Cleo Fellers Kocol

On this date in 1927, Cleo Fellers Kocol was born in Cleveland, Ohio. (She’s always been glad to share a birthday with Jack London, as her beliefs, or lack thereof, often echoed his.) She grew up in a nonreligious household and followed proudly in her mother’s intrepid feminist footsteps: “I still look back on our Sundays as magical. They were family time with games led by Dad and extended family taking part, everyone free of religion.” After high school, she worked for the Department of the Navy during World War II and then as a medical secretary, doctor’s assistant and assistant hospital administrator.

At age 43 she 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 and joined FFRF and the American Humanist Association. She served on AHA’s national board and chaired its feminist caucus for many years and was its Humanist Heroine in 1988. The Kocols moved to Washington state in 1979 and became part of a weekly Sunday picket at the Mormon Temple in Bellevue to protest the church’s opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. She and 20 others were arrested in 1980 for chaining themselves to the temple gates to stop Mormon President Spencer Kimball from entering, the first of her three civil disobedience arrests.

Moving to California, they became charter members of Atheists and Other Freethinkers, started a highway cleanup project and were active in the Humanists of Greater Sacramento. In the early 1980s, Kocol wrote and performed three, hour-long women’s history shows she presented throughout the U.S. She was commissioned by the Navy to write and perform a short play about “Amazing” Grace Hopper, a computer pioneer and one of the first women to achieve the rank of Navy commodore.

Her memoir “The Last Aloha” was published in 2015. It details her humanism and feminism and life with Hank, from their meeting in 1970 to their “carrying forth the freethinker’s word” around the world to his death in 2013. She died at age 90. (D. 2016)

Freedom From Religion Foundation