Griffith honored by SWUP

MARQUETTE – A Marquette educator and activist has been honored for her perseverance as the inaugural recipient of an award from Save the Wild U.P.

Gail Griffith was recently presented the “Fred Rydholm Sisu Award” by the Marquette-based grassroots nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to protecting the Upper Peninsula’s culture and environment.

“We’ve created this award to honor the late Fred Rydholm, who wholly embodied Save the Wild U.P.’s environmental values, not to mention the Finnish – and Yooper – term ‘sisu’ meaning perseverance, grit, and resilience,” Alexandra Thebert, SWUP’s executive director, said in a news release.

Fred Rydholm, who died in April 2009 at age 85, was well-known as a public school teacher, wilderness guide, three-term mayor of the city of Marquette, and author of “Superior Heartland: A Backwood History.” Rydholm, who owned property near the Eagle Mine and declined to sell to the mining company, became an outspoken opponent of the nickel and copper project.

Daniel Rydholm – son son of Fred Rydholm – presented the award, which was an engraved wooden sauna ladle.

“Gail Griffith, like my father, embodies values of service, unity and stewardship,” Rydholm said in the news release. “As a scientist and educator, she has been a clear-eyed and passionate defender of our environment for decades.”

Griffith retired as professor of chemistry at Northern Michigan University in 1993. For more than 25 years, she taught courses in environmental and biochemical toxicology and developed curriculum in environmental and occupational hygiene.

“I’m so honored to receive this recognition from Save the Wild U.P.,” Griffith – who has been active with SWUP since the organization was founded – said in the news release. “I believe we all cherish the Upper Peninsula and want to safeguard it for many generations to come.”

Griffith completed undergraduate work at Michigan Tech University and earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. from Michigan State University. She later studied at the University of California, Davis, and was an EPA Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Griffith later served on the Michigan Toxic Substances Control Commission, K.I. Sawyer Restoration Advisory Board, Marquette Board of Light and Power and Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority. She has participated in the public oversight of mining of metallic sulfide ores in the U.P. since Kennecott first proposed the Eagle Mine project.

Thebert said there was special significance in using a sauna ladle for the award.

“We chose a sauna ladle for the award because, in a group sauna, it’s a real responsibility to make the proper steam by pouring water over those hot sauna stones,” Thebert said. “Gail Griffith certainly deserves this honor.”

SWUP officials said the award was established to recognize the perseverance of dedicated community activists and environmental stewards.

In selecting Griffith as the inaugural recipient, SWUP’s board members cited her numerous outstanding qualities.

“Above all, Gail exemplifies virtues of hard work, perseverance,and unity,” SWUP President Kathleen Heideman said. “Her very presence fosters a centered and stalwart environment in which we continue our critical work addressing the hazards of sulfide mining.”

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.