Sunday, 1 June 2008

The Sojourner

Last Sunday, a fifty-seven year old woman died of cardiac arrest in a hospital in Ohio. I never met her and didn't even know her name, Karen Gans, until I read the news of her passing, yet she had a profound effect on me and so many others.

I knew her as The Sojourner and she ran a group called ShockProof in SecondLife, an online community. She worked with stroke survivors to help them deal with the trauma they had faced and re-engage with life. SecondLife was perfect for her. Everyone could create the kind of person they wanted to be. There is unlimited potential in the programming tools you get. It didn't matter where you were. As long as you had a computer and high speed internet, you could get to the meetings, without any physical stress.

She was a woman of unlimited creativity. She would teach her people how to build (i.e. program) objects in SecondLife then turn them loose. She had all kinds of contests, like who could build the best tree fort, waterfall, haunted house or Mardi Gras float. She had a sandbox where you could build whatever you wanted. There were always friendly people hanging around Dreams, ready to help a newbie or just have a chat. I met her through one of the Dreams events, a fair where all of the community minded groups could set up a tent and invite others to join them.

I was one of the newbies who hung around Dreams for a while, learning how to function in an online world and meeting the people. Watching Soj, as we called her, in action was inspirational and opened my eyes to what could be accomplished in an online world. After meeting her and learning about Dreams, I wrote the poem at the top of this post. Soj was herself a stroke survivor and it is a testament to her spirit that she was able to transform her own struggle into such an inspiration for others. We all miss you, Soj.

Karen Gans (Derk), age 57, passed away May 25 after an extended illness. Her life revolved around being a loving and loyal wife to Donald and a devoted mother of Andrew. She is also survived by her parents Ernest and Rose Derk, mother-in-law Dorothy Gans, siblings: Theresa Smith, Rosanne, Diane, Dave, and Mike Derk, and a host of uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews, all of whom she dearly loved. She was raised in Perry, Ohio and earned bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees at Kent State University. She worked with stroke patients and multi-handicapped children early in her career and later taught and managed a federal grant at Kent State. Most recently, Karen developed and ran internet support communities for a variety of medical disabilities. She donated her body to the medical school in Rootstown, and a memorial service will be held Saturday, June 7 at 11 am at Saint Cyprian Church, 44223 Middle Ridge Road, Perry, Ohio. (RC 5/28/08)