It was just after Christmas last year when Kevin Thomas Varner received the jolting news of his impending death.
The news prompted the machine operator and deep thinker to lay out his life's work — his "strange scientific research" as he called it — in a cryptic self-written Feb. 3 death notice. The obit employed his smirking humor and got right to the point:
"Cancer got me," said the handwritten draft, later transcribed and published by his family, complete with a bewildering list of patent numbers, descriptions of ferrogels and nanocubes and plans to harvest renewable energy from highly unconventional sources. He also donated his body to the University of Minnesota Medical School so that someone there can figure out what "got" him. He was 65.
"He was diagnosed with cancer from the lymph nodes, the liver, the lungs, colon, on Dec. 27. And he died on Jan. 24," said his sister, Sue Frase Haven. "He was a health nut, and he was in perfect shape. When he told me [about the diagnosis], I said, 'You're the one who's going to live to be 100 — what are you talking about?' No smoking, no drinking. Healthy foods, healthy lifestyle. It's really bizarre."
Varner was born in Milaca, Minn., and lived his adult life in the farmhouse where he grew up, just north of Ogilvie on Hwy. 47. While his siblings moved away, Kevin remained at home, helping run the house for his working mom so that she could keep living in her home as long as possible.
During these years, Varner worked on surreal hand-drawn illustrations with titles such as "The Crowning of Sir Real" and "Clockwork Orange Juice." He also read widely on esoteric physics and chemistry concepts, using the resources of public libraries in nearby Mora and, occasionally, in downtown Minneapolis.
Though self-taught and lacking a lab or personal computer, Varner seemed to grasp complex material. He had two papers published in Infinite Energy magazine, including one article in 2002 titled "Perpetual Motion in the 21st Century: Tethered-Solute Osmosis Membranes and Other Concepts for Demonstrating Second Law Motion," which ran to 11 pages and had 30 hand-drawn illustrations. Varner claimed at the time that other researchers' computational methods left them blind to "simple" ideas.
Googling Varner's idea leads to a book, "The Worldwide List of Alternative Theories and Critics." Varner is listed on page 2,222.
Christy Frazier, managing editor of Infinite Energy, said neither of Varner's papers was deemed of "major significance." But the New Hampshire-based magazine often publishes work by new authors whose writings are seen as interesting to its audience.
Varner's death notice lists five specific ideas. The first two deal with "cold" fusion techniques to harvest energy by catalyzing electrochemical processes involving materials that do not yet exist. The third and fourth ideas relate to the creation of a special protein that could be used in medical diagnostics and ferrogels. The last concerns a machine that could be used for the construction of a vast forest of artificial trees for carbon sequestration. A small selection of his writings is available online.
What Varner did not do during his life was date, marry, have children or almost anything that required him to be social in group settings, family members say. Photos of his nieces and nephews covered the exterior of his refrigerator.
"I made a recording about a week before Kevin passed away … and as far as we know, that is the only known recording of him," said his brother, Bob Varner.
Kevin Varner passed away in hospice care, telling family members in the end that he regretted not being more sociable during his life. There were no services.
Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779