Fifty Years Ago This Month A Movement Was Begun That Changed The World

I was a 21 year old student majoring in biology at Kent State University in the fall of 1969 when one of my professors mentioned a new event the following spring. He was talking about the first Earth Day scheduled nationwide on April 22 1970 that was to focus attention to the degradation of our planet’s environment. The Apollo moon landings focused attention to our own planet and what mankind was doing to it.

I was Vice President of the biology honorary and one of my duties was community relations with the biology department among the students. He suggested that I take the lead in making the campus aware of this event. We formed a steering committee and got the university to devote an entire week to the issue. The highlight of that week was that Ralph Nader agreed to speak at the university.

The first event coming up were hearings in downtown Cleveland on air quality standards in early January 1970. It was decided that our group would charter a bus from the campus bus service and transport interested students to observe the hearings. I, along with the professors, were amazed when enough students signed up that we ended up taking three bus loads to the hearings in Cleveland. 

If anyone remembers what it was like fifty years ago loving in northeastern Ohio; it wasn’t very good. There was often an orange haze over the industrial valley from the factories there. Very often in late summer and fall, air pollution advisories were issued because of the polluted air.

The previous summer, in June 1969 the Cuyahoga River caught fire and brought national attention to our polluted city. There were no fish living in the Cuyahoga River and one wouldn’t dare eat any fish caught in Lake Erie. In fact, Lake Erie’s pollution became a national joke on Saturday Night Live later in the 1970s.

American Bald Eagles, our national symbol, once plentiful along Lake Erie were rare. In addition, other raptors (birds of prey) were going the way of dinosaurs. Hawks, vultures and falcons were also scarce. The problem was due to nesting failure caused by the insecticide DDT which built up in the food chain and caused eggshells of raptors to become thin and the eggs often broke or failed to hatch.

Later during the winter of 1970, I stepped down from the leadership of the group coordinating Earth Day at Kent State University. I wasn’t going to be on campus in the spring since I was student teaching at Berea High School in the spring, then graduating in June1970.

Attendance at those first Earth Day events in 1970 was beyond anyone’s expectations. In fact, this morphed into a national movement across the nation and even into other countries. It became worldwide. These events caught the attention of the political figures of the day, even President Richard Nixon who said that it was about time we cleaned up our planet.

Unfortunately, the success of our first Earth Day celebration at Kent State were overshadowed by events that happened less than two weeks later. But that it the topic of another column.

But the movement that began fifty years ago in April 1970 continued and still continues today. In 1972, three key issues and bills that addressed the most pressing issues of pollution were passed by Congress with strong bipartisan majorities and signed into law by President Nixon. Those were the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the bill establishing the Environmental Protection Agency with the authority to write regulations on pollution of our air and water and to enforce those regulations.

So, if you notice that our air in Cleveland is cleaner now than it was fifty years ago; if you like swimming in Lake Erie on a hot summer day, if you like to eat Lake Erie perch or walleye, or if you like fishing on Lake Erie and like seeing hawks perched on telephone poles and even eagles flying; then thank one of those environmentalists who participated in the first Earth Day fifty years ago.

Lee Kamps

Lee has been working with Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance since he began working at the Erie County Welfare Department in January 1973 where a major part of his job was determining eligibility for Medicaid. He went into the private insurance business in 1977 with Prudential Insurance Company and within a short time had become one of the company’s top sales agents. In 1982, he was promoted into management where he managed two field offices and as many as thirteen sales agents. After leaving Prudential in 1986, Lee decided to become more focused on health insurance and employee benefits. He has advised many local employers on how to have a more cost effective employee benefit program as well as conducted employee benefit meetings and enrollments for many area employers. The companies Lee has worked with ranged from small “mom and pop” businesses to local operations of large national companies. Lee received his B.S. degree from Kent State University where he has been active in the local alumni association. He has completed seven of the ten courses toward the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation. He has taught courses in employee benefits and insurance at Cleveland State University and local community colleges. In addition, Lee is an experienced and accomplished public speaker. He has been a member of Toastmasters International where he achieved the designation of “Able Toastmaster – Silver” in 1994. He has also served as a club president, Area Governor and District Public Relations Officer in Toastmasters as well as winning local speech contests. Lee has also been a member of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association’s Speaker’s Bureau where he was designated as one of the “official spokespeople for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” prior to the hall’s opening in 1995. He has given talks and presentations before many audiences including civic organizations, AARP chapters and many other community groups. With the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act (Medicare drug bill) in 2006, Lee has shifted his focus to Medicare and helping Medicare beneficiaries navigate the often confusing array of choices and plans available. As an independent representative, Lee is not bound to any one specific company or plan, but he can offer a plan that suits an individual person’s needs and budget. In addition, Lee is well versed in the requirements and availability of various programs for assistance with Medicare part D as well as Medicaid. While he cannot make one eligible, he can assist in the process and steer one to where they may be able to receive assistance.

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Volume 12, Issue 4, Posted 2:46 PM, 04.01.2020