History of Humanists of Utah

By Wayne Wilson

The first membership meeting of the Humanists of Utah was held on February 12, 1991 at the First Unitarian Church. It was noted that there were a “good many” people present but they were not all listed. Those listed were officers:

  • Anne Zeilstra, President
  • Anna Hoagland, Treasurer
  • Greg Hansen, External Relations
  • Larry Christensen, Meeting Organizer
  • Florien Wineriter, Librarian
  • Kent Griffiths, Mailing List Maintenance
  • Edwin Wilson, speaker at the first meeting

Anna Hoagland says, that Anne Zeilstra was the “man who started the Humanist group in Salt Lake City. He was from the Netherlands, and a student at the U. He made the first contacts to Unitarian members and others who were probably members of the national humanist group.”

Dr. Ed Wilson was a primary author of both Humanist Manifesto I (originally published in 1933 as “A Humanist Manifesto”) and Humanist Manifesto II (1973). He was also a minister at this church from 1947-1966.

The American Humanist Association officially approved Humanists of Utah as member chapter on Thursday, May 9, 1991. On that day there were 134 people on the mailing list, 72 of those sent in a donation of at least $5.00 to get the chapter started.

Also, in 1991 Bob Green joined our chapter. He soon became the editor and publisher of The Utah Humanist, a newsletter that continues to this day. He wrote a Mission Statement and organized a lecture series on the nature of humanism tracing historical roots and ideas from the ancient Greeks to current times.

Flo Wineriter became the “voice” of Humanists of Utah. He was our longtime President and represented the humanist movement locally and nationally. Flo was a prolific contributor to our newsletter, the first being published in January 1992 titled “Spirituality” where he wrote: “I was recently requested to moderate a panel of religious leaders discussing “The Spiritual Aspects of Death and Dying.” The panel was composed of representatives from four different denominations. I was challenged by the opportunity but could find no resource material on the subject of humanistic spirituality. Apparently, humanists have discarded the use of the term, along with the words prayer and religion because they have such strong connotations of mysticism. I refuse to give orthodox religions exclusive use of these poetic terms, so I did a little research and found resources and definitions that I find humanistically comfortable.” He went on to reconcile the term “spirituality” as a concept of expression of the highest of human aspirations.

In February 1992 the Salt Lake Tribune published an article on the front page of the Religion section about Humanists of Utah which brought several people, including this author, to the chapter.

In 1993 HoU was awarded a grant of $2000 for a project that started sending copies of The Utah Humanist to local public libraries which is still happening. We also donated a copy of Corlis Lamont’s book The Philosophy of Humanism to all those libraries.

Many of our members have also been active at First Church, including, in no particular order:

  • Hugh Gillilan, First Church Minister 1962-1969
  • Ron and Janet Anderson
  • Alice Jensen
  • Martha Stewart, the “cookie lady” who provided post meeting treats for many years
  • Lorille Miller, Chapter Historian
  • Bob Goff
  • Martin and Muriel Zwick
  • Marion Craig, whose generous estate gift has made Humanists of Utah fiscally solvent since her death
  • Barbara Kleiner
  • David Blackbird
  • Richard Teerlink and Paul Trane
  • Max Shifrer
  • Elaine Ball

Presidents of Humanists of Utah:

  • Anne Zielstra 1991-1993
  • Flo Wineriter 1993-2002
  • Heather Dorrell 2002-2005
  • Robert Lane 2005-2018
  • Jeff Curtis 2018-present

Other notable leaders:

  • Rolf Kay, self-appointed Grand Pooh-Bah (https://humanistsofutah.org/newsletter-archive/2011-newsletters/april-2011/)
  • Richard Layton, Discussion Group Leader who directed and wrote summaries from May 1995-February 2010
  • Craig Wilkinson, MD, led our Discussion Group for a couple of years after Richard was no long able, and has organized and fiscally supported our Darwin Day celebrations
  • Wayne Wilson Newsletter editor/publisher, website manager, etc. since 1993
  • Bob and Julie Mayhew, long time board members

Over the ensuing years we have held educational meetings for nine months each year. The usual format is a speaker addressing a topic of general interest to our audience. The topics are diverse and cover science, humanities, the arts, morality, history, and current events. The other three months, February, August, and December are dedicated to Darwin Day Celebration (since 2008), Summer Barbeque, and Solstice Banquet and annual meeting.

Humanists of Utah has been supported from the beginning to the present by First Church; we receive generous discounts for the meeting space and in return have donated money for building projects including the Audio/Visual system in Eliot Hall.

The Humanists of Utah website, humanistsofutah.org, contains a wealth of information about humanism in general and about living in Utah in particular. It includes numerous book reviews, original poetry, members opinions, favorite website links, etc. We also have a YouTube channel that can be found on our website.