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In memoriam: FFRF lauds Ken Proulx, a major friend, supporter

The “Above Us Only Sky” Kenneth Proulx Cupola is on the fourth floor of Freethought Hall and shows photos of Ken throughout his life. (Photo by Chris Line)
Kenneth Proulx, shown on his 90th birthday with FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, was an ardent suporter of FFRF. In the background is one of the lamps Ken created. (Photo by Dan Barker)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sadly reports the death of a beloved member, Kenneth L. Proulx, 95, who died at home in Kenosha, Wis., on Dec. 1. His death was not reported publicly until the end of January.

Ken, who preferred privacy to public accolades, has, over the years, been one of FFRF’s most generous benefactors. Raised Roman Catholic, he came to eschew that faith and all religion:

“That damned disease separates people. It’s a learned lunacy — nobody’s born that cuckoo. One of the greatest shortcomings of the human species is that they’re vulnerable to indoctrination. The human race has paid a high price for that vulnerability: bloodshed and misery all over the world, and it isn’t over yet.”

The cupola at Freethought Hall, FFRF’s newly expanded office in downtown Madison, unveiled in 2015, is called the “Above Us Only Sky Kenneth L. Proulx Cupola,” or “Ken’s Cupola” for short. The cupola features photographs of Ken at different ages.

“I’m rewarded by having couples marry in Ken’s Cupola,” he said, when learning of several (very small) weddings taking place in the cupola.

The oldest child of Lawrence and Mabel (DuCharme) Proulx, he was born on July 8, 1924, in Prairie du Chien, Wis. Some of his French-Canadian ancestors were among the first landowners in the Wisconsin territory. He would smile about how often his surname was misspelled and mispronounced (it is pronounced “Prue”).

At age 2, he traveled with his parents in a motorcycle and side car to Kenosha, and lived most of his life in the family home. At age 12, he returned to Prairie du Chien to work on his maternal grandparents’ farm and there, to his great joy, attended a one-room school.

“They were the best years of my life,” he reminisced. The teacher paid Ken 50 cents a week in 1935 to keep the wood stove burning and perform other duties.

One of the reasons he liked his new school so much is that it rescued him from the parochial elementary school he’d attended in Kenosha. He called those days “the worst days of my life” and “an injustice.” Even in his 90s, he would recall the sting of a nun hitting his hand with a pointer.

Ken worked at American Brass in Kenosha before enlisting to fight in World War II at age 18, where he served three years at Pearl Harbor. “World War II did get me away from the Church. I went three years without seeing the inside of a church — and nothing happened to me, and that got me thinking.”

He worked at American Motors in Kenosha upon his return for 24 years, installing instrument panels and retiring in 1984. He was a member of U.A.W. Local 72.

Ken became an expert woodworker with a full shop in his basement, fashioning elaborate parquet-like wooden lamps and other gifts that he shared with friends and family, one of which proudly resides in FFRF’s Joel B. Landon and Wanda Y. Beers Library. Ken maintained a modest, frugal lifestyle. He took great care of a vintage 1970s Matador and drove it for more than 40 years (it has only 30,000 miles on it).

When he came back from the war, Ken said his family discouraged him from taking advantage of the GI Bill. However, he became a life-long learner, proud of his collection of books on atheism, religion, philosophy and science, which he faithfully read and re-read, making notes in the margins. He collected obituaries of famous people, organized by year. He had a life-long subscription to the Wall Street Journal, and stewarded careful, shrewd investments, coming home from work at lunch every day to check on the stock market.

Ken first joined FFRF in 1992, after hearing Anne Nicol Gaylor, FFRF’s principal founder and then-president, interviewed on a radio program. Anne, and FFRF’s Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, now co-presidents, visited Ken at his home regularly for more than 25 years.

Dan says, “Ken was very humble, but, in reality, was smart, funny and well-read. While a gentle person, Ken despised the harm of religion, especially the role of the Catholic Church.”

Ken’s ashes will be interred in a ceremony at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Union Grove, Wis., on May 22.

“He was a true friend of FFRF and fierce defender of freethought and the need to keep religion out of government,” says Annie Laurie. “Ken has quietly played a vital role in establishing FFRF and its future. We will deeply miss him, and are so grateful he was such an ardent supporter of FFRF.”

Ken’s wise words

Over the years, Annie Laurie transcribed some of Ken’s many pithy remarks and quotable quotes. Here’s a sampling of wisdom via Ken Proulx.

On turning 90 (in 2015):

“They talk about plastic surgery to make you look younger. The trouble with that is you can’t fool a flight of stairs.”

About the Catholic Church:

“The pope was saying it’s wrong to kill in the name of God. Why, the Catholic Church got where it is by killing people, with a history as black as the ace of spades. In Spain alone, 25,000 people were killed during the Inquisition.”

On the cross:

“Instead of a cross, the symbol of the Catholic Church should be the rack and the stake.”

On prayer breakfasts:

“They’re talking to outer space, plaster and pancakes.”

On persuading others to think freely:

“You can make a sound case, but if people don’t want to think rationally, their mind is just like cement. People aren’t satisfied with a life-span, so they invent a place to go and a way to get there. And, voila, you’ve got religion.”

On Jesus:

“There isn’t a single writer who makes a reference to this Jesus character when he was putting out all these party tricks with fishes and loaves of bread. There isn’t an ounce of evidence Jesus even existed. People invent their own gods.”

Ken’s most memorable aphorism:

“The Mafia and the Catholic Church are the largest crime syndicates on Earth. One of them is illegal.”