Category: Chapter News

I Remember Vern

By Paul Heffron

I learned in late September from a Facebook posting by HumanistsMN member Steve Petersen that Vern Young had died on March 31 at age 93.

Vern probably died in a health care center and evidently no one did an obituary. I couldn’t find one and neither could Steve.

I met Vern sometime during the 1990s when he came to a Minnesota Atheists meeting for the first time. He said he’d been an atheist for a long time but had kept it to himself and was very happy he could now be open about it and be part of an atheist group. He told me about his volunteer work as an amateur photographer. I introduced him to Steve and August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists and said, “We have another photographer.”

Vern joined and generously supported all of our local secular groups and projects, including of course what was then Humanists of Minnesota. He helped with the photography and, as a skilled woodworking amateur, made a desk prop with the humanist symbol for our old cable-access TV show.

To my surprise, I learned from Vern that he went to the elementary school just up the road at Hwy 49 and Hwy 96, a quarter mile from where I live with my wife, Peg, in Shoreview. He told me he went to high school at Mechanic Arts in St. Paul, the rival of my high school, St. Paul Central. To get there, he walked many miles from his Shoreview home to get to a street car and transfer to another to reach the school.

Vern joined the Navy. After he left the service, he obtained training as a draftsman at Dunwoody. He was employed by Honeywell and received further training and worked for the company until he retired. Vern’s grandparents were a black and white couple, so he no doubt had to contend with prejudice, though he never discussed it.

Vern was very much a humanist in his values, so he naturally joined our group when he found out about us. I think he was honored by our chapter, maybe as Humanist of the Year. I learned that he was very generous in his support of Camp Quest and did much photography for that program. He actually took photos for countless Minnesota nonprofit organizations as a volunteer. Honeywell provided all the film for this work as part of its program of paying the costs for volunteer services by its retirees.

Vern was an extraordinary but rather modest person. He made a big impact by his generous contributions and extensive volunteer work. It seemed he didn’t need any special recognition for what he did and was almost embarrassed by it. For him, giving and serving was its own reward. I don’t remember him ever asking for anything for himself. He was just happy to share his talents and his money, especially for the atheist-humanist cause.

I tried calling him several times in the years after he stopped attending meetings, but I never got an answer or a reply to my messages. I regret that I didn’t try harder to find a way to reach him. Steve Petersen and his wife, Shirley Moll,  visited Vern until they were not allowed to in the last three years of his life because of the intervention of a distant relation. It’s a complicated story.

I’m glad they did what they could for Vern. It just shows how important it is not to forget older members who are no longer showing up at our meetings.

New Member Spotlight: Candee Schlicht

Joined HumanistsMN: April 2020, shortly after meetings went online.

Profession/Residence: I am a software consultant specializing in web development. I live in Eden Prairie and have worked for several companies in Minneapolis and the western suburbs.

How she discovered us: I  had been visiting the website for a while before joining a meeting on mindful creativity.

What appealed to her about us: I am happy to have found a group that shares my values. I particularly like how engaged the group is. There are many events that are well attended and have excellent participation. I generally sit back and listen during meetings but I have found myself sharing more and more during  HMN events. I want to support people who support people — and I believe I have found a great community that does just that!

Her journey to humanism:  My dad was the pastor of our small town WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) church. He was a bit more progressive than the church, which in general was not at all. I especially chafed at the place of women in the church, which led to arguments with my dad that usually ended with him saying, “Because that’s what we believe.” I never really accepted that answer and eventually decided to figure out what I believed. I went to services at a few different churches — ELCA Lutheran, Catholic, Christian Science — but didn’t join any.

I read the bible and St. Teresa’s writings and Karen Armstrong. I read Gary Zukav and other metaphysical spirituality books. I even read L. Ron Hubbard and took the assessment test. (Scientologists followed my changes of address and still send me handwritten letters after almost 20 years.) Mostly I focused on mythology and comparative religion. I watched Joseph Campbell lectures and read Robert Graves and the Epic of Gilgamesh.

I considered myself agnostic before joining HMN. Doing some research into humanism and the HMN mission statement — “We aspire to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment and contribute to the greater good of humanity and the planet through reason, science, compassion, and creativity” — led me to consider myself humanist.

