With heavy hearts, we celebrate the life of a great friend, environmental champion, and a member of our River community. Ken Deedy, founder of the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) and life-time supporter of environmental stewardship and education in the Thousand Islands, died on August 8, 2018 at the Hospice Home of Jefferson County in Watertown. He was 81 years old.
Ken was one of several people involved in the creation of TILT, but it was his energy and passion that led the organization through the early years and firmly established it as the successful conservation organization it is today. In 1984, when several Grindstone Island residents became concerned about development pressure on sensitive habitat on the Island, they recruited Ken to help explore conservation options. Very quickly, Ken made contact with Rose Harvey and the Trust for Public Land and began to learn about land trusts and how they could be utilized as a tool for striking a balance between the built environment and the natural world.
It became clear to Ken and his co-founders that a land trust in the Thousand Islands was the best option to help protect wetlands, rocks and shoals, songbird habitat, and clean water – the very character that we have all come to love. TILT was established as a non-profit organization in 1985 and the board began to spread the word about land conservation, with Ken working tirelessly to encourage his friends and neighbors and fellow River residents to learn about land trusts and become involved in protecting some of our region’s most cherished places.
Early conservation projects included conservation easements on islets in the Lake of the Isles and protection of historic agricultural land on Grindstone. Carleton Island, recently purchased by the Patten Corporation of Vermont for development purposes, had conservation easements on parts of the Island, that were transferred to TILT at this time. Ken was instrumental in negotiating the gift of the historic ruins at Fort Haldimand as part of the transfer, forever preserving this fascinating pre-Revolutionary War era relic.
In his unwavering drive to protect his beloved St. Lawrence River, he helped to conserve Oak Island, the largest island in Chippewa Bay; grasslands on the edge of Clayton; forest on Grindstone; rocks and shoals throughout the Thousand Islands; Zenda Farms; the list goes on…
With the support of TILT’s late Executive Director, Sissy Danforth, Ken negotiated the acquisition of Potters Beach in order to keep it forever available to the public for recreational use. As the largest naturally occurring sand beach on the US side of the 1000 Islands, Potters is a one of the most popular summer destinations for both tourists and local residents alike.
Ken was born in Queens and lived much of his life on Long Island, working as a junior high school science teacher. He was also deeply committed to organized labor and served as president of his local, the Farmingdale Federation of Teachers, for thirteen successive terms. He then worked full time as First Vice President of the New York State United Teachers until 1985 when he joined the City University of New York as Director of Employee Benefits. He retired in 1993.
Ken first visited the 1000 Islands as a youngster when his parents came to fish. He and his brother purchased property on Grindstone and built a cottage there in 1969.
With his history as a labor organizer and advocate, it stands to reason that Ken was always dogged in his pursuit of whatever goal benefited the River region. A fierce negotiator, a passionate proponent, he rarely took “No” for an answer. And his generosity was unbounded. He offered hundreds of rides on Grindstone to introduce newcomers to the region and to TILT. He opened his home to scientists, students, and good causes. He gave gifts with abandon: homemade jam (made from wild Grindstone fruit), fascinating historic books and artifacts, delicious chocolate. He shared the things he loved – good food, quality workmanship, congenial company, comprehensive knowledge, and most of all, the St. Lawrence River – with everyone he met.
Ken was famous for his unabashed fundraising exploits as auctioneer at TILT events. Donning themed costumes that conjured French chefs, World War I aviators, giant lobsters and a spectacular River Rat, he cajoled, teased, wooed, and inspired donors to contribute to the cause of land conservation in the Thousand Islands. He knew everybody and always had a story to share about the river and its denizens.
In the last weeks of his life, Ken and his family, along with his neighbor, donated conservation easements on their adjoining properties, fulfilling a goal established 33 years ago when TILT first began. This remarkable gift is important because of its proximity to Wellesley Island State Park, Picton Island, and other conserved lands on Grindstone, all of which form a corridor of wild forest and open space that is essential for wildlife whose survival depends on the ability to move through our landscape.
The donation of these conservation easements is also significant, because it increases the amount of land that TILT conserves to more than 10,000 acres. That’s a powerful legacy for a man who devoted so much of his life to the care and protection of our Thousand Islands community.
In honor of Ken, TILT, along with Save The River and Minna Anthony Common Nature Center, have established the Kenneth Deedy Environmental Internship Fund. As a true endowment, the fund will be used to hire a high school/college student for a summer long internship. Each year, the selected student will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for all three organizations, immersing them in the fields of land conservation and stewardship, environmental education, and environmental advocacy.
Before his passing, Ken made the initial gift to establish the Environmental Internship Fund, continuing to build upon his legacy as a life-long environmentalist, who passionately supported the conservation of natural resources and the education of our next generation of stewards.
“The Kenneth Deedy Environmental Internship is an environmentally focused program like no other,” said Terra Bach, Director of Development and Communications. “We believe it will have a positive impact on our region and future environmental stewards of this place we all so deeply love.”
Ken will forever be remembered as he enriched the lives of so many.