Gifts of My Father

February 29, 2012 28 Comments

I offer this post in memory of my father, John D. Ogden Jr. (1942-2012), who passed away much too young this past Saturday after a two year fight with cancer. Known to all of his friends and family as a good and kind man, my father was also the inspiration for much of my interest in conscious evolution and the fight for justice.  From his time as one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Liberia, he spent his career promoting inter-cultural understanding, most recently as director of international programs at SUNY Cortland.  My dad once told me the older he got, the more radical he became.  Especially in his retirement, starting six years ago, he began speaking out more stridently in favor of electoral reform and the idea of creating a U.S. Department of Peace.  At the same time, he continued to take his explorations of consciousness deeper as a regional convenor of the Institute of Noetic Sciences Network.  And then there was “the sign,” that still sits in my parents’ house in Cortland, NY and is pictured in the piece below that is re-posted from early 2010.  I like to think of my dad as one of the early agitators in the Occupy movement, someone who was always eager to change the conversation in favor of greater fairness and meaning.  With love and gratitude for all that you gave me, Dad . . .

Changing the Conversation


The photo above was sent to me by my father, who is also the photographer.  In fact, he is also the sign maker.  This statement currently sits by the roadside in front of my parents’ house in upstate New York.  When I asked what sparked this action, he wrote:

“There really wasn’t a single event that brought this about.  I got increasingly frustrated with the so-called health care reform debate, knowing that wealthy corporations had donated millions of dollars to the “campaign funds” of many legislators.  Citizen groups retaliated by collecting millions of dollars to counter the corporate propaganda.  What a waste of money!  Then I saw an interview on PBS with Christopher Dodd, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.  The interviewer pointed out that Committee members had received 30 million dollars from banks and financial institutions.  Dodd himself had received 7 million dollars.  When asked if this might not influence his decision, he replied something like ‘Of course not.’  That was probably the straw that broke this camel’s back.”

And he is not alone.  What frustrates many I know the most, is how those of us who are outraged no matter our political leanings then end up taking it out against one another, through media-manufactured circuses and so-called public “hearings” (just who is really listening?).  In many cases it’s not that we fundamentally disagree, but that we are seemingly set up to fail by the existing structures and processes.  As Judith Innes and David Booher say in a critique of public participation processes in this country, many of these  create or reinforce an us-them dynamic that ends up (pre)serving the status quo and eroding trust across the board.  Ultimately, everyone involved is in some sense demeaned.

Innes and Booher go on to advocate for a multi-stakeholder (multi-way, not just two-way) collaborative approach to public political participation.  They promote authentic dialogue (not rigid “hearings’) between these multiple perspectives as a process that yields the learning, networks, and social capital that is required to build civic capacity for problem-solving and the realization of shared visions.  In this complex networked world, that is both the need and the opportunity in front of us– self-organization and political design must go hand-in-hand.

My father ended the explanation of his signage by saying: “I would love to see this go viral in some way, prompting a grassroots movement for publicly funded elections.” That would be our cue, the self-organizing blue and red signmakers among us . . .

Bring on the 99% spring!


  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Thanks Curtis. My heart goes out to you and your family. I can see your father’s legacy in you. Carry it on proudly! thanks for reposting the earlier piece and sign. I missed it the first time around. Bring on the 99% spring, indeed!

  • Gibrán says:

    Inspired and Grateful, we need more like him! Sending love to you and your family.

  • Melinda Weekes says:

    Beautiful way to honor the legacy and gifts of your (yes!) charming and passionate learner of a dad…mainly by the wonderful man you’ve become and are to all who know and love YOU. Can’t wait to see how this legacy transfers and is enhanced through Annabel, Madeleine and Elizabeth! Long live the legacy of John Ogden. Prayers of love, comfort and peace follow you and yours in this season.

  • Dear Curtis,
    Oh how blessed you must feel to have had such a wonderful father. A favorite quote and in fact the epitaph I put on Patrick’s grave is:

    “to live beyond in the hearts you leave behind is not to die.”

    It is special to know that he will live on through you and his grandchildren.

  • Hector Acevedo says:

    Sending much love move to you and your family. Thanks so much for sharing. Much love Curtis!

  • A fitting and beautiful tribute Curtis. Much love and light come your way during this time…

  • Curtis says:

    Friends, Brothers, Sisters,

    I am moved by your comments and grateful for the fitting gesture by IISC to make a contribution to IONS in the name of my father. Thank you, and here’s to our spring.


  • Louise says:

    Sympathy and love to you at this time Curtis. Your Dad sounds like a wonderful man.

  • Jon Booth says:


    Thank you for sharing this sad news of a too early passing, and for your wonderful message. I first met John in the late 1970’s when I was working in study abroad at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and he was working in the field at the U of M in Flint. We bonded right away, as my wife and I were also Peace Corps volunteers with similar values. I moved on to other institutions and lost track of John, but found him again when I got to Syracuse University in the mid 1990’s and learned he was at SUNY Courtland. He was a wonderful person. Jon Booth

  • Curtis says:

    Thank you, Jon, for your message and reflections on my father. And for your good work!


  • Joan Savitt says:

    I was a graduate student in French with your father at the University of Buffalo in the late 1960s, and we then rediscovered one another through the SUNY network of study abroad professionals when he ended up at Cortland (I am at UAlbany). We worked collegially for close to 20 years. At the SUNY meetings we all attended, we enjoyed our opportunities to reminisce while taking seriously our charge to help more students have some of the grand experiences we had abroad. He and I also played a few mighty ping-pong games! He had the most wonderful, open demeanor. These are memories to treasure as I acknowledge the loss of an old friend. Joan Neuburger Savitt

  • Curtis says:

    Thanks, Joan. My dad’s playfulness carried through to his time with family and friends. I take that levity as an important part of my/our work for a better world!

  • Thomas Rice says:


    Reading this wonderful eulogy to your Dad, I am reminded of the great UU principle of the interdependent web of life. How much we are all part of the main. As as member of that Ithaca/Cornell/Cortland culture, I feel that deep connection to the values and the ongoing struggle for social justice and voice that John Ogden so ably represented. As a Dad myself, I’m also moved by the power of your narrative as a proud son who will carry the baton from the great hand that ran it this far. The Ogden DNA seems in very safe hands. My condolences and congratulations on having such a fine father and on being such a fine son, a son any parent would be proud to have carry their legacy.
    With love

  • Curtis says:

    Thank you, Thomas, for your words and ongoing mentoring. You are a wonderful father figure in your own right.


  • Linda says:

    Thank you Curtis. So great to hear what an amazing man your father was. The apple(s) don’t fall far from the tree. Easy to see why you’re the man you are. Sending you much love!

  • Evy Kennenwood says:

    Hi, Curtis,
    We met your dad at a Psych K workshop several years ago and learned there about his IONS group, which we immediately started to attend. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to know him, such a gracious, kind, and inspiring soul. He and your mom have deeply enriched our lives and we will miss his calm, all embracing spirit. It is great comfort to see that his ideals live on in you. My heart goes out to you and all of John’s family and I am holding all of you and his soaring, inquiring spirit in the Light.
    Evy Kennenwood

  • Curtis says:

    Thank you, Evy. Certainly the invitation of my dad’s life is for all of us to live out our ideals to the best of our abilities.

  • greg waters says:

    Terry and I just learned of your dad’s passing. We are greatly saddened, because we always thought of him as one of the kindest and gentlest men we know. I can still recall his warm smile and generous spirit when we were all living, learning and gardening in Michigan. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and Eric and your Mom.