New Member Spotlight: Drew Bekius

Joined HumanistsMN: I moved to the Twin Cities from Chicago in October 2018 and started getting active in the local humanist community soon thereafter. Joined HumanistsMN in July 2020.

Profession/Residence: A former evangelical pastor, I served in nonprofit leadership roles and personal coaching for a little over 20 years. I now work as a financial advisor to nonprofits and other high-impact professionals. I’ve also written a couple books [see review of The Rise and Fall of Faith] and live with my two teenage daughters in St. Louis Park.

How he discovered us: I had first seen a few gatherings listed at But it was [HMN program coordinator] Audrey Kingstrom who gave me the proper introduction and suggested I find a way to get plugged in.

What appealed to him about us: The humanism! I’m always looking for new ways to support the local humanist community, especially in ways that put our values into action to support and empower the world around us.

His journey to humanism: Well there’s a lot that could be said. Even as an evangelical pastor, my societal and personal ethic was more progressive. I identified as a Christian humanist and understood our role in the world to be one of social justice and action. Once I deconverted from theism, it only made sense that the humanism remained and solidified. I blogged my way through the journey and eventually launched I also served as a celebrant with the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Society and am currently on the board at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis. 


I Remember Otto 

By Paul Heffron

Otto Link, a longtime HumanistsMN member, died in May in California. For inspiration by the life of an outstanding humanist, I encourage you to read the obituary just published in the StarTribune.

I remember Otto in the many conversations we had at meetings, Winter Solstice parties, banquets, and picnics. He was very thoughtful and had a good sense of humor. He had the views and values of a humanist and freethinker and acted on them.

We discovered that we had a common interest in jazz and liked the same bands and jazz greats. We sent jazz CDs to each other and responded to them in emails. Otto had played trumpet in jazz and dance bands when he was young. He and his wife , Jeanette, were fans of our Freethought Band and encouraged our efforts to play original freethought songs and include some jazz in our performances.

You were lucky if you sat next to the Links at our dinner and picnic events. There would be lively conversations and hardy laughs.

Otto had quite a career as a teacher and administrator in the Minneapolis Public Schools. His obit is the longest I’ve ever seen, and every sentence had to be there.

HumanistsMN Elects Four Board Members

HumanistsMN  elected four people to fill two-year, at-large positions on the Board of Directors at the annual meeting on May 11.  Seth Engman, Christine Retkwa, and Marcy Woodruff were reelected to their second terms and John Walker won his first term.

Read about the board candidates here.


HumanistsMN Moves to Online Gatherings

By Audrey Kingstrom

HumanistsMN has gone viral! Well, in a manner of speaking. As most of you know by now, in this era of public-health social distancing,  we have stopped meeting in person and are offering a good share of our programming online.

We have purchased a license for the very popular and easy-to-use Zoom platform. The cost is reasonable, and the benefits are great. It’s easy for facilitators to set up a meeting and then provide a link to the event through our Meetup site. Participants simply click on the link at the appointed time and join the group.

I’ve hosted and participated in several of our regularly scheduled events this past month through Zoom –  our monthly gathering, a Happy Hour, our Secular Grief Group, and a Mindful Living session. At this last meeting, I even figured out how to use the break-out feature so we could divide into three smaller, more manageable groups for discussion part of the time.

While I would much rather be meeting in person, gathering online has its advantages. At a couple of our events, people from greater Minnesota have been able to join us – from St. Cloud and Brainerd. And sometimes it’s just nice not to have to go out, to be able to participate from the comfort of your own home and not deal with rush-hour traffic, for instance.

Even after this health crisis has abated, conducting HumanistsMN business — for example, board meetings or membership meetings— through Zoom,  especially in winter, will be a welcome option.

Given the popularity of Zoom, unfortunately but not surprisingly, security issues have arisen. “Zoombombing” has become a thing – where uninvited attendees break into and disrupt meetings. Hence, Zoom has begun to upgrade its security measures. Now Zoom links are only available to people who have RSVP’d to events. Other changes may be forthcoming.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you are having any trouble with using this online platform or have any ideas or concerns about HumanistsMN programming. Email me at

Paying Your Dues Just Got Easier

HumanistsMN has worked hard to keep your annual membership dues affordable and easy to pay. We have now introduced two options to make payments even easier and more affordable.

