Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

Green Giants: Honoring Passages & Persistence

Across Missouri, a flood of late-May tributes presaged our summer rains. Their focus was the passing, on May 26 at age 98, of a conservation hero: Leo Drey.

Leo inherited his St. Louis family success when their line of Drey Perfect Mason jars was bought by the (still home-canning) Ball Brothers. “I always told everybody my job was to count the money,” Leo recalled, “and there was so much of it, I got tired.” He recharged by floating Ozark streams, hiking and observing how the forests were depleted by lumber operations and farmers burning out forage space for hogs and cattle. He thought he was not cut out for business, but his natural acumen kicked in when he began buying up Ozark land and applying conservation thinking to the timber business.

Famously quiet for a man of wry wit and deep perception, his phone machine message says, “I’m out planting a forest. Please leave your name and number and I’ll try to call you back before it matures.” I heard that unmistakable voice on a recent visit to his office. He continues to speak, with authority, through the body of forest management data his Pioneer Forest meticulously tracks, now going on 60 years. His work is transforming the forest products industry by proving how selectively cutting individual trees yields greater profit from intact-ecosystem forests versus the wasteful and destructive clear-cut practices that were business-as-usual, before Leo Drey.

Leo’s land-gifts to Missouri have immeasurably enriched our state. He championed the ecological wholeness of springs, caves, forests and rivers. His purchases have secured for fellow-human generations the option to uniquely enjoy his kind of curious, productive and respectful love of nature.

Many others have written about this man who invested his wealth and personal power in a visionary land ethic with huge civic generosity. The Missouri Coalition for the Environment, a powerhouse of advocacy he co-founded, offers much more of Leo’s story.

Energy engineer Jordan Heiman, another conservation giant, ended his earthly work on June 7. Throughout his 90 years, Jordan’s lively intelligence challenged conventional thinking. He was positive and firm, motivating colleagues and friends to engage in community and environmental issues.

Jordan applied his love of nature by helping to institutionalize energy efficiency as the norm in buildings. He chaired the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers, ASHRAE, and led publication of the first ASHRAE Green Guide. With his friend and fellow engineer Tim Michels, he piloted use of ENERGY STAR standards that have transformed how Habitat for Humanity builds homes in St. Louis, and earned the first LEED-Homes Platinum Certification for a house they designed and built.

As a board member and generous contributor, Jordan supported the growth of St. Louis Earth Day, the EarthWays Center, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Missouri Gateway Chapter and the Missouri Solar Energy Society. Energetic and resourceful young leaders of these organizations continue his dedication today.

LEO, the Labadie Environmental Organization was, before 2006, simply a group of women friends meeting as a book club in Labadie, a tiny community alongside the Missouri River. When the town’s power plant began buying up adjacent land with plans to construct a coal ash landfill right in the river’s floodway, this group exchanged casual reading for intensive research and citizen action.

Nine years of persistence has included getting ordinary folks and experts – hundreds of people mobilized time and again – to attend and testify at county council, public service commission and state agency meetings. The women (and men) of LEO have a clear focus: no landfill in the floodway of the source of drinking water for millions. Not “landfill out of our backyards,” or “close the power plant” or any extreme. With tireless dedication, LEO folks are working to protect the Missouri River.

Political and legal processes continue to unfold. Every public comment registered, every testimony at a public meeting contributes to this heroic effort. The story isn’t over, and the work continues. Get updates from Labadie Environmental Organization on Facebook and join with LEO.

Last on the persistence side, my environmental radio show, Earthworms, has made a big leap into a new medium: Podcasts. Earthworms is small in today’s crowded media world, but – like its namesake – the show persists in telling the stories of real enviro-heroes in our midst and (most important!) affirming the many ways each of us can and do care for the Earth. You can now access these “Green views you can use” through your mobile device or computer, at your convenience.

Shows since the June podcast switch include a tribute to Leo Drey by historians and friends David Lobbig and Dr. Susan Flader; perspective from LEO leaders Petra Haynes and Patricia Schuba; a new mobile urban grocery store in a Metro bus, the project of an extraordinary young man, Jeremy Goss; and an extended conversation with Dr. Peter Raven about his work on Pope Francis’ climate change encyclical, as a senior science advisor to the Vatican.

After 26 years of weekly live radio shows, rumors of our demise are dispelled! Listen for Earthworms Segments, short features airing throughout the KDHX broadcast schedule. Subscribe for new podcasts each week at Earthworms.kdhXtra.org or through iTunes.
In this kind of company – among Green Giants who are colleagues, mentors and friends – a commitment to service uplifts responsibility into it’s true meaning: ability to respond. Persistence through passages generates Joy!

Catch Jean Ponzi’s Earthworms enviro-conversation podcasts at Earthworms.kdhXtra.org.