By TEDDYE SNELL
Sunday afternoon, over 100 clean water advocates gathered at Go Ye Village’s Richardson Hall for the Save The Illinois River Inc. annual meeting and Hall of Fame induction.
The event included a silent auction to raise money for the ‘Bids for Bathrooms’ campaign, which helps the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission provide and maintain portable toilets along the Illinois River, election of STIR officers, award presentations and honoring special guests.
STIR President Denise Deason-Toyne thanked everyone for attending.
“We have waged many battles over nearly 30 years,” said Deason-Toyne. “We still have battles to fight, including watching the phosphorus standard within the watershed and the pending ruling on the poultry lawsuit. But our resolve has never wavered, and it never will. There’s no confusion about where STIR stands; we’re the momma grizzly in our watershed.”
STIR members voted unanimously to maintain the organization’s current officers, including President Deason-Toyne, Vice President Barb Daily, and Secretary/Treasurer Ed Brocksmith. STIR also welcomed new member Shannon Otteson-Gosa, a local attorney and stakeholder within the watershed.
STIR honored several members of the media for continued coverage of water quality issues, along with the Greater Tenkiller Area Association, and Dr. Tom Alexander, and environmental consultant for both STIR and OSRC.
Hall of Fame inductees included the late Julian Fite, Robert Kellogg and former Sen. Herb Rozell.
OSRC Administrator Ed Fite spoke of Julian fondly, and Jennifer Fite accepted the award on Julian’s behalf.
“Julian was a rare individual; he was always cheerful and positive - a practical philosopher,” said Ed.
“He was truly a wise man who reminded me of Will Rogers - a common man with uncommon wisdom.”
Bob Kellogg, of Edmond, is an environmental attorney who helped the OSRC and STIR over the years with many legal battles as well as legislative issues.
Kellogg grew up in Montana, and when he saw the Illinois River for the first time in the early 1970s, couldn’t believe how pristine the water was.
“It reminded me of being at home in Montana,” said Kellogg.
“Over the years, it was important for me to do what I could to restore the river to the way I remembered it.”
Former state Sen. Paul Magee, a recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award, introduced former Sen. Herb Rozell, D-Tahlequah. Rozell was Magee’s orientation supervisor when he was a freshman senator, and the pair are both known for taking tough stances on swine and poultry pollution issues.
Rozell grew up in Welling, on the Barren Fork creek.
“That area was my life until I was 22,” said Rozell. “When I was a small child, my family was in the hay business and corn business and did it the hard way. My job was to get water and take it to the men in the fields. I learned to walk out into the middle of the creek where the rocks were white as snow, because that’s where the best drinking water was. Back in those days, you could see white rocks at a depth of 10-12 feet.”
As Rozell grew older, he began to see what was happening within the watershed, as poultry discharge and wastewater discharge from Arkansas began to have an effect on the river.
As a senator, he fought tirelessly for water quality standards and to help form the OSRC.
“And I’ll tell you now, you’ve never been in a battle until you start trying to clean up the water,” said Rozell. “You’d think it would be a simple thing, that everyone would want to help. But it’s not the case.”
He thanked the members of STIR for their efforts.
“Bless your hearts,” said Rozell. “Stay hooked. Silence accomplishes very little, unless you’re arguing with your wife.”
Deason-Toyne and STIR member Nancy Garber also presented Ed Fite with an award for his nearly 30 years’ service as OSRC administration.
Fite thanked his staff and board of directors, and said he would be nothing without them.
“Water is the life spirit of the soul,” said Fite.