. and Carl Taubert are deceased. 

FFRF’s staff seconds this summation in Ken’s obituary: “A man who gave everyone the benefit of the doubt and taught compassion and understanding, he will be deeply missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation