By Ken Kagan
You are invited to contact Michael’s wife Julana Hansmeier (email@example.com) and brother Ken Kagan (firstname.lastname@example.org) by email.
Michael Kagan was born in 1948 in Queens, New York, and died peacefully at his home in Tacoma, WA on October 18, 2022. He died surrounded by those he loved most – his wife of 38 years, Julana Hansmeier, his daughter, Julia Michelle Kagan Hansmeier, his son-in-law, Miguel Ángel Romero López, Julana’s sister, Gretchen Berzin, and his beloved granddaughter, Siena Romero Hansmeier.
His death from lung cancer came an astonishing eight years after his diagnosis on October 10, 2014, at which time his doctors offered a very short-term prognosis, likely not to exceed 18 months.
Michael was the son of William (Bill) and Arlyne (née Robbins) Kagan, and “welcomed” the births of his two younger brothers – Philip Neil in 1951 and Kenneth Scott in 1955. In March, 1961, his first great adventure began when he was entrusted with the care of his two younger brothers on an airplane trip to Los Angeles (while their parents took a two-week road trip) to begin a new life in California.
In 1966, Michael graduated from Fairfax High School in L.A., attended one year of college at UCLA before transferring to UC Santa Cruz, where he spent several enjoyable years in school and in the surrounding communities, and earned a degree in psychology in 1971. During his time at UCSC, Michael spent a great deal of time with a legendary pioneer of “French-intensive, raised-bed biodynamic farming,” Alan Chadwick, who helped mentor Michael in his techniques.
Following his degree in psychology, Michael subsequently earned a teaching certificate. His life’s “adventures” deepened when he received a draft notice. Despite deeply held beliefs in pacifism rooted in spirituality, his efforts to achieve conscientious objector status were unsuccessful. As a result, Michael refused induction into the military, and what followed was a Kafka-esque prosecution in the United States District Court, where he was convicted by an ultra-conservative federal judge. He was sentenced to two years of prison time, suspended on multiple conditions, including that he be on probation for five years. His probation was very onerous, including a provision that he could only travel within a few coastal counties in Northern California. Moreover, the felony conviction voided his ability to teach in public schools. Fortunately, he was able to teach in private schools, and found a welcoming home at The Peninsula School in Menlo Park, CA.
After obtaining permission to have his probation transferred, Michael moved from Palo Alto to an undeveloped farm near Jamestown, KY in 1975 (and was joined by his brother, Ken, three months later). In late 1975, Michael obtained a full and complete pardon from President Ford, which wiped his slate “clean.” Thus began Michael’s greatest and most deeply-loved career – that of a self-taught farmer. He raised cows, pigs, and chickens, and grew a wide variety of crops. In addition, there was a pasture of hay, and 3 acres of chestnut trees. While the work was hard, especially when combined with the heat and humidity, what was fun was watching Michael demonstrate to the locals what he was doing. They must have thought that Michael was touched in the head (“What? No chemical fertilizers or pesticide sprays? How is that possible?”). But he showed them how much greater was the yield of his crops in the planted areas than they were able to achieve, all the while avoiding all chemical fertilizers and sprays.
Farming was the love of his life, until he met Julana, while on a trip to visit Ken, who had moved to Tacoma to attend law school (Julana and Ken were next-door neighbors in Tacoma). The bond that Michael and Julana quickly formed took his life in a totally different direction, causing him to move from Kentucky to Tacoma to be with Julana, which he did in 1983. Julia was born in 1983, and Michael and Julana married at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma in 1984. Living in Tacoma, Michael switched gears, and over the years, took up rental property ownership, and residential real estate, where he became known as “The Bearded Broker.” During his many years living in Tacoma, Michael was heavily involved in many political and cultural organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace, the Tacoma-Cienfuegos (Cuba) Sister City Committee, the Pierce (County) Progressive, the Stadium District Historical Business Association, and many others.
At age 50, after participating in many different sports his whole life, he began playing senior league baseball with the Tacoma Tugs and The Wizards. Through the “People to People” program, he traveled for five years playing baseball in Cuba, each year bringing with him a thousand of pounds of donated baseball gear. He was also a faithful Mariners fan. Among other charitable works, Michael raised $15,000 for LUNGevity, a cancer research organization.
After Julia graduated from college (following a study abroad semester in Granada, Spain), she moved to the town of Almonte, in the south of Spain, to assist with teaching English in a bilingual school. There she met a fellow soccer player and elementary school teacher, Miguel Ángel, and a romance quickly ensued. Michael and Julana visited many times, and began to dream of living in Spain for at least half of each year. They eventually succeeded in overcoming the very difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming process of applying for visas that would enable them to stay for prolonged periods. Fortunately, their visas were approved at the same time his cancer was diagnosed.
Thus began Michael’s next adventure – life in Almonte, Spain with Julana, with Julia and Miguel living nearby. Their time in Spain over the years became some of the happiest times of their lives. Nothing prepared Michael for the joy he would experience when his grandchild, Siena, was born in 2018. While spending time with her, Michael realized that his calling was to be a teacher of all things about life to Siena, whom she called “Abu,” shortened from “Abuelo.” As he was approaching death, he knew that his final teaching gig was to show Siena and the rest of his family the realities of life and death and what it meant to die on one’s own terms, with dignity.
In the words of an old song (1968) by the band “The Association,” Michael was “a seeker and a knower.” He was a world traveler, lived in many places and fell in love with each place and its customs and mores, its foods, its languages, its topography, its music, and its literature. You will never have met or known anyone who was more of a sponge, soaking up the essence of the life of a place and its people. He loved life beyond measure, and took huge bites out of every place, and every experience, and every relationship. Michael was reluctant to leave this world, but maintained an approach of curiosity toward what might come next Michael was preceded in death by his brother Philip in 2003, his father in 2019, and his mother in 2022.
It is extremely difficult to imagine a world without Michael in it, and there is no way to quantify how much he will be missed.
Remembrances may be made in his honor and memory to organizations and causes that were important to Michael and his family, such as: lungevity.org, fredhutchcancercenter.org/donate, jewishvoiceforpeace.org, tacoma-cienfuegos-sister-city.org, and endoflifewa.org.