In Memoriam: Jean Gams


Foundation Lifetime Member Jean Gams, 89, of Oshkosh, Wis., who had been a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation since 1979, died on April 24, 2009.

She was born in Oshkosh, and was married to Frank M. Gams, who preceded her in death. Jean was featured in the April 2006 Freethought Today article, “Jean Gams, 87 Years an Activist.” The profile recounted her refusal to join her congregational church at age 15, knowing of no other nonbeliever at that time. Her nonbelief led to a lifetime of reading.

After a stint at hairdressing, Jean worked in various office jobs, although it was not expected of married women in those days: “I couldn’t stand to stay home!” She “raised moderate to large hell every year” over a state/church violation in Wautoma, Wis., in which the Knights of Columbus planted a nativity scene on public land every December.

In 2006, Jean worked with the Foundation to defeat the erection of a “Christmas Box Angel” in city-owned Menominee Park. The family suggesting the religious display eventually agreed to place it on private property. The brouhaha dominated headlines for several months, but Jean, at 87, was fearless.

“We have spoken with and corresponded with Jean for 30 years. She was cheerful, feisty and determined to do what she could to enlighten, and we will greatly miss her,” said Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor and president emerita Anne Nicol Gaylor. Dan Barker, co-president, who saw Jean a few years ago when he was in town for a debate, recalled Jean’s hospitality and civic-mindedness. When Dan visited her, she was watching televised city council proceedings with an eagle eye. Jean lived at home by herself until close to the end.

Jean requested that those wishing to memorialize her plant a tree. She pre-addressed by hand envelopes containing her death notice.

Freedom From Religion Foundation