Annual Award for Lifetime Achievement in Environmental and Justice Advocacy to Be Named for Winnie Hepler
The Board of the Kentucky Resources Council, Inc. today established a new award to be bestowed annually on an individual whose life’s work has shown the dedication, selfless commitment to nature and others, and courage to speak against injustice, as has been the life’s essence of the individual for whom the new award is named: Winnie Hepler.
Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, set out to write a memoir and instead wrote a book of prayer. This prayer describes the life’s work and philosophy of Winnie Hepler, who received both the Kentucky Resources Council’s Sue Anne Salmon Community Advocacy Award, and the Stuart Butler Memorial Award from Kentucky Heartwood:
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.
While a concern with environmental health and justice is common in many quarters today, it was not always the case. In the early years of the environmental movement inspired by the publication of Silent Spring, by Rachael Carson, those in Kentucky who argued for conservation and against pollution were subject to ridicule and worse.
In July, 1965, Winnie wrote her first protest letter over the US Army Corps of Engineer’s plans to channelize Beargrass Creek, and attended her first public meeting in January, 1966. In the intervening 53 years, she has advocated thoughtfully and courageously for protection of Mother Nature’s wonderful creation and for justice in its many facets: From protecting the Everglades to the sacred Sunfish Pond in New Jersey, from Kentucky water quality standards in 1967 to the Red River Gorge Dam battle; from defending the Clean Water, Clean 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 Louisville in the 1960s, to her arrest for trespassing at the construction site of the Marble Hill nuclear power plant in 1977; from her early advocacy for air pollution control in Louisville to her work in 2004 and 2005 as a member of the Justice Resource Center and REACT towards instituting and then defending an air toxics control program in Louisville; from her work with coalfield residents in the late 1960s in support of a ban on surface coal mining, to her presence at an EPA hearing on mining-related pollution in 2012, Winnie Hepler has been a polestar in the horizon of faithful advocates for justice.
She is a true environmental hero – a justice hero, a “catalyst for good” – who continues to inspire us with her clear-headed, thoughtful letters and the words of encouragement she sends to the Council each month.
When Winnie learned she had been chosen to receive the Stu Butler Memorial Award, she said she was “honored and dumbstruck to have won.” In classic Winnie form, she continued, “It’s my age, I assume, and I am appreciative and humbled and that many worthier nominated will be recognized in later years.” It is not her age, but her selfless and loving care for creation and her love of justice, that have marked her life.
It is our great honor to recognize Winnie with this annual award to be given in her honor: The Winnie Hepler Lifetime Achievement Award.