Farewell From Tom Shelley

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Tompkins Weekly 12-23-20

By Thomas Shelley

As some of you may know, I am retiring from my current role as an environmental activist at the end of December to pursue other life goals. I have been managing the Signs of Sustainability series for Sustainable Tompkins for 12 years.

Over this time, scores of local sustainability-related organizations and authors have used the SoS series to promote sustainability-related ideas, the programs of their organizations and events they offered or supported. As of January 2021, Cathleen and Eric Banford will take over the management of the SoS series for Sustainable Tompkins.

I have been an activist of one stripe or another for 25 years, one-third of my life. I spent 10 years, from ’65 to ’75, in the student power/SDS/anti-war movements and as a community organizer in San Francisco, back in the bad old days.

My college years were spent organizing chapters of Students for a Democratic Society in Northern Ohio and nearby states, fighting for student involvement in the university decision-making process and against an unjust war.

In San Francisco, I was an organizer of a community educational venture called the Alternative Futures Community. I was one of several co-founders of the Haight Ashbury Food Co-op, the humble beginnings of an organization that grew into today’s large food co-ops like GreenStar. We also formed dozens of parent cooperative nursery schools and organized huge anti-war events in Goldengate Park. My FBI file from the bad old days is several inches thick!

My first volunteer involvement in Ithaca was in 1991 when I was first working at Cornell University Environmental Health and Safety. I participated as a member of a citizens advisory committee chaired by Bara Hotchkiss and Lynn Leopold that set up the initial recycling program for Tompkins County.

Since my early retirement from Cornell in 2003, I have spent much of the subsequent time volunteering for a wide variety of organizations, mostly sustainability and environmentally oriented, including several city of Ithaca committees.

I spent many years each with Tompkins County Relocalization; Carolyn Peterson’s Local Action Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions Committee; the Comprehensive Plan Committee for the city of Ithaca; the Cooperative Extension Environmental Program Policy Advisory Committee; the CCE Master Composters program; the CCE Master Home Food Preservers program; the Sustainable Chicken Project; the Conservation Advisory Council of the city of Ithaca; the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council along with several subcommittees of the EMC; the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Commission of the city of Ithaca; and the Dewitt Park and Cascadilla Creek Neighborhood Associations.

There are many interests that I’ve put on hold during this time. As I approach my 75th birthday, I have decided to take a break from volunteerism to pursue my other interests for a while. As my fellow activists know, much of life can be placed on the back burner in the midst of fighting for the good of the Commons.

My terms for both the Parks Recreation and Natural Resources Commission and the Environmental Management Council end on Dec. 31, and I am not going to extend my term with either organization. I am ending my affiliation with other organizations at the same time.

It has been an honor to work and make friends with the scores of individuals I have met over the years, and it has been an honor to serve my community in a volunteer capacity, working with so many different organizations. There comes a time for the “gray hairs” to fade away and let the younger generations of activists fight for our future in their ways.

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