In 2013, the Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter celebrated our 50th Anniversary of exploring, enjoying and protecting Wisconsin. Our major celebration took place on Earth Day weekend and featured a visit from National Sierra Club's Executive Director Michael Brune and a foray to John Muir Park with the Wisconsin Friends of John Muir to celebrate the 175th birthday of our organization's founder. Below are highlights from our April 20th evening celebration, along with links to our top 50 past accomplishments, a story from Gary Werner about our Chapter's founding, a thank you page for our sponsors, and a list of all the things activists can do to ensure the next 50 years of conservation victories for Wisconsin!
On April 20th Sierra Club members and friends gathered to celebrate the past and look to the future.
After arriving late Friday night, National Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune was welcomed by John and Cathie Imes, owners of Arbor House, an environmentally-focused bed and breakfast. Michael Brune slept at this exceptional lodging facility in the John Muir room. Their accommodations ensured that he would be well rested for his visit to the John Muir Chapter as we celebrated 50 Years of Conservation Leadership on a crisp, sunny April 20.
Saturday began with Michael Brune meeting with the Progressive magazine for an interview. From there, he headed to the Isthmus Green Day (an annual expo at the Monona Terrace showcasing green businesses and organizations), where he spoke about how climate change hit home when Hurricane Sandy flooded his parents’ basement in New Jersey. He also spoke about how he first became an environmentalist when he and other local citizens came together to stop medical waste and chemical pollution from degrading the Jersey shoreline.
(Watch the video of Michael Brune’s talk at Isthmus Green Day here.)
Michael later joined Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter anniversary sponsors at the home of Carol Brooks and Wayne Bigelow, who generously hosted brunch. As always, Liz Wessel and Caryl Terrell offered a scrumptious menu and organized volunteers, including Judy Hofrichter and Berenice Wiecki. Michael mingled with about 60 attendees and got a taste of Wisconsin while all enjoyed several varieties of quiche, savory bundt cake, salad, kalamata olive dip, a bloody Mary bar, muffins, and more. Michael didn’t waste a moment as WORT-FM Community Radio reporter Rebekah Wilce interviewed him about Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil Campaign during the brunch.
Midwest Beyond Coal Organizer Jennifer Feyerherm graciously guided Michael throughout the busy day and arranged a special tour of the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Monona before our evening event. This gave Michael the chance to check out the ALNC’s solar panels, electric car charging station, and cutting edge climate change exhibit.
At the same time, 200 longtime members and supporters from throughout the state began arriving at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. Jacinda Tessmann and Elizabeth Ward were busy coordinating volunteers and registering attendees. Some went on a building tour where they learned about the fossils in the floor and the many green features of the LEED-gold certified WID. Others attended a John Muir historical tour guided by Historic and Cultural Resources Manager Daniel Einstein that included a trip to Muir Knoll, Muir’s former dormitory room in North Hall, and a bust of Muir in Birge Hall.
The main anniversary celebration included a social hour where Sierra Club members reminisced with one another, enjoyed appetizers, and viewed displays that featured past accomplishments and Chapter leaders. They also perused displays featuring our six local groups and three special activity sections, the River Touring Section, Inner City Outings, and Sierra Student Coalition. Although Pete Slaby could not attend, he lent guests his substantial collection of Sierra Club memorabilia, which included vintage Spencer Black photos and several choice pieces on anti-environmentalist and former Interior Department Secretary James Watt. Click here for a copy of the program from our 50th Anniversary celebration.
Many Local Group activists carpooled to the event from around the state, working the celebration into their busy Earth Day weekend schedule. Leaders from beyond the Four Lakes Group who were able to join us included Marilyn Pedretti from the Coulee Region Group; Janet Anderson from the Great Waters Group; Al & Dianna Lawrence from the Fox Valley Group; and Melissa Warner from the Southeast Gateway Group. Of course, many Executive Committee members were in the room, including Don Ferber, founding member Gary Werner, Jim Kerler, Liza Peckham, L.D. Rockwell, Will Stahl, Eric Uram, and Rosemary Wehnes. Legal Chair Jamie Saul and Muir View layout volunteer and logo designer Laura Anderton were there, as was Awards Committee Chair Lacinda Athen who helped behind the scenes to create our special 50th Anniversary website.
