Meet a Member: Atheist ‘library lady’ speaks volumes

Name: Dianne M. Centa.

Where I live: Kent, Ohio, since 1973.

Where and when I was born: I was born in Wadsworth, Ohio, in 1946, and raised in Norton, Ohio.

Family: Mom and dad are deceased, as is my oldest brother. I have two younger brothers, two daughters (both Life Members of FFRF, as is my son-in-law), four grandchildren and a great-grandson.  I’ve been a widow for some years, so there is no husband in the picture.

Education: I attended the public schools in Norton, then went to college for two years at what is now called Ohio Dominican College. I eventually finished my bachelor’s degree at Kent State University in 1972. I’ve taken occasional classes since then, but, like all of us, I’ve learned a lot from life, too.

Occupation: I work at Kent State as a senior library associate. I like to say that I play with books for a living. I like it enough that I’ve been there for more than 40 years.

Military service: None. But I will mention that I was married to a GI and lived overseas with him for a year when he was stationed in Germany. Later, I was married to a decorated Marine Corps Vietnam veteran.  (One of those “mythical” atheists in a foxhole.) One learns a lot from those experiences!

How I got where I am today: I’d like to say that it was through hard work and perseverance and all those grand things, but I’m not sure that’s true. I’m an old civil servant who has gone through my share of life’s ups and downs — haven’t we all?

Looking at my college experience, I started out thinking that I’d major in biology. Well, through events, choices and probably natural inclination, I wandered off into being what I’ll call a generalist. I had to scramble during my last quarter to put together enough hours in one field (English) to actually receive my degree. Hence, the library career and lifelong love of learning. Another thing that has helped shape me is that I’ve taken advantage of many travel opportunities. It started with two trips sponsored by The Mother Earth News magazine. We went to China before it was open to regular tourism and then to Nepal to trek in the mountains. I’ve since traveled with the Kent State Geography Department to Cuba, India and Thailand. I often refer to myself as an opportunistic traveler because most of my ventures have been with groups that are interested in learning something, not just seeing the touristy sights. I’ve seen Iceland, Antarctica and the Galapagos. (OK, now I’m just bragging.) And I attend conferences across the nation (and beyond) sponsored by FFRF and other groups. 

Where I’m headed: A presidential answer: We’ll see.

Person in history I admire and why: So many worthy choices, but I’m going to go with Stephen Jay Gould. The columns he wrote over the years and collected into books expressed evolutionary ideas with a unique flair. He could begin with baseball or Hershey bars and lead us to further understanding of big ideas. (I say this despite his “non-overlapping magisteria” idea.)

A quotation I like: Again, too many choices! But I like this spoken by a character in Edward Abbey’s Fool’s Progress: “‘God,’ he would say, always putting the name in quotes, is a noise people make when they’re too tired to think anymore.”

But, as a traveler who also likes to be silly: “Confucius say, ‘Man who run through airport going to Bangkok.’” Even Freethought Today needs a bit of humor.

These are a few of my favorite things: Reading; puttering around in my little-bitty garden; Sudoku puzzles; pop TV shows like “NCIS New Orleans,” “Law and Order,” “Kal Penn’s The Big Picture,” “Tyson’s Star Talk”; craft beers; good wine; good food (especially “ethnic” foods).

These are not: Some small: Misuses of the language, e.g., putting a modifier with “unique,” or muddying a sentence by using “they” as a singular pronoun.

And dogs. Do you really have to bring them everywhere with you? Can’t they stay home while you buy a tomato at the market? (That’s not going to win me many friends!)

Some big: The enthusiastic embrace of ignorance by some religious believers and politicians.

The misunderstanding and characterization of liberals as, as . . . well, I can’t really get what “they” are saying.

My doubts about religion started: Pretty early on, including, ironically, during instruction allowing us to be confirmed in the Catholic Church.  Even though my parents* were not enthusiastically religious, I did go through a spasm of religiosity when I was in high school (even toying with the idea of becoming a nun!) and chose to attend a Catholic college. Catholic college might have been the beginning of the end. We had to take a theology class (which included proofs for the existence of God) and a course in logic. These two things do not go together! It was, however, not until a few years later that I reached that moment of clarity: Standing and reciting the Apostle’s Creed and realizing that I didn’t believe a word of it.

*A footnote about my parents, Mom particularly. I think I could sense her doubts early on even though she didn’t openly admit to being a nonbeliever until much later in life. She was in her 80s when she said, “It’s all bullshit, isn’t it?” (I could have used that as my favorite quote.)

Before I die: I hope to be around for the next total eclipse of the sun. The last one I tried to view was eclipsed by a thunderstorm.

Ways I promote freethought: I give money to several organizations which promote separation of state and church. I also had our FFRF signs put on the local buses in Portage County, Ohio.

There is the occasional letter to the editor; I sign mine, unlike commentators in the anonymous “Sound off” column. I reported a couple of violations, including writing directly to a local mayor, who seemed to respond favorably.

Another thing which is rather fun and informative (for me and others) is that I wear my irreverent T-shirts very often and very openly. I wear them to work; I wear them to the farmers’ market and other downtown events. This sparks conversations and, frequently, positive comments. I recently had a woman ask for a photo — she gave me a cookie in return. There is, of course, the occasional negative comment or stink-eye look, but still it raises awareness that we are here.

I strike out “God” on my money. A small, almost silly gesture, but I did have a cashier ask me about it when I mentioned it. I told her I did it because “In God WE trust” is a false statement.

As the “library lady,” I work with our liaison to the philosophy department. I feed him book reviews and suggestions; he is very good about purchasing books that help to add a nontheistic point of view to our collections. He even agreed to accept my donation of the complete backrun of Free Inquiry, plus an ongoing subscription. Since the library’s budget is limited, I also donate books that I purchase, sometimes from obscure authors like Dan Barker.

Life Member Dianne Centa, a longtime library associate in Kent, Ohio, enjoys wearing irreverent clothing, such as FFRF’s “Unabashed Atheist” T-shirt.