Well, actually it was fifty years ago and a few days that the Beatles started working on the Sgt. Peppers's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. But it was twenty years ago the papers were filed to incorporate Local Environmental Action Demanded, LEAD Agency, for short.

Getting ready for the anniversary party and flooded by a wave of memories generated when flipping through computer images and actual 3x5's in the LEAD Agency archives, memories of environmental issues, challenging people who got involved, spoke up and some who "got up and doing" which is also a line in my mother's favorite poem A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Faces we knew from the beginning 20 years ago, some no longer with us. All who somehow became part of the archive we claim as our organization's heritage.

Not every memory is attached to a photo, but faces appear in my mind when unfolding letters with our first stationary designs and actual "buttons" Carolyn Gilstrap created. Back in the day we might have seemed like a Lonely Hearts Club Band, sitting around the libraries and imaging how organizing would solve everything.

Back then the Ottawa County Community Partnership was a partner and when they ceased their gift to LEAD were the prints they had Nick Calcagno make as a fundraiser for them. We still have the Central Mill prints from that gift to continue helping us serve this community, much as he had desired, often with Carol's help.

Early on John Micka shared theories, an experiment and a much used Contact paper covered Ken Luza map that continue helping us teach Tar Creek 101. He and his wife Lorene were some of our first LEAD members. Their help has continued through their daughter Jill still yet.

George Mayer inspired us to officially organize a citizens' group with his pleas to agencies to get his acid mine water destroyed property cleaned up and one of the biggest reasons Agency is our last name. Just lately I discovered a treasure in a used envelop in my office, left by John Mott, a Picher resident, but also a friend to us and to George Mayer, the photo was of the white Arabian horse with the orange stains, the story that inspired the passive water treatment happening on his property in Commerce.

Early on we did cleanups on Tar Creek, with actual heavy metal objects pulled out like a car fender and a BATTERY, but then we were covered with heavy metals on our clothes and boots, leaving us the carriers of toxic waste, which would defy our slogan to not "spread the lead." Surely you can see these issues in our LOGO designed by Image's Sheila Hestand of the land, the water the piles all in shades of rust and ruin. The plan is to change the colors as the water, the land and the piles of waste are gone and better.

There were questions like are the fish safe to eat? In 2007 DEQ issued fish consumption guide for lead for local residents, more stringent than those for visitors, since we get lead from our exposure to local dust. We wanted to know about the additional burden of mercury in fish, since it is also a neuro-toxin like lead. We partnered with OU and Harvard and figured out our guidelines and we are glad to keep sharing this with any local fish eater still needing to know.

Another question we kept hearing was: are there more cancers, more diabetes, more autoimmune issues here than we ought to be having? So with an EPA Environmental Justice grant and LOTS of nursing students from NEO, Tulsa University, ORU and our locals we conducted a survey with 562 households in NE Ottawa County and interviewed every person in them, allowing us to know the answer was YES we are sicker. The question now is, isn't it time to do it again? We think it is.

We asked are the metals in the mine waste affecting our children? The Harvard School of Public Health researchers were funded for a decade looking at the multiple metals our children were born with and how they affect them, and are still publishing journal articles from what they are learning. Yes, our metals are affecting some of our children more than others.

There are several more big questions we want answers, but we might not know the questions you want asked, they may be the next line in the song full of answers we all need to know.

Sorting through those images, are all those Tar Creek Conferences, our annual scholarship winners, the artists, so many artists and their art, some on our office walls, with more coming every year. Their art, their voices of outrage and hope speak out long after they have graduated and started families of their own, when we hope they remember how to prevent lead poisoning in a superfund site.

Then we get to why we have a community garden, rain barrels and the Little Free Library. All generate hope and empower us. But all this somehow could fit in a song, that anthem, the jingle.

We do need a song, one we can all sing along, something catchy like...

"Twenty years ago today...."

Respectfully Reflecting ~ Rebecca Jim

Rebecca Jim is the executive director of the LEAD Agency (www.leadagency.org).