Archive for May, 2013

Attitudes About Pollution in the 1950s –1970s: They Were Different, According to Former Whitehall Teacher Rosemary Davidson Vreeland

May 29, 2013 1 comment


I had the pleasure of interviewing my former sixth grade teacher, Rosemary Davidson Vreeland, a few weeks ago. I hadn’t realized when I was in sixth grade at Whitehall Schools, that in the 1950s, Rosemary and her husband, Jim, had transferred from the Hooker Chemical Company in Niagara Falls, New York to the White Lake area where Jim would head up the laboratory for the new company.

I was in sixth grade in 1971. Pollution issues relating to Hooker Chemical Company were not raised in the community until the mid to late 1970s, so it is not surprising that I was not aware of her husband’s work and their background.  It’s also not surprising considering the general attitudes and state of knowledge about pollution.  It was not a topic of everyday conversation in a rural community like ours, and in an age well before the easy availability of information such as we have today.  Rosemary talks about how pollution was considered to be quite common in the heavily industrialized Niagara Falls region and how pollution associated with industry was a given.  Even so, she said thoughts of pollution were not consistent with her new hometown, with its scenic lakes, rivers, and forests.  Rosemary recalls the tension that arose for her as a teacher as White Lake’s pollution issues came to the community’s attention. She concludes by explaining how she does not want to apologize for Hooker Chemical Company, but instead to describe what she remembers as a very different mindset about pollution.

It is interesting to know the variety of thoughts that people had during this time.  I am grateful to Rosemary for agreeing to the interview.  It reminded me of a much more innocent time and helped to add important context to our community’s story.

Your thoughts?  They are always welcome!

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May 20, 2013 2 comments


Get ready for some good news!  Several interviews have been posted recently that focus on cleanup of White Lake, from the establishment of a Great Lakes program by an international agency to assist communities like the White Lake area address pollution problems, to the formation of a local citizen advisory group in 1992 that has helped to guide White Lake to a successful recovery.  In these recent interviews, you will find out about the International Joint Commission and its effort to help the public get involved and push for cleanups.  You will also learn about the important roles of the White Lake Public Advisory Council and Muskegon Conservation District.  The topics covered in these interviews are a little more technical and focused on process, but are valuable for explaining the framework through which progress has been made at restoring our lake.

View the John Hartig interview and Jeff Auch and Greg Mund interview to find out more.

What are your thoughts?  Were you aware of the International Joint Commission and did you know about the efforts of the White Lake Public Advisory Council and Muskegon Conservation District?

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A Lesson from “The Tragedy of White Lake”

May 6, 2013 4 comments


I watched the film, ““The Tragedy of White Lake” a few weeks before we showed it at the Howmet Playhouse on April 25, and realized I had watched it years ago.  I can’t recall exactly when.  But it made more of an impression on me this second time, most likely because I am now much more familiar with our local environmental history and I understand the importance of the activism of a few key local residents.

It was fascinating to see our community’s youthful local activists, like A. Winton “Wint” Dahlstrom and Marion Dawson, whom I met in their later years.  I was really impressed by Warren Dobson, the Hooker Chemical Company worker who quit his job at the plant due to his concerns about ongoing pollution and alerted the state environmental authorities about the problems.  He was obviously intelligent and his decision was not made lightly.  I don’t know much about Mr. Dobson’s life after he quit his job and left town (some said for fear of his life). I do know that at some point, he returned to the area and was killed in a motorcycle accident in the last decade.   He did our community a great service and I wish we could have thanked him properly.    

It didn’t take huge numbers of people in our community to raise the alarm about White Lake’s pollution and eventually get the attention of state environmental regulators.  What it did take, however, was a few people who were not afraid to speak up, put time into researching the issues, and pursue answers and action persistently and doggedly.  I am very grateful for their efforts.

About “The Tragedy of White Lake.”    The film was produced in 1978 by students from Grand Valley State College.  It shows many scenes from the White Lake area in the 1970s and features lengthy interviews with local activists, A. Winton “Wint” Dalhlstrom, Whitehall businessman James Tate, and Marion Dawson, Warren Dobson, the former Hooker Chemical Company plant worker who alerted state environmental authorities to pollution at the company’s property, former Hooker Chemical Company manager Duane Colpoys, Howard Tanner, then director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and assistant attorney general, Steward Freeman, who pursued cleanup when pollution was brought to light by local citizens.  

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