John Muir Chapter Chair Liz Wessel kicked off the evening program by recognizing founding members of the Chapter in 1963 (Arthur Norman “Norm” & Catherine O’Neill, Reuben “Slim” & Helen Roethle, Julius “Doc” & Pat Werner, Richard “Dick” & Mabel Low, Joe & Bernice Mills, Frank Griffith, Joe Bradley, Rich Gordon), early Chapter leaders (Phil and Jean Wipperman, Dick Swenson, Robert Smith, Bill & Ann Schultheis, Bill & Kathy Geitner, Margaret “Gretchen” Seikel, Harold and Joan Sipperly, Bill Beverley) as well as Executive Committee members and Group Chairs in the room. Mining and Political Chair Dave Blouin continued the program by outlining current Chapter priorities and introducing Former State Representative and National Sierra Club Board Vice President Spencer Black.
Spencer then recognized current and former elected officials in the room, who included Congressman Mark Pocan, State Representative Terese Berceau, State Representative Penny Bernard Schaber, State Representative Chris Taylor, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Eau Claire County Board Chair and Chippewa Valley Group member Gregg Moore, Dane County Board Member Mary Kolar. Black introduced State Senator Mark Miller, who read through his legislative citation to congratulate the Chapter. Guests were reminded of our key victories during his speech, from securing Wild & Scenic River status for the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers to securing funds for the purchase of and acquiring National Historic Landmark Status for John Muir Memorial Park and State Natural Area in Marquette County. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi then followed up by discussing his longtime connection with the Sierra Club and by announcing his County-level proclamation covering our local accomplishments.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune then gave the keynote speech, which touched on Sierra Club’s work to pressure Obama to take action on climate change and designate new national monuments. He also discussed the future and his plans to visit these special places on vacation with his three children. Most importantly, he left the audience with a message of optimism and hope about our power to make a difference.
Brune said in his speech that environmentalists, and the Sierra Club in particular, “have the greatest opportunity to succeed than ever seen,” and encouraged members to maintain their hope and efforts to create a “safe, secure, and sustainable” way to provide energy to future civilizations, despite powerful figures and corporations standing in their way.
“We talk about [the opposition] in a way that takes away our power,” Brune said to the crowd. “It almost gives us an excuse not to succeed. But we need to consider we are extremely powerful.” (quotes courtesy of madisoncommons.org)
Other notable attendees included former head of the US Bureau of Indian Affairs and retired UW -Madison School of Social Work & American Indian Studies lecturer Ada Deer; Former Sierra Club Board of Directors Member Barbara Frank; Director of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and the Wisconsin Urban & Rural Transit Association Gary Goyke; River Network President Todd Ambs, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Director Kerry Schumann and Legislative Liaison Jennifer Giegerich; RENEW Wisconsin Interim Director Don Wichert and Policy Director Michael Vickerman; WISPIRG Director Bruce Speight, and others.
We were also excited to see younger faces in the room, including Physicians for Social Responsibility Board member Joel Charles, Muir View editor Emily Jones, Legislative intern Alexa Edinburgh, and Sierra Student Coalition President Claire Cameron. After all the work that volunteers and staff put into planning our anniversary celebration, we left feeling inspired about all that we’ve accomplished over the past 50 years, energized to band together and grow our ranks to create the next 50 years of conservation victories.
Read what Madison Commons had to say about the event: Sierra Club chapter addresses climate change, rallies together at anniversary
More event photos can be viewed on our facebook page: Sierra Club Wisconsin