By Susan D. Brandenburg
On a wet spring day at Alpine Groves Park in St. Johns County, three of Florida’s most highly acclaimed environmentalists were presented with the Stetson Kennedy Foundation’s Fellow Man and Mother Earth awards. St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman, Matanzas Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon and environmental writer and water preservationist Bill Belleville were recognized on May 13 by the Stetson Kennedy Foundation for their meaningful work. Presenting the awards were Sandra Parks, widow of the late author and activist, and Karen Roumillat, Kennedy’s step-daughter, both members of the Stetson Kennedy Foundation.
“Stetson was passionate about preserving our natural springs and waterways,” said Parks. “As chairman of the Stetson Kennedy Foundation, I’m awed by these three warriors in Florida’s battle to save our rivers and springs. Water conservation is integral to our survival. It is an honor to recognize and reward those who work toward some of the same goals that Stetson stood for.”
In accepting the Fellow Man and Mother Earth Award, St. Johns Riverkeeper Rinaman said, “I am so grateful and inspired to receive this honor along with my personal mentors, Neil and Bill. Stetson Kennedy leaves a legacy of environmental stewardship and we are proud to work with the Foundation to continue celebrating and protecting our mighty St. Johns together as Stetson would have us do.”
Matanzas Riverkeeper Armingeon (formerly the St. Johns Riverkeeper) recalled spending time with Stetson Kennedy at his home place, Beluthahatchee (now a St. Johns County park).
“It was such a joy to know the man, and to receive this award is a great honor on many levels,” Armingeon said. “Stetson had a strong connection with nature and the environment, and he talked at length to me about growing up on the St. Johns River and the importance of preserving our natural springs and rivers.”
Noting that he sometimes feels he is standing on the shoulders of giants, Armingeon called Stetson Kennedy one of those giants who “spent a lifetime working for preservation.”
Environmental author and activist Bill Belleville paid tribute to Riverkeepers Armingeon and Rinaman who “work very hard in protection of their respective river systems,” and said that he had always admired Stetson Kennedy because he recognized that, at the core, civil rights and environmental rights both have to do with fairness.
“You evaluate the situation and do what is fair, or else everyone loses,” Belleville said. “Stetson took a stand and fought for what is right and fair, and nature in Florida is not being treated fairly.”
Currently, the Stetson Kennedy Foundation is partnering with the St. Johns Riverkeeper in several projects going forward, including possibly staging a spectacular annual water preservation festival similar to the late Pete Seeger’s Clearwater on the Hudson. Already partnering with the North Florida Folk Network for Second Sunday at Stetson’s concerts, the Stetson Kennedy Foundation has access to many talented folksingers for such a festival.
“This summer, we will work with the St. Johns Riverkeeper and the North Florida Folk Network to explore the possibilities for a Clearwater-like event here in Florida,” said Parks. “It’s just one of many ways we are working to preserve our beautiful waterways as we continue the legacy of Stetson Kennedy.”
Visit www.stetsonkennedy.com for more information on the Stetson Kennedy Foundation and current/future projects.
Photo courtesy Twenty-First Century Studios
Sandra Parks, Neil Armingeon, Lisa Rinaman, Bill Belleville and Karen Roumillat at Alpine Groves Park on May 13, 2017.