Volunteer Spotlight: Nathan Curland, HMN Pillar

By Sally Johnson

Nathan and his son, Noah, who often joins Nathan at HMN events.

“A student of the Enlightenment,” Nathan Curland cares deeply about individual freedom, personal responsibility, and critical thinking. An avid reader, he discovered HumanistsMN through a listing of local humanist organizations in the back of Free Inquiry magazine more than 20 years ago, and has been an active member ever since.

Formerly active in the Massachusetts Libertarian Party, he found that humanists shared his interest in separation of church and state and the value of the individual.

Many HMN members know Nathan through his work organizing teams to pack food each month at The Food Group ‒ one of our most successful volunteer efforts. But his volunteerism stretches back to the early 2000s, when he jumped right into editing our newsletter and organizing our membership process. 

HMN used to produce a local cable television talk show program, “Humanist Views,” with interviews and occasional debates, and Nathan was involved in both the direction of these episodes and as an occasional guest. You can watch these episodes on the HumanistsMN channel on YouTube

Nathan still works hard to keep our membership running smoothly as we continue to grow dramatically. This involves maintaining a database of all members, managing renewal notices, keeping track of donations, and making the lanyards that we members all wear so proudly.

A Refugee Family

Nathan was born to a Jewish family in Soviet Uzbekistan at the end of WWII. His father, a savvy and hardworking entrepreneur, managed to find a way to make a living and also navigate the precarious political circumstances of the time. Before Nathan was born, the family had been living in Poland when the Nazis invaded, and his immediate relatives fled to the Soviet Union. They continued moving around in an attempt to escape political upheaval and antisemitism, including a stint in a Siberian labor camp when his father refused to relinquish his Polish citizenship. 

By the end of the war, almost all of their extended family had perished in the Holocaust. After Nathan was born, his family moved to Germany and lived quietly, concealing their Jewish identity, known only as Polish refugees. His family was able to immigrate to the United States when Nathan was six years old. Like many European Jewish refugees of that time, they settled in the Bronx in New York City. Nathan’s father initially worked in a “Minsk” sports cap factory until he, along with two other refugees, had the means to start their own business designing and manufacturing women’s handbags for the mass market.

As a kid growing up in the Bronx, Nathan made enough trouble at the local public school that by fifth grade his parents moved him to a Yeshiva. In this more strict learning environment, he discovered an aptitude for mathematics and mentors who insisted he work hard, which eventually prepared him for admission to the Bronx High School of Science, a public math and science magnet school. 

A Love of Math

This redirection of his education “was really the turning point in my life,” he says. “I got so involved in the love of mathematics.” His high school mentors encouraged him to apply to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and he was accepted.

At MIT he furthered his knowledge of math and science and centered his social life on a Jewish fraternity with mostly secular-minded students, which marked his first real departure from his parents’ orthodox Jewish household. After college he followed a mentor to the University of Minnesota, where was able to earn his PhD in electrical engineering while also employed by a company interested in the results of his dissertation. “All this adds up to being in the right place at the right time,” he says.  

After earning his PhD, Nathan worked back in Massachusetts and elsewhere for a technology startup, got married, and started a family. In 1983, he landed again in Minnesota working as chief engineer at another tech startup. By this time his continued intellectual pursuit had removed any remaining ideas of religious faith from his mindset. He eventually ended up working at Seagate Technology, where he spent most of his career. 

Now retired, Nathan has four grown children and remains engaged with HMN. Still an ardent reader who values critical thinking, he often reviews books of note on our humanistsmn.org website

In addition to his service with HMN, several nights a week Nathan tutors adults working to obtain a General Educational Diploma (GED), a necessary step for many people who are seeking to improve their lives through further education and better employment. Many of those he tutors are more recent immigrants to the United States, facing many of the challenges Nathan’s parents faced when they first arrived in this country. 

You can often find Nathan at HMN social events and it is not hard to get him talking about this meaningful work.

Like many of us, he remains concerned about separation of church and state and our ongoing efforts to resist Christian nationalism and the risks it poses to our legislation and political leadership. 

We are so fortunate to have Nathan’s diligent work supporting HMN’s growth and endeavors!

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3 comments

    • Harlan Garbell on April 8, 2024 at 9:41 am
    • Reply

    Great article! Nathan has done so much to further the goals of our organization. A truly honorable and wonderful person.

    • Bobbi on April 8, 2024 at 5:51 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you for sharing your most private experiences with us, Nathan. I’ve always enjoyed our interactions.

    • Christine R on April 12, 2024 at 10:46 pm
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    Nathan is the best! Thank you for all you do for HumanistsMN, Nathan! The organization (and this world) needs reliable people who put their words and thoughts into actions and who make a commitment to helping. I’m pleased to know you! Great photo of you and Noah 🙂

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