Omega Gamma Delta Builds Environmental Awareness
Few brothers realize the importance of Omegas in the development of the “responsible” environmental movement. But the facts are there to be read.
Foremost is the story of Omega Brother Joe Penfold, a protege of Gifford Pinchot, creator of the National Parks System. Joe was a member of Omega’s Alpha Delta Chapter at Hope High School in Providence, Rhode Island, during the 1920s and a graduate of Yale. During the 1930s, he supervised Federal Relief Programs in Tennessee and served as Conservation Director of the National Youth Administration.
Following WW II, Joe went to China as a representative of the United Nations Relief and Recovery Administration. Following that he served over a 25 year period as Executive Director and Conservation Director of the Izaak Walton League, America’s oldest mass conservation organization and then as Chairman of the National Resources Council of America. His careful work drafting passable legislation led to the creation of the Outdoor Recreation Review Commission, the U. S. Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, the Wilderness Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the National Recreation Advisory Council, the President’s Advisory Committee on Recreation and Beauty, and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This enormous body of work led environmentalist Congressman Morris Udall to say “Joe Penfold was the creative genius and driving force behind the most important and far reaching conservation legislation in American history.” See more on this story at: www.owaa.org/owaa-legends/joe-penfold-no-ordinary-joe.
The next step in the conservation movement started out from the personal friendship of folk singer Pete Seeger and Omega Brother A. Victor Schwarz of Beta Mu Chapter in Newburgh , New York . A commercial artist and book designer with interests in musical instruments and the history of the Hudson River (partly engendered by his environmentalist uncles), Vic showed his copy of a rare book on Hudson River sloops of the 19th Century to his friend Pete Seeger in 1966 and it led the two of them to organize a group to fund and build a modern “Hudson River sloop” of the same kind, to replace something that had entirely disappeared from the now-polluted Hudson.
But the idea eventually developed much further and the name “Sloop Clearwater ” was itself a marker for their intention, which was to create a movement to clean up the Hudson Riverand return it to recreational purposes.
See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hudson_River_Sloop_Clearwater . The ship was launched in 1969 and with it was launched what turned out to be a nationwide (indeed, now world-wide) movement to clean up rivers and streams everywhere. According to Jeff Rumpf who currently runs the Clearwater Foundation “Vic and Pete had an idea that would forever change the world, such visionaries that dare to imagine the world as it can be… are our greatest gift to our future. We will always love Vic for his vision to build Clearwater … he is now one with the mighty Hudson and Clearwater will always sail upon him …. ” A good part of this story was told in the PBS film ‘Til The River Runs Clear and information on Vic can be found at www.friendsofvic.com. Having seen an early draft of this article Pete Seeger found it to be “fascinating” and commented recently in a note, ” Clearwater never would have started, but for Vic…And to think Dick Severo (whose New York Times article sprung the news of PCBs) was also an Omega!”
Indeed, in one of those small world scenarios ( that really aren’t always accidental ) another of Vic’s Newburgh classmates who had joined Omega at the same time, Richard Severo, became a reporter for the Times and served for a considerable period as its key environmental correspondent. In 1975 Dick broke the story of the appearance of toxic PCBs in the Hudson from General Electric’s upstate plants eventually leading to Federal action to force a cleanup. His articles on disabilities among Vietnam veterans caused by Agent Orange, led to a turnaround in Veterans Administration policies. And in his own “world” he led the fight to save the famed “Balmville Tree” immediately adjacent to his home outside Newburgh . An earlier “save the Balmville Tree” campaign had been led by Margaret Mead, Arthur Godfrey and, surprise surprise, Pete Seeger. That house was itself previously the home of Brother Augustus W. Bennet, former member of Congress, and the tree had legendarily grown from a walking stick left by George Washington (not true as it has now been dated prior to 1699). But it was certifiably visited on more than one occasion by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and there is at least suggestive evidence that George Washington may have stopped under it in 1783. The location is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as New York State ‘s smallest “public historic park” and smallest “state forest” at 348 square feet! The history of the tree is discussed at: www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balmville_Tree and also by looking under “Balmville.”
On a slightly lighter note, Brother John Morano of Alpha Phi Chapter has written three “eco-adventure” novels as part of a planned series of ten with environmental themes. As a student at East Rockaway (close to the marshes and the ocean) John was a star athlete and originally attended Clark University on athletic scholarship as a basketball player. But he soon transferred his interests to journalism and, after graduation, served as founding editor-in-chief of ROCKbeat Magazine, managing editor of Modern Screen, and senior editor of Inside Books. John’s academic side eventually took over and, after graduate school at Penn State, he became a journalism professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey . In addition to his environmental novels, John has several textbooks to his credit. See: www.clarku.edu/alumni/clarknews/spring00/nature.cfm.