By Kathy Chaffin
A couple of years ago, Dr. John Wear, executive director of the Center for the Environment at Catawba College, said he received a phone call from Robert Pruehsner of Salisbury.
He and his wife, Lois, had been regular supporters of the Center for some time, and Pruehsner wanted to talk to Wear about his plans for the future. At that time, cosponsoring a "Redesigning Our Future" National Environmental Summit for High School Students with Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado was only an idea. "It was kind of in the category of things we wanted to make happen," Wear said.
But Wear's passion for the summit was enough to convince Pruehsner that it would ignite passion for the environment in students, and he and his wife sent the Center a check to get started. Pruehsner, who was involved in many other community causes, died last year at the age of 85, Wear said, and wasn't able to be at Wednesday's opening event to see the excited faces of high schoolers from all over the country gathered for the opening event.
Many of the rising juniors and seniors were visibly moved after hearing the difference that Doc Hendley, who received one of 10 CNN Heroes Awards in 2009, for the impact his Boone-based "Wine to Water" organization is having as it provides clean water to Third World countries. Though many students traveled long distances to get to Catawba that day, they waited for hours afterward to talk to Hendley about his work.
Pruehsner, who with his wife was a Bronze Sponsor, wasn't there to see the magic that transpired on opening night. "But wouldn't he be happy to know he provided the seed money to make something like this happen?" Wear asked.
Wear started out the event on July 20 thanking the summit's Platinum Sponsor, The Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation of Salisbury; Silver Sponsor Schneider Electric, and the other Bronze Sponsors, First United Church of Christ Foundation, the John W. and Anna H. Hanes Foundation and REPREVE Recycle Fiber by UNIFI.
In addition, Wear thanked Fred and Alice Stanback, two people whom he described as making a tremendous difference in the world. "Those are two people who have really done some great things in a very quiet way," he said. "These two people have probably done more to educate young people in this nation about the importance of environmental stewardship. They are the two people who have really had an impact on organizations and individuals."
Robert Pruehsner wasn't there for him to thank personally. But wouldn't he be happy to know he provided the seed money to make something like this happen?
Many others helped with the summit, including Wear and the Center staff, volunteers from Catawba College and others too numerous to mention. Interim President Dr. Joseph B. Oxendine and his wife, Adrienne, even offered their support, attending the opening. Oxendine spoke to the students personally the next morning and returned with his wife Friday for the program on the focus groups and concluding banquet in the Crystal Peeler Lounge.
They had the chance to see — and even inspire — the transformation that took place in students learning more about environmental concerns and ways they could help save the planet. For many, the change was visible in the eyes and the excitement audible in their voices.
Wouldn't Robert Pruehsner be happy to know he provided the seed money to make something like this happen?
Wear, in opening the summit, said he couldn't say enough about what was in store for the participants. "I want to applaud each of you personally for making the commitment of coming here and learning and sharing with others how you and they can make a difference in the world," he said."We each have our own talents. If you look around, all of us have certain talents. Some things, we're very good at and a lot of things, we're not very good at it.
"All of us are like that. All of us are different but all of us can be a part of helping provide the solutions and helping redesign our world," Wear said. "You're the leaders of tomorrow. We're depending on you. We are and (so are) the future generations coming along."
It was Martha Mead who said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
"You can make a difference," Wear repeated. "A single person can make a difference in the world by using his or her talents or abilities and approaching the challenges we face with new ways of thinking."
Wouldn't Robert Pruehsner be happy to know he provided the seed money to make something like this happen?"
The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country. For more information, visit www.centerfortheenvironment.org or www.campaignforcleanair.org.
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