by Jennifer Davis
The difference one person can make is a remarkable occurrence that is evident when delving into the life of a St. Albert resident, Elke Blodgett. Elke Blodgett is a sixty-nine year old woman who has invested the last twelve years of her life actively involved in environmental issues facing her community and other surrounding communities. While probing into her life, it is apparent that Elke Blodgett has been instrumental in fighting corporations such as Genstar to protect the habitats of numerous wildlife animals that currently reside at Big Lake in St. Albert. The Internet search conducted provides a background on some of the environmental issues Blodgett has been involved with; however, a personal interview would entail factual information not documented on the internet and exhumed from a direct source, Elke Blodgett herself.
Elke Blodgett was born in Leipzig Germany in 1936 and was raised by a conservationist and naturalist father. Blodgett continued to reside in Germany until she completed her high school education. Once she finished high school, Blodgett lived in a number of different places around the world such as, France, Switzerland, Greece, USA, etc. While enrolled at the University of Minnesota, Blodgett completed her four-year Bachelor of Arts Degree of Liberal Arts in a period of a year and a half. Blodgett mentions two reasons for her fast progression to obtaining her degree: first the expense of a four-year degree was too high and second Blodgett exempted a number of courses required to complete her degree. At first once she finished her degree, Blodgett joined the workforce with a high-paying job that had nothing to do with her later passion in life: the environment. In 1966, Blodgett moved to St. Albert where she currently resides. With nature and the environment as an inspiration, Blodgett will not only become a successful and well recognized artist but a voice that refuses to be quieted and a spirit that will assist in protecting the environment in which we live in.
While talking to Elke Blodgett, the information about the hardships she had to face whilst growing up during World War II, her father and the realization of “ how bad things could get” in relation to the environment are all factors that assist in Blodgett’s ever active involvement in environmental issues that continue to arise. Blodgett depicts her appreciation of the land when she recalls her childhood experiences of growing up and her survival during World War II. She portrays her family having nothing and their need to find food from the land in order to sustain them. Blodgett discusses how this experience had left an imprint on her regarding the value of the environment, which she will never nor ever wants to forget. Not only did World War II have an effect on Blodgett but also so did her father. Blodgett spoke of her father, a water chemist, who successfully brought fish back to the polluted rivers of Europe such as the Rhine and the Thames. Her father “fought air pollution caused by coal-burning electricity plants and holds the patent for making construction cinder blocks out of polluting fly ash.” (Elke Blodgett, 2006) Blodgett states that her father:
taught [them] to plant ten seedlings for every tree [they] had to cut down and made sure [they] knew how to survive on wild plants and berries – a skill [she] still practices and teaches today (Elke Blodgett, 2006).
Since Blodgett’s dad was a conservationist and naturalist, the importance of recycling, composting and respect for nature was administered onto his daughter at an early age. Although her childhood and her father are two key aspects for Blodgett taking an active role in environmental issues, the understanding of how bad things could get was not contemplated until it showed up in her own backyard. The environmental issue of the City of St. Albert proposal to place a major bypass through the wetlands at the east end of Big Lake, was the event that brought focus and began the passionate and spirited involvement for Blodgett in environmental issues.
The question is how does one person make a difference? The answer is one signature at a time. When the city proposed to place a major bypass through the wetlands, Blodgett was the key catalyst in creating a petition against such a proposal. The signatures on a single petition were astronomical. There were almost eleven thousand signatures collected between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day of 1997, out of thirteen thousand five hundred citizens who had voted at the most recent election. This petition focused on the idea that the:
area is protected in its natural state because it is valuable to the environmental health of Big Lake/Red Willow Park and to the quality of life of the citizens of St. Albert. It asked that transportation alternatives be investigated (Elke Blodgett, 2006).
From this petition, the Western Bypass proposal was defeated in 1997. Unfortunately, the city is now building a road very close to the rejected alignment even against public opinions and the petition against the proposal. Although the bypass is being built, Blodgett was the individual who brought this issue to the public and who assisted in the delay of the proposed endeavor through the petition. Blodgett’s participation in environmental issues doesn’t only focus on St. Albert’s Big Lake, but encompasses a number of other issues. So how does Blodgett know what issues are occurring and how to inform the public? By being a responsible and informed citizen who stands up for her environment.
Blodgett is very active in her community. She attends council meetings, she investigates issues as they arise, she takes pictures of catastrophes for the environment (such as oil spills) and sends them to the media, she informs the public about the issues they may not know about, she talks to students of all ages about the environment, she is willing to battle issues in court to protect the environment and most of all she is willing to take a stand for what she believes in. Blodgett explained how the media doesn’t always seem to inform the public about environmental concerns or issues. She allows her voice to be heard by writing letters to the editor in the St. Albert Gazette about environmental related issues. She also stated that she keeps a close eye on Big Lake and its inhabitants. Blodgett depicts a story about the city dumping a lot of mud on the iced over Sturgeon River. The city was informed that they must remove all of the mud or it would destroy the fish habitat once the ice melts. Unfortunately for them they did not choose to remove it and Blodgett reported them. By reporting this incident it was immediately a priority for the city and is being taken care of thanks to her intervention. Not always taken seriously, Blodgett stated she now has a list of experts she can contact by sending out an S.O.S. if an environmental concern arises. Based on her hard work and spirited outcry for the protection of the environment she is continuing to make a difference.
Why does Blodgett spend all of her time and energy on fighting for our environment? Blodgett believes in the importance of teaching children at a young age about the environment and ways to protect it. Young children, who look at Big Lake and ask questions about the deer or about other animal’s habitats being destroyed, will promote a society more willing to be active in saving the environment in which we live in. When Blodgett speaks to students about the environment, she mentions a necklace of St. George fighting the dragon. To Blodgett, this necklace represents not the slaying of a dragon, who represented evil, but the need to fight today’s evil in the form of the pollution that threatens the legacy we will ultimately be passing down to our children. Does that mean that Blodgett doesn’t believe in development at all? No, she describes the problem as being a pull between needs and wants. For example do we need that Bypass or do we want that Bypass in order to stop the congestion of traffic on St. Albert Trail? For Blodgett she believes that we as a society need to balance the need for development with the need to preserve our environment. Talking to Blodgett has been an eye-opening experience.
The key to Blodgett’s success is her willingness to be the voice that refuses to be muffled by our society. She stands up for our environment by informing the public about environmental issues as they arise, she makes presentations during City Council meetings, she educates young people on the importance of the environment, she fights in court to help preserve our environment and she is actively involved and well-informed about environmental concerns or issues. The question is: can one person really make that much of a difference in our society? It starts with you! You, as a society, need to realize that if one person can help preserve our environment imagine if everyone was that one person. What would our environment look like? We tend to believe that if one person speaks up for what they believe in, he/she will not make even a slight difference. However, delving into Elke Blodgett’s life leaves the impression that if she can make a difference then there is hope for the “little guy” after all.
- Please note that all information for this biography was collected during a one on one interview:
Personal Interview, Elke Blodgett, Conducted: March 19, 2006