    Greg and Terry Waters
    Montclair, New Jersey

  • Peggy and Clark Tibbits says:

    We learned of your father’s death yesterday and were saddened to hear the news and heartened to read your beautiful tribute to him. It’s been many years since we’re seen you or your parents but fondly remember you and Eric as little boys playing at the Grow Garden Farm out in Columbiaville, Michigan. We gardened, swam, canoed and played together for several years. Our hearts go out to all of you as you face this loss. Peggy and Clark Tibbits

  • Susan Raccoli says:

    And another response from folks who remember your parents from our community gardening efforts in Flint, Michigan. We also knew them from the UU Flint church. And yes, your parents were both kind, gentle, and very pleasant people.
    Larry King let us know of your father’s death, and we felt sorrow for his family. We have happy memories of those times in Flint, and we extend our sympathy to the family. Warm wishes to you all during this difficult time.
    Susan Raccoli and Jay Harvey.

  • Curtis says:

    Greg, Terry, Peggy, Clark, Susan, and Jay,

    Heartfelt thanks for your words. So wonderful to hear from you all after all this time. GROW was such a wonderful experience that I continue to think about this day – no doubt one of the reasons that I am so passionate in my work supporting local food and food system development! Clari and Peggy (or any of you for that matter), at some point I would love to hear the full story of how GROW started and developed over time. You certainly were ahead of the curve on the whole CSA movement!



  • Rafael H. Mojica says:

    Dr. John D. Ogden was leaving the Department of Foreign languages and Literatures at UM-Flint the same year when I was coming in as new faculty in the department. As Department Chair, he opened the doors of this university for me, and for this I remained always grateful. We never had the opportunity of working together, so the memories I keep of him are from my visit for the interview and meeting him as part of the search committee. These memories are of a very gentle, kind and hospitable man, something that made me feel quite hopeful and welcomed. I still keep in my files his letter offering me the position. We met for a second time a few years ago when he was visitng Michigan; on that occasion I was very surprised that he would still remember me. Please accept my condolences on this time of loss of a good man.

    Rafael H. Mojica, Associate Professor

  • Curtis says:

    Thank you, Rafael. These stories are so meaningful to me and my family.


  • Cheryl Gifford says:

    Thank you for the post–I was looking up all my former professors. I studied at UMF and graduated in 1976 with a major in French and a major in Spanish. I went on to my MA at MSU and later the business world. Your father was a great teacher for me. I was one of the students who spent a month in 1975 in Guadalupe with the Experiment in International Living–the kids were there along with your parents. It was a fabulous study opportunity and I will always treasure the help your father game me. I married an engineer from Peru and we travel all over the world. As I get older, as my children grow (last one just went to college at Minnesota this year) I too am less and less tolerant of how our country is being run. The forefathers would roll over in their graves: PAC money, election funding, no limit on corporate money, benefits for life, world junkets, and all coming out of our pockets. And I am a true conservative, unhappy completely with the status quo. Hugs to you all and your mother,

    Cheryl Gifford
    Grand Blanc MI

    • Curtis Ogden says:

      Thank you, Cheryl, for your comments. That month in Guadelupe is one of my earliest most precious memories. The more time that passes, the more I realize how much I gained from my father.

      Best to you and your family.


  • Paul Peterson says:

    I am saddened to learn of John’s passing. He was, indeed, a kind and gentle man of high principle. John and I were colleagues at UM-Flint (I was in philosophy), and we were, with our families, “farmers” in Grow, Inc. I value the years that I knew him, the thought of him will always make me smile. My best to Chris and to you, Curtis.
    Paul Peterson, Pinckney, MI

    • Curtis Ogden says:

      Thank you, Paul. I certainly remember you. It is good to remember Grow, which was a highlight of my childhood. Thanks to you, my parents, and other adults in that community for instilling in me an appreciation of and love for community gardening/farming, which I continue to pursue and support professionally and personally. I will be thinking of my dad on his birthday next week. I hope you and yours are well. Best, Curtis

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