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Winnie Hepler Honored By Kentucky Heartwood Posted: November 3, 2012
When Winnie wrote to me recently that she had been chosen to receive this year’s Stu Butler Memorial Award, she noted that she was “honored and dumbstruck to have won.” In classic Winnie Hepler form, she continued that “It’s my age, I assume, and I am appreciative and humbled and that many worthier nominated will be recognized in later years.”
Winnie, my dear friend, it is not your age, but your exemplary life of giving and caring, and I know that Stu would agree heartily that there are none worthier of this recognition.
Stu Butler bore witness by his life to the need for our environmental policies to be driven by values more enduring and more robust than the short term politics and profit. He never drew attention to himself, and never took anywhere near what he gave to the many organizations and causes in which he was involved.
On hearing of his death, as I reflected on Stu’s work, I was reminded of a prayer by Marian Wright Edelman:
Lord, help me not to be a taker, but a tender,
Help me not to be a whiner but a worker,
Help me not to be a getter but a giver,
Help me not to be a hindrance but a help,
Help me not be a critic but a catalyst for good.
You are gathered on this November day to remember Stu, whose life’s example continues to be a “catalyst for good,” and to reflect on his amazing qualities of dedication, tenacity, and giving spirit.
Kentucky Heartwood has awarded the 7th Annual Stuart Butler Memorial Award to another deserving “catalyst for good,” my friend Winnie, and you have chosen well.
While a concern with environmental health and justice is common in many quarters today, it was not always the case, and in those early years of the environmental movement that began around the time of the publication of Silent Spring by Rachael Carson, those who argued for conservation and against pollution were subject to ridicule and more. I was in 7th grade in New York City when Winnie wrote her first protest letter in July, 1965 over the Corps of Engineer’s plans to channelize Beargrass Creek, and when she attended her first public meeting in January of 1966. In the intervening 47 years she has advocated thoughtfully and courageously for protection of God’s wonderful creation and for justice in its many facets: from protecting the Everglades to the sacred Sunfish Pond in New Jersey, from state water quality standards in 1967 to the Red River Gorge Dam battle, from defending the Clean Water, Air and Endangered Species Acts against attempts to weaken them to endless land use battles involving Beargrass Creek – just recounting the many struggles in which she was involved is exhausting. From walking in the picket line in support of civil rights in the 1960’s, to her arrest for trespassing at the site of the Marble Hill nuclear power plant in 1977; from her early advocacy for air pollution control to her work in 2004 and 2005 as a member of the Justice Resource Center and REACT to institute and then defend an air toxics control program in Louisville; from her work with coalfield residents in the late 1960’s in support of a ban on surface coal mining, to her presence at an EPA hearing on mining-related pollution in 2012, Winnie has been a constant star in the horizon of faithful advocates for justice.
She is an environmental hero – a justice hero, a “catalyst for good” who still inspires me with her clear-headed and thoughtful letters and the words of encouragement she sends to me.
You honor Stu and you honor Winnie with your presence here today. Let me suggest two more ways to honor them both – become a member of Kentucky Heartwood, and make a contribution to the Kentucky Heartwood Endowment in honor of Winnie and in memory of Stu.