REVIEWED Environmental group still going strong after 40 years

Mariana Silva

No problems. good story/ m.s. –

In 1970, Kent Citizens for Progress members met for the first time in the basement of the Kent Unitarian Church, where they talked about air and water issues affecting the local environment.

They knew the then-green Cuyahoga River needed to be cleaned and garbage burning needed to be stopped. They also liked the idea of a city recycling center.

These so-called radicals from the Kent Environmental Council had to be persistent in fighting for a greener city because convincing people that Kent was not headed in the right direction was not easy.

This past Saturday, former and current Kent State students and professors, as well as several city public officials, sat in The Rusty Nail’s banquet room to commemorate the council’s 40th year of activism.

“There is a lot of antagonism toward environmental issues and environmental activism. It’s deemed to be a threat to businesses, so they fight us,” said Walt Adams, KEC’s first chair.

The KEC, which has an annual budget of about $2,500, has worked for the development of Riveredge Park, Kent’s recycling program, Haymaker Parkway’s landscaping and for the establishment of a Portage County environmental organization.

In the audience of about 120 people were Robert Brown, manager of Kent’s water reclamation facility; John Idone, director of Kent Parks and Recreation; Vicki Kline, democratic candidate for Portage County Commissioner; Mayor Jerry Fiala and council members Tracy Wallach and Heidi Shaffer.

Adams, KEC’s chair from 1970 to 1971 and again in 1990, welcomed his guests and introduced the eight other chairs who came after him: Ben Foote, Helen Gregory, Harold Walker, Sherry Gordon, Caroline Arnold, Gene Wenninger, Ann Ward and Charles Frederick, who were greeted with applause from the audience.

KEC member Edith Chase was also applauded after receiving a prize from the Portage County Solid Waste Management District for her work for the city.

Walt and his wife Nancy Adams have lived in Kent for the past 43 years, working for the KEC for 40 of those.

“I think back then the problems were obvious; people were burning trash in their backyards, the air had terrible quality to it,” said Walt about the years with no air pollution legislation in the city.

“That doesn’t happen anymore. The air is a lot cleaner, and I think the young people take that for granted,” he said.

Walt said most young people today are not involved with KEC, and he’s not sure why.

Although Kent State students may not be directly involved with KEC, Nancy said they are participating by belonging to other organizations and environmental activism groups, some of which they organized themselves.

As long as groups are working for the same ideals as KEC, Nancy said they will keep working together.

KEC has worked with local schools to create community gardens and has awarded grants for environmental education through its Legacy for Learning program.

Charles Frederick, Kent State assistant professor and current KEC chair, learned of the organization when he was a student at Kent State, and he plans to reach out to Kent State students via Facebook and other social networking sites.

“It’s exciting that we’ve hit a milestone and that we are going to continue the great ideas,” Frederick said. “We are not going to stop.”

Contact Mariana Silva at [email protected].