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June 19, 2012

A Lone Star Champion

When someone asks me what's great about the Sierra Club, I don't have to think twice. It's the people. What makes us the largest and most influential environmental organization in the United States are the tens of thousands of supporters, members, volunteers, and staff who represent the Club in every single state (and one commonwealth). So when I learned that Lone Star Chapter Director Ken Kramer would be retiring this summer after 30 years with the Sierra Club, it was a bittersweet reminder of how much a single Club leader can accomplish during a distinguished career.

Ken's a Texan, born and raised, and he understands the perspectives of farmers and ranchers (he counts both among his family). He also has a deep appreciation for the rich wilderness and natural resources of his state. To succeed as an environmental advocate in Texas, though, you need more than good intentions. Ken's intelligence, accuracy, and unfailingly polite demeanor have helped him to win battles on everything from defending Texas's state park system to protecting and responsibly managing its water resources. (The state's recent drought woes testify to the importance of the latter work.)

Under Ken's leadership the Sierra Club was the plaintiff in an endangered species lawsuit that led to a landmark federal court victory.  He also almost single-handedly convinced the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission to scrap plans for a land swap that would have traded away state ownership of the remote, 20,000-acre Devil's River State Natural Area.

Of course, Ken's three decades of dealing with the Texas legislature weren't always smooth sailing. After one tough legislative session in 1993, Texas Weekly quoted him as saying, "The best thing the Legislature did for the environment this session was to quit and go home." (I may have to borrow that line when the current U.S. House of Representatives adjourns.)

Ken's career hasn't just been about fighting bad things, though. He has positioned the Sierra Club as a leading voice in Texas on clean air, and his leadership has helped to make the state a national frontrunner in wind, solar, and biomass energy.

Sierra Club chapter directors are often the unsung heroes of the grassroots environmental movement. Jack Darin in Chicago was a key player in helping secure the closure of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants on the city's Southwest Side; Molly Diggins in North Carolina is pushing the envelope to develop offshore wind power; Sandy Bahr in Arizona has been a leading defender of the Grand Canyon, successfully fending off the threat of uranium mining on one million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park; and Anne Woiwode in Michigan was just named a 2012 Michigan Green Leader by the Detroit Free Press for her work to wean the state off coal and her "25 by 2025" campaign to have 25 percent of the state's energy needs supplied by clean and renewable sources by 2025.

Each of them exemplifies the creativity and energy that make the Sierra Club so effective.

Although Ken's retiring, he's not riding off into the sunset. He plans to stay involved on water issues as a Sierra Club volunteer. That's actually a return to his roots because, like many of our staff,  Ken served as a volunteer leader before we hired him. The Sierra Club -- and the great state of Texas -- are fortunate that he's willing to stay in the saddle.

p.s. If you've ever thought about making a career out of making a difference, as Ken has, check out our Careers page.

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Michael Brune

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