Pennsylvania >> The young man stood reading the inscriptions on the plaques at the unveiling of the Venango County Conservation Hall of Fame. He turned to the person next to him and said, “I didn’t know about him.”
John Gannon, the oldest active member of the League’s Oil City Chapter, smiled. The Hall of Fame was serving its intended purpose.
The Conservation Hall of Fame honors men and women from Venango County who made significant and lasting contributions to conservation and the environment. It also keeps the names and stories of these conservationists alive to inspire future generations.
The idea for the Conservation Hall of Fame grew from a conversation following a monthly meeting of the Oil City Chapter when the name Roy Frank was mentioned. A long-passed Ike, he was a state and national conservation leader and was instrumental in the development of landmark environmental legislation. One person commented that Frank’s name and story might soon be lost to public memory.
What had been a bit of light-hearted remembrance grew somber. The realization that local heroes of conservation could be lost to history — or at least to the public mind — led the chapter’s membership to create a Venango County Conservation Hall of Fame and appoint a committee to make it a reality.
An early challenge was finding a home for the Conservation Hall of Fame. The location needed to be accessible to the public, have regular hours, provide an appropriate setting, and allow room for future growth. Dr. Chris Reber, executive dean of Clarion University–Venango Campus, offered to house the Hall of Fame on the Venango Campus.
“We are proud to join in honoring men and women who have made significant contributions to conservation and the environment,” Reber said at the unveiling and induction ceremonies. “The Conservation Hall of Fame will serve as a daily reminder of individuals who live or have lived the Ikes’ motto as defenders of soil, air, woods, waters, and wildlife.” The event brought a large turnout to the Venango Campus and greatly increased awareness of the local chapter and the Izaak Walton League as a whole.
“The Izaak Walton League of America was and remains at the forefront of the conservation movement,” said Oil City Chapter 2011 vice president Mike DeLong. “As Ikes, we pride ourselves on being pragmatic conservationists, seeking real world solutions. That conservation history is one reason we decided to develop and sponsor the Conservation Hall of Fame.”
After a public call for nominations, a selection committee composed of three representatives of the Oil City Chapter and two independent members reviewed the nominations. The selection committee chose three posthumous and two living nominees for the inaugural induction.
“We are committed to seeing that this program continues forever,” says Oil City Chapter president Dan Sparks. “This is a part of our history and heritage that must not be forgotten.”
The living inductees were:
John Hummel, a tireless advocate for the environment and his beloved Allegheny River. He was a leading supporter of the river’s designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers program, served on a river management committee, and helped form a river support group. He fought for restoration of the area’s abandoned strip mines and streams impacted by acid mine drainage. He led local efforts for osprey and river otter reintroduction programs and was a leader with the Polk Center’s annual Community Earth Day Program.
William “Bill” Lynam, a long-time member of the Oil City Chapter who dedicated much of his life to conservation, Pennsylvania’s wildlife, and combating what came to be known as “nature deficit disorder” among the county’s youngsters. Lynam served for 40 years as a deputy wildlife conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and gained honors as a hunter education instructor. He was largely responsible for the success of Venango County Youth Field Days and Cranberry Conservation Days. The posthumous inductees were: Roy Frank (1913-1995), who joined the Oil City Chapter in 1932 and was a leading conservation advocate. He was instrumental in passage of the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Act, passage of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act of 1985, and gaining critical grassroots support for the federal Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. He helped author the Clean and Green Amendment to the Pennsylvania state constitution and advocated for the Allegheny River and restoration of the state’s waterways. He demanded enforcement of the state’s pollution and conservation laws, even when it placed him at personal risk.
Joseph Petulla (1932-2001), an Oil City native who became a renowned writer, educator, and environmentalist. He founded the Graduate Program in Environmental Management at the University of San Francisco, the first such program of its kind. His books included American Environmental History, a volume that the Library of Congress listed as essential Earth Day reading, and Edgar Beaver: An Environmental Fable, which highlights the need to work towards sustainability.
Steve Szalewicz (1915-1989), an outdoor writer whose columns were carried in multiple northwestern Pennsylvania newspapers. Szalewicz was a voice for nature and the protection of our natural resources. He was instrumental in the battle to end dredging in the Allegheny River and for better regulation of strip mining and control of acid mine drainage. His writing helped gain grassroots support for Project 70 legislation that provided funding for conservation and recreation programs.