For all HMN members (excluding Student and Trial members). If you pay your annual dues online, you can now choose to have your membership automatically renewed on your anniversary date each year. No more having to add this to your “to do” list, trying to remember to do it, and filling in all the details again! Just choose our new “annually recurring” option when you pay  at our website and the dues will be automatically charged to your credit card. If you change your mind once you are on this program, on your anniversary date you can revert back to paying your dues annually online each year (i.e., not automatically). And everyone can still opt to pay by check.

For our Sustaining Members, Patrons, and Benefactors. You can now opt to pay your annual dues automatically in equal monthly installments. By spreading out the payments, you may find it easier to budget for this much-appreciated financial support to HumanistsMN. As in the first option, you can always revert back to annual payments on your anniversary date. We hope this system will also make it easier for other HMN members to upgrade their memberships to help support our programs.

Thanks to all of our dues-paying members, who help HumanistsMN thrive!

— Harlan Garbell


In Memoriam: Dick Segers

By Harlan Garbell 

As many of you know by now, our friend and long-time HumanistsMN member Dick Segers died last week in an automobile accident. Although I was not a close friend of Dick’s, I did have many occasions over the years to be in his company at HMN meetings and other events, including his several appearances at my Coffee and Current Events Meetup group.

Colorful and articulate, Dick had a unique view of the world around him. He would not generally accept conventional wisdom on most topics and one could tell he was proud to maintain his intellectual independence. And he did indeed have a keen intelligence.

However, what made Dick so special was that he combined that intelligence with a profound human decency which he put into practice through his activities. This included his participation over many years in our food shelf programs as well as his volunteer activities in a cause that is central to HMN — medical aid in dying.

In retrospect, Dick was a true humanist to his core. He was unfailingly kind and considerate to those he interacted with and he acted tirelessly on his caring and compassion for other people. In my view, that is a legacy any of our members would like to leave. We will miss you, Dick.

Read Dick’s obituary in the Star Tribune here.

Harlan Garbell is president of HumanistsMN.

New Member Spotlight: Tanner Firl

Joined HumanistsMN: December 2019, after the Festivus for the Rest of Us event.

Profession/Residence. I work in the software industry doing a mixture of data engineering and data science. I live in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of South Minneapolis.

How he discovered us: Meetup recommended some of HumanistMN’s events to me.

What appealed to him about us: My favorite aspects of HumanistsMN include community-building, charitable works, and science-related activities.

His journey to humanism: Though grateful for the community, morals, and values provided by my upbringing in the Mormon Church, I came to accept agnosticism at age 17. When I stumbled upon the HumanistsMN Meetup page, I was immediately drawn in by the same type of friendly community and good, people-oriented activities I enjoyed growing up in the church, with the primary difference being an emphasis on science and reason rather than God and religion. 

New Program Aims to Promote Humanist Connections

By Audrey Kingstrom

HumanistsMN has started a new program designed to offer more opportunities for connection within the humanist community. In recent years, we have offered an ever-increasing number of programs, but often members and friends seldom meet. One person might be interested in one program, and someone else in another, that meet on totally different days, at different venues.

Our new program, Secular Saturday, brings people together to participate in small group sessions on different topics. The sessions take place in the same location, start at the same time, run for about an hour and a half, then wrap up with a shared social hour over beverages and snacks. So far, we’ve had some interesting discussions on atheist/humanist overreach, the prospects for rationality, leaving religion behind, and living sustainably.

We’re just getting started, so watch for a variety of programs this winter and spring.

In January, HumanistsMN President Harlan Garbell will initiate “Growing Older Together” — a casual support group for members over 55. Audrey Kingstrom plans to continue an interest group on sustainable living. And we expect some of our younger members will again lead discussions on philosophical issues that dive deeper into the naturalist and humanist worldviews. We are even exploring programming for parents and kids, so stay tuned.

Finally, if you would like to lead a discussion on a topic of interest to you, or a book discussion, here’s your chance to try it on a Secular Saturday. Most of the logistics for setting up such a discussion will be taken care of for you. We welcome your ideas!

