54 Founders Award: Mike Williams (South Dakota)
The Izaak Walton League of America, a national leader in community-based conservation, honored Mike Williams of Watertown, South Dakota, posthumously with the organization’s prestigious 54 Founders Award. Williams was recognized at the League’s annual convention in July 2010 for his outstanding contributions to the conservation of America’s natural and renewable resources. This is the highest honor bestowed by the League.
Mike Williams was serving his third term as national president of the Izaak Walton League when he passed away March 2, 2010, following a long and courageous battle with cancer. Williams was resolute in his passion to protect our nation’s wetlands, native prairies, and open spaces, and he left behind a conservation legacy that will benefit future generations in South Dakota and across the country.
As president of the Kampeska Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, Williams believed the League had a greater mission in Watertown, South Dakota, that involved cleaning up Lake Kampeska, a 5,000 acre natural lake within the city limits. After working with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources and organizing volunteers for a two-year silt survey on the lake, Williams served as coordinator of the Upper Big Sioux River Watershed project for close to 15 years. During that time, he raised $10 million to fund best management practices in the 212,000 acre watershed above Lake Kampeska. He was relentless in his efforts to protect wetlands, whether it was working with individual land owners to educate them on the benefits of wetlands or working with state and federal officials to enact better wetland protections. Today, South Dakota residents see a difference in lake’s water quality, not only a reduction of nitrates and phosphorous but less suspended solids, which results in better water clarity. On a national level, Williams worked closely with League staff and volunteers across the country to try to restore Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and streams placed at risk by the Supreme Court.
A trained educator who started his career teaching high school, his master’s degree in education was put to further use when Williams started an annual outdoor education program for sixth grade students. Every year he would spend a half day each with sixth grade classes from Watertown, South Dakota, and the surrounding area. Walking through the Bramble Park Zoo, he would identify migratory birds and talk about how the glaciers formed lakes and shaped the surrounding landscape, impressing on these youth the dangers facing our natural resources and the need for each of person to develop personal conservation values. He touched the lives of more than 7,500 young people through this outreach program.
“I knew Mike for many years, and he was always a tireless advocate for conservation and a valuable voice to have in any debate on wildlife issues,” recalls U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (South Dakota). “I will miss his passion and dedication, and I know that the work he has done over the years will continue to be felt across South Dakota.”
"I knew him as a conservationist, a sportsman, a teacher, and a friend,” says Jim Madsen, the League's current national president. “Although his life was cut short, his work and accomplishments toward protecting our natural world will be an example for all us. The 54 Founders Award is the highest honor awarded by the Izaak Walton League, and Mike’s actions were the embodiment of what this award stands for.”
Photo caption: Conda Williams and son Will accepted the 54 Founders Award on behalf of Mike Williams from IWLA national president Jim Madsen (left) and IWLA Executive Board chairman Roger Sears (right).