I remember his grandfatherly smile, his warm, welcoming handshake, his words of deep, personal encouragement when he heard I was writing about the Great Lakes. He made me feel as if I was a critical member of the team.
“A fanatic is one who won’t change his mind and can’t change the subject.” Ellen Satterlee, the CEO of the Wege Foundation, quoted Winston Churchill to describe the late Peter Wege. Grounded in his passion for restoring the Great Lakes, Mr. Wege was fanatical when it came to his vision.
“No single foundation, no single organization, no single nation will restore the Great Lakes by working alone. It will take partnerships among all who care for our magnificent Great Lakes to get the job done.”
That fanaticism combined with extraordinary leadership were like faint ripples of hope skipping across the surface of a deteriorating Great Lakes ecosystem in 2004. Because of Peter Wege, ten years later the ripples are more like waves, one to two-foot rollers curling alongside miles of shoreline and slowly eroding the cliffs of resistance.
Peter Wege died in July of 2014, two months before the Healing Our Waters coalition held its tenth annual meeting in his beloved Grand Rapids.The coalition is the brainchild of Mr. Wege, uniting over 115 zoos, aquariums, museums, and conservation, outdoor recreation, and environmental organizations. Working in concert with the region’s mayors, governors, tribes, businesses and industry leaders, the coalition is implementing a vision too powerful to shrug off; using a plan too grounded in science to dismiss; and a team of fanatics too large, too resourceful, too dedicated to ignore.
Republicans and Democrats. Canadians and Americans. Staff and volunteers. Young and old. Dreaming. Collaborating. Creating a healthier Great Lakes region.
In the last five years, over $1.6 billion in federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiatives (GLRI) monies have been added to state and local government funds and private contributions to sponsor over 2,000 projects. Many GLRI successes are within sailing distance of my own home in western Michigan.
It will take all of us . . . those who play in these waters, whose business depends on these waters, who drink these waters, who feel the presence of God in these waters . . . to get the job done. Please take a moment to join the team. Insist that funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiatives remains a priority when candidates ask for your vote.
We choose whether to lift our sails to the winds of hope, opportunities, and dreams. We live in a democracy. We choose.
To see a complete listing of GLRI projects visit http://greatlakesrestoration.us. Specific details about many of the projects can be found on the Healing Our Waters website http://healthylakes.org under “Successes.”
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