Secular Saturday takes place from 3 to 5:30 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month in the education wing of the First Unitarian Society (the same place as our monthly community gatherings). For more information, contact Audrey Kingstrom, HumanistsMN Program Coordinator, at

Member Spotlight: Our In-House Creative “Star,” Seth Engman

Seth Engman

By Audrey Kingstrom

Many HumanistsMN members may not know Seth Engman, but he played a huge part in the success of our organization’s re-branding initiative last year.  This involved creating a new logo, tagline, t-shirts, bumper stickers, business cards, and other materials.

Seth, who works in the field of graphics and web design, was instrumental in helping us identify a company to work with on this project. He put together the Request for Proposal that we sent out, and then helped to select the design and branding agency Imaghaus, which had a nonprofit grant program through which we got a significant discount. Seth’s knowledge of the field and the fact that he would be implementing the design helped ensure we got the grant.

Seth assisted in the communication with Imaghaus regarding all  technical aspects. He helped with our in-house focus groups, went to all the meetings with Imaghaus, and brought his expertise and experience to the discussion. He served as our in-house consultant  — our go-to person to help us make sense of the process , providing good recommendations throughout.

Once the messaging and logo were determined, Seth used the overall designs and messaging to create and mock up the marketing pieces for us to print.  That was an essential part of the process that saved us hundreds of dollars, if not more.

So any time you look at, or wear, HumanistsMN-branded materials, take a moment to think of the person who worked so hard to make these beautiful designs and colors a reality — our own board member and creative “star,” Seth Engman. A big thank-you, Seth!

New Member Spotlight: John Walker

John Walker

Joined HumanistsMN: July 2019

Profession/residence: I can go by several different titles depending on whom you ask. Generally, I say I’m a software developer. To those who know the buzzwords, I’m a DevOps Engineer. To those who really know what’s up, I’m an Infrastructure Engineer. I live in Edina.

How he discovered us: Meetup. After moving out on my own for the first time, I quickly discovered that I needed to get out regularly in order to stay sane, and a couple of friends recommended Meetup as a way to find things to do.

What appealed to him about us: I was already familiar with the concept of humanism through an active interest in philosophy, particularly ethics. Though my feelings about it were generally positive, I had never really thought of myself as a humanist due to a hesitance to throw myself into any particular bucket. However, after about 30 seconds of talking with Christine at my first HumanistsMN event, I quickly realized that humanists were my kind of people: engaged, thoughtful, intelligent, etc. I hope that participating will help introduce me to enthusiastic individuals and their interesting ideas, challenging me to grow in knowledge and curiosity while sharing what I hope are some interesting ideas of my own.

His journey to humanism: I was raised Catholic and went from childhood through confirmation with relatively few doubts. However, as early as middle school, and especially by the end of high school, I gradually grew away from official Catholic teachings and started thinking for myself. 

Ironically, by the end of my freshman year at a Catholic university, I realized that I was no longer Catholic nor Christian. I had come to see the Bible as a human creation and traditional theistic conceptions of God as logically incoherent. During this transition toward atheism/agnosticism, I began writing a series of essays (really, it’s a book, but I always felt weird about admitting that for some reason), which helped me think through what I really believed about fundamental questions about reality: What is right? What exists? How do we know? Although I set out with no particular allegiances, the resulting pages would not look too distasteful to many humanists. Thus, considering I’ve felt so at home with HumanistsMN, I’ve come around to embracing the label of humanist.


May 2019: Annual Meeting and Board Election

The HumanistsMN membership elected a new board at the May annual meeting, including a new president, Harlan Garbell, and vice president, Suzanne Perry. Nick Haylund and David Guell were re-elected treasurer and secretary.

Two new at-large members, Jerry Smith and Mitch Thompson, joined the board, and Ellie Haylund was re-elected. Board members Seth Engman, Meline Juarez, and Marcy Woodruff continue in their two-year terms.

Audrey Kingstrom stepped down as president after five years to comply with our bylaws. She has taken on a new role as program coordinator for HumanistsMN. Find out more about the new board here. See their photos and email addresses here.


 The new HumanistsMN banner, logo, and t-shirts appeared at the 2019 MayDay Parade. The new HumanistsMN banner, logo, and t-shirts appeared at the 2019 MayDay Parade.

