by Bob Freeman with Liz McCullogh
Arupa Freeman passed away December 22, after several months of illness.
Arupa was born Kathleen Emond in North Bennington, Vermont. She took great pride in her family’s long history in Vermont, going back to colonial times. Though raised by her grandmother in difficult circumstances, Arupa relished small town childhood memories: flying kites, picking wild strawberries, ice skating, Christmas caroling. She studied English and French literature at the University of Oklahoma.
Arupa was a follower of George Gurdjieff, the mystic and philosopher, and lived in an ashram in Carmel, California while working as an editor for McGraw-Hill Publishing. Along the way she adopted the name Arupa from the Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh — a Sanskrit word meaning formless or non-material.
Arupa read deeply in philosophy, religion, and mysticism. She was a spiritual seeker. She was both a Catholic and a Buddhist; jokingly she called herself a Cathuddhist. She knew that after death she would enter another life where she would be reunited with loved ones.
She moved to Gainesville, and there she met and married the painter Bob Freeman, both of them founding members of the Acrosstown Repertory Theater. She supported herself with housecleaning and editing, but the work that really mattered to Arupa was writing, painting, acting, and helping homeless people. She wrote poetry, plays, and two blogs which are still available on-line: vermontandotherstatesofmind.blogspot.com and homevan.blogspot.com. She advocated tirelessly for the needs of the homeless, speaking to the City Commission and writing op-eds for the newspaper.
In 2002, Arupa, with her husband Bob and some friends, began the Home Van, bringing food, clothes, medicine and other supplies to homeless people in camps and downtown parks in a big Chevy van. The Home Van came from a place of friendship, and as an informal group supported by community donations rather than government funding and grants, was able to be guided by instinct and kindness instead of rules.
In 2015 the Home Van became a food pantry, run out of Arupa and Bob’s living room with the help of a few volunteers. It provides food, medicines, tents and other supplies to the downtown homeless and marginally housed. Even in the last few months of her life, though she was quite ill, Arupa would get up to greet and give a food bag to her homeless friends.
Arupa refused most awards, but she was proud to accept the 2008 Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame Award from the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida, and, in December 2019, the Rosa Parks Quiet Courage award.
Arupa is survived by her husband, Bob Freeman, and her stepchildren. A memorial mass was held January 15.
The final words for this obituary come from Arupa. In 2015, noting that the French root for courage is ‘heart,’ she wrote, “Courage is going out into the world, not with bravado, but with heart. I can smile at people, especially those who seem lonely or sad. Such smiles have cheered me up many times. I can be Buddha meeting Buddha wherever I go. I can appreciate the clouds, the trees, the gray squirrels who dart across the street ahead of us or sit precariously on a telephone wire.
“There is a world out there that needs to be loved; there is a loving Spirit in this universe who is always with me, helping me to get through whatever challenges life brings me. I discovered that Spirit, if invited, could teach me how to love and guide me in life decisions … I have written poetry books, painted, and did outreach to homeless people, the unwanted children of our harsh age. I’ve been a player, and I’ve had a life, a wonderful life. For the past 30 years I have been married to one of the greatest guys ever – another artist, who has walked with me every inch of the way.”
Bob Freeman and the volunteers intend to continue the Home Van food pantry. Donations in Arupa’s memory may be made to Citizens for Social Justice, Inc. at 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601.