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Home » Campus News Latest » Obituaries » Atis Folkmanis ’62

Atis Folkmanis, 83, passed away on Monday September 19, 2022, at his home in Berkeley.
Atis Folkmanis was born on Oct. 29, 1938, in the Latvian capital city of Riga. He is the son of Konstantins and Margrieta Folkmanis. As a teen-ager, Atis’s father fought in Latvia’s 1918 to 1920 War of Independence. He later became a bank director, and moved to the town of Cesis, 60 miles northeast from Riga, where the family lived in the same building as the bank his father worked at. During a 1997 trip to Latvia, Atis was able to visit Cesis and see the building in which he spent the early years of his life.
In 1944, the Soviet Union reoccupied Latvia, and Konstantins Folkmanis shepherded his wife, two daughters and Atis on a boat from Liepaja to what was then Danzig, now known as Gdansk, in what is now Poland and was then Germany. They spent the rest of the war near Dresden, dodging air raids in a basement.
As World War II was ending, Konstantins Folkmanis was determined to ensure that his family would be on the Western side of Germany, and despite the chaos around him, he managed to find a way on foot about 150 miles to the town of Fulda, only about 20 miles from what would ultimately become a Cold War frontier. The Folkmanis family lived in a displaced persons camp for Latvians run by the U.S. military until 1949, when they emigrated to the United States.
Atis and his family settled in Yellow Springs, in western Ohio, where Atis adapted quickly to small-town American life – he delivered newspapers from his bicycle, and played on the basketball team at Bryan High School. When it came time for college, Atis chose to attend the hometown school: Antioch, a liberal-arts institution famed for its cooperative education program, which linked an undergraduate curriculum with field-based learning via jobs through which students earned credits.
It was on one of these co-op jobs that Atis met Judy Siegel, a born and bred New Yorker who had transferred to Antioch from Bucknell University. They were married in March 1963, after Atis’s graduation the previous year and before Judy’s that same year. With a spirit of adventure, and inspired by President Kennedy’s call, the couple joined the Peace Corps, and spent the next two years teaching in the Malaysian town of Penang. During and after their time in the Peace Corps, Atis and Judy were able to see the world – clambering among the nearly deserted ruins of Angkor Wat; gaping at the splendor of the Taj Mahal; volunteering on a kibbutz in Israel.
On their return to the U.S., Atis and Judy settled in the Boston area, where they began building a family. Daniel Evan Folkmanis was born in 1966, followed by Jason Folkmanis in 1968. After spending some time as a teacher, Atis returned to graduate school, earning his PhD in biochemistry from Brandeis University in Waltham.
It was that degree that resulted in the Folkmanis’s family cross-country relocation, when Atis was offered a position as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at Berkeley’s molecular biology department, where he studied the bacteriophage lamda under the direction of renowned biologist and geneticist Hatch Echols.
Approaching his late 30s, with two children and a mortgage on a house in central Berkeley, Atis decided to pass up job opportunities as a professor that would have required a move out of the Bay Area. Instead, the couple seized the moment offered by Judy’s creative genius. Judy had been making hand-crafted puppets and selling them on Telegraph Avenue to provide the family with extra funds, and Atis convinced her that the time was right to turn the side project into a full-fledged business.
The roots of the business in 1976 were a humble rented one-room facility on Blake Street in Berkeley. From there what was once known as Furry Folk Puppets steadily grew into Folkmanis, Inc., based on Park Avenue in Emeryville. With more than two dozen employees, many of whom have worked at the company for decades and some of whom have brought their adult children into the business, Folkmanis has distributed more than 50 million educational animal puppets into the hands of children and adults worldwide, based on an estimate made by Atis when his wife passed away in 2016.
Atis and Judy never stopped traveling, in spite of Judy’s battle against multiple sclerosis. Among their journeys, they made two trips to Africa where they saw some of the animals that had helped to inspire the creation of the business. Atis also had the joy of helping to revive Antioch, which in part due to his donations was able to re-open in 2011.
In addition to his sister Baiba, and sons Dan and Jason, Atis is survived by three granddaughters and one grandson. The family requests that any contributions be made to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, through

Ronald Michael Hampton