Camp Quest Co-Founder Helen Kagin Dies at 76 February 18, 2010

Camp Quest Co-Founder Helen Kagin Dies at 76

Helen Kagin, the co-founder of Camp Quest (along with her husband Edwin), died yesterday from complications following cancer surgery at the age of 76.

She had been unconscious for days and her family decided to take her off life support, as she had requested in her Living Will.

She was one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met. Her eyes would light up every time we saw each other and she was often seen at atheist conferences and events. It was so cute to see her and Edwin together, always acting like they were newlyweds.

Dave Silverman of American Atheists knew her well and wrote this:

She was great. She smiled infectiously, loved children (who loved her back), and gave of herself selflessly, but that’s just the beginning.

Helen was one of the founders of Camp Quest, which has already had a direct positive impact on hundreds of children, with nearly unlimited potential for growth. This self-sustaining, quick-growing organization does one thing very well — it makes atheist children happy. That’s one hell of a legacy, one hell of a footprint, one hell of a ripple.

Sharon Fratepietro also knew Helen through their shared activism and wrote this in an email:

I will always remember her as a really nice person, unguarded, friendly, and really interested in other people. It was such a predictable pleasure to greet her year after year at conferences. She never changed.

Executive Director of the Secular Student Alliance August Brunsman adds:

I had the pleasure and honor of knowing Helen for just shy of eleven years. The joy, intensity, and brilliance with which she lived her life are totally impossible to capture in words. At Camp Quest Ohio, most of the kids, and the younger counselors played this vigorous, no-holds-barred version of keep away in the pool with a ball. There was no leader, no ref, no written rules, no score keeping. It just came together organically summer after summer. With a small handful of exceptions, only the youngest staffers played with any regularity. Mostly only the campers had the energy to play. Well into her 70’s, Helen could be counted on to play every time the ball was in motion.

In addition to the pool game, the thing that may stay with me the most about Helen, is my memory of her leading us singing the Phil Ochs song “When I’m Gone”. Part of it goes…

“And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here”

Helen did.

Helen’s husband Edwin — I can’t imagine what he must be feeling right now — wrote a brief eulogy on his website (more is coming later):

I know for a certainty that if she had decision making capacity, Helen would not have wanted to live on a ventilator and dialysis. Surrounded by family members, the ventilator was withdrawn and the life force that had been Helen departed within minutes. And she was dead.

Helen’s body is now an empty shell, and it will be treated as such. The body will be picked up tomorrow by a funeral home and immediately cremated. The ashes will be given to her daughter Caroline, who has proved her very substantial character during these past few weeks. A celebration of Helen’s remarkable life will be announced later.

And what a life it was! I am honored to have shared it with her for twenty-five years. She will be missed beyond my ability to say. She was the finest human being I have ever known.

If you would honor her accomplishments and memory, do not send flowers; do not send money to some charity.

Help send a kid to Camp Quest.

If you can give a gift in Helen’s honor, here are links to the donation pages for the various Camp Quests:



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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Revyloution

    Thanks Helen, for all you’ve done. It was a life well lived.

  • Chad L

    something sticks out to me, I realize you where quoting but (it makes “atheist children” happy.) bothers me quite a bit.

  • Norm

    I only met Helen a few times at conferences, but always heard about what a wonderful woman she was from those who knew her better. All of us involved with Camp Quest are feeling her loss, and we will make sure she is honored in a lasting way.

  • Craig Fine

    I am sorry to hear of her passing, and I am even more sorry that I didn’t get the chance to ever meet her.

  • Camp Quest is an excellent idea and one that provides a worthy alternative to faith promoting camps. Setting them up is work well done and for that Helen Kagin can be said to have contributed to the betterment of society. My condolences go out to those whose lives she touched.

  • Blenster

    Thank you for this Hemant. She is indeed missed by many…

  • Rich

    I’m with Chad on that quote. That made me squirm, and that’s exactly what makes me vaguely uncomfortable with Camp Quest. It treads a fine line between being a fun science camp where kids are taught rational thinking and being a camp where kids are taught to be atheists, and it should do all it can to stay firmly in the former category. Indoctrination is my biggest complaint against religion, and I don’t want us to be accused of the same thing! It was probably just careless word choice, but it was definitely *not* the right way to say that.

  • john and fran w

    Thanks for such a lovely tribute to Helen. It was our pleasure and priviledge to have known Helen and worked with her at Camp Quest Ohio and Michigan. We spoke often of her friends, such as you, who loved her. We greatly respect her memory.
    BTW, Silverman is spokeperson for American Atheists. That’s the way he talks. We have had kids come to camp as Christians and leave as Christians. We don’t do conversions.

  • Rieux

    I knew her as well, from my stint as a Camp Quest counselor.

    It’s all true. Even ten years after I’d last been to CQ, I saw the “eyes light up” thing when Helen saw me at a conference, too. She was wonderful, and this news is very sad.