Home > Uncategorized > A Lesson from “The Tragedy of White Lake”

A Lesson from “The Tragedy of White Lake”


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.  

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Ray Jensen
    May 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    “The Tragedy of White Lake” was an excellent historical discussion on the industrial economics (profits) versus a clean environment (health) debate as well as the specific polluting of White Lake by Hooker story. Prior to heading west to attend college in ’62, I spent summer mornings teaching swimming and afternoons water skiing and had little knowledge of a pollution problem. Upon returning to the area in ’08 polluters such as an inadequate sewage treatment plant, Hooker, DuPont and the Tannery were gone, so my knowledge of the poisoning of the lake and the people who “helped curb the illness in the lake before it became terminal” is only from films and video interviews. That is why I think the White Lake Environmental History Project, as a record of the area’s past and an alert to its future is valuable.

  2. May 29, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    I am so appreciative of this film. While my grandma & grandpa lived and taught school in Montague, I knew (or remembered) only a small portion of the tragic chemical contaminations that occurred and those that it affected and those that protected. Thank you!

  3. Teri
    September 13, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    A shame they didn’t interview Dan Stack who owned the old Cherokee Lodge property. He made himself rather unpopular by trying to stop Hooker from coming in and spending over $10K (a lot of money back then) of his own money to try to prevent this. As it was, he died of cancer, his son died of ALS and his wife died of cancer. And there were multiple neighbors who developed cancers……and yet it seems the lesson has to be learned over and over again all over the country.

    • September 20, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      Thanks, Teri. I did quite a bit of outreach and the project was in the local newspapers often with our request for people to interview. No one ever mentioned Dan Stack. Is he still in the area?

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