Our new logo and branding were officially unveiled at the meeting. One of our new banners was on display as well as our new promotional “rack card” and membership flyer. We also introduced two new HumanistsMN t-shirts.


Due to our branding initiative, specifically payments for consulting advice and new marketing materials, our finances took a hit this year. Reported income was $11,030 – most of it from membership dues – but expenditures grew to just under $16,000. The Board had decided to draw from our reserves to fund the rebranding costs. We are still in a very solid financial position with total assets at $29, 375 near the close of our fiscal year (May 31).


We had steady growth this past year and our membership now stands at about 220 members, a high point. The membership team continues to explore ways to create a strong sense of community in the organization, support member retention, and encourage membership growth.


HumanistsMN has become more visible in the Twin Cities this past year through social action efforts and community service. In particular, our National Day of Reason Breakfast and Reception at the Capitol on May 4 was a great success. We partnered with First Unitarian Society and Or Emet (Minnesota Congregation for Humanistic Judaism) to advocate for separation of state and religion, evidence-based policy, and inclusive, nonsectarian and shared values in governance.

The annual meeting was followed by socializing, pizza, and drinks. Thanks to everyone who came in support of HumanistsMN.

New Member Spotlight: Katherine Johnson

Joined HumanistsMN: April 2019

Profession/residence: I’m a Licensed Psychologist who specializes in crisis intervention. I’ve worked for Curry County (Brookings, Ore.), Atascedero State Hospital (San Luis Obispo, Calif.), Canvas Health, North Memorial, and Abbott Northwestern, among others. I’ve also done a lot of volunteer work, including at the Walk-In Counseling Center. I’m currently doing telephonic counseling and crisis intervention for a multinational organization.

I’ve lived throughout the Twin Cities and currently reside in Eden Prairie. I plan to move back to the city when my cohousing group builds the first standard-setting energy-efficient cohousing community. In addition to Oregon and California, I lived in London while studying theater in college.

How she found us: Through Meetup.

What appealed to her about us. HumanistsMN has been a welcoming group from day one, which made it easier to keep coming back. I was looking for a safe place to offset the isolation I feel in Eden Prairie and was attracted to the continuing-education vibe, with programing on diverse, sometimes controversial, topics. I deeply value being with other like-minded kindred spirits who are committed to lifelong learning, progressive ideals, making a difference, and creating meaningful friendships.

Her journey to humanism. I flunked out of traditional religion early on. It felt irrelevant, superficial, and punitive. I’ve tried to focus on the best from world religions and spiritual practices — and leave the rest behind. Humanism is an additional path for living a meaningful life without getting caught up in theology.

In Memoriam: Greg Hart

By Harlan Garbell

As many of you know, HumanistsMN member Greg Hart died in early June. At a  humanist memorial service shortly afterwards, many of his friends described a quiet, unassuming man who always stepped up when something important needed to be done. Personally, I will miss Greg terribly. His sweet nature, intelligence, and commitment to humanism always made me feel comfortable in his presence.

There are so many examples of ways Greg unselfishly supported our organization, but I will just name a couple. I have been hosting our monthly Coffee and Current Events Meetup program at the Loring Park Dunn Bros. for several years now. Greg went to every monthly session during this time except once, when he had to attend to his physically disabled daughter. He always arrived early and set up our space for the meetup even though I never asked him to. He just saw a need and did what needed to be done. He also re-arranged the space after the event. Every time.

Greg was similarly dedicated at last year’s Humanists picnic. He helped plan the event and volunteered to be one of our “grill masters.” However, he would not use just any coals. They had to be special charcoal chips that he assured us would provide a superior grilling experience. Sure enough, the food was a huge part of the picnic’s success. By the way, Greg worked at the grill the entire time of the food service while almost everyone else was enjoying themselves at sheltered tables. I also worked the grill (along with Bill Lloyd), but had to sit down after the heat from the grill and the sun got to me. I don’t know how he did it.

These are just a couple of examples of Greg’s unselfishness and his commitment to our community. There are many more. As with all people in our lives who die suddenly, we wish that we could have just said or done something more to express our gratitude for their time on Earth with us. I will miss you, Greg.