Remembering Bob Nienkerk

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

Photo of a smiling older man with white hair.

August Berkshire wrote and read this tribute at the memorial for Robert Nienkerk on June 29, 2015.

Nature just provided us with a brief rainstorm, so we would all have something that Bob would have appreciated: nice clean cars!

In early 1984, Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Jon Murray came to the Twin Cities, on their second or third attempt to try to form a chapter of American Atheists here. This time it worked, and a bunch of us, including Bob & Marilyn Nienkerk, started the Twin Cities Chapter of American Atheists, which became Minnesota Atheists seven years later.

But it turns out that a year and a half earlier, in the Fall of 1982, that Bob and Marilyn, along with Otto and Mary Kral, had started a nonreligious social group they called the Friends Free of Theism. They gathered on the solstices and the equinoxes for a meal, sometimes at a restaurant, and sometimes at the Kral farm in Hudson, Wisconsin. This group continued meeting for about ten years. And it’s a tribute to the success and good will that the group engendered that years later the St. Cloud freethought group also called itself the Friends Free of Theism.

So when the Twin Cities Chapter of American Atheists started here in 1984, it found a ready-made community with the Friends Free of Theism. Because of this, the Twin Cities Chapter got a boost that propelled us into winning both the 1984 and 1985 American Atheists “Chapter of the Year” awards.

Since Bob was obviously talented, enthusiastic, and was not afraid to say he was an atheist, I naturally asked him if he wanted to run to be an officer in the Twin Cities Chapter. He said No; that he felt the group was in the good hands of younger people. That trust meant a lot to me, since I was only 24 at the time.

Apart from Bob, I have never met someone with a more ferocious sense of doing what’s right, combined with a big heart that inspired that activism.

Bob will be missed by many people. And while no one can ever replace him, Marilyn, we’d like you to know that the freethought community is here to support you in whatever way we can.

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