ALEXANDRIA, N.Y. (WWTI) — Sitting on her porch, overlooking the St. Lawrence River, Ann Ward, can’t help but admire the natural beauty.
But her relationship with the River is one only few share.
Over 70 years ago, her husband proposed to her on the very shoreline where her current house stands. This is where she claimed her “love story” with the St. Lawrence began.
“We were engaged up here,” Ward said. “I looked at him and I said to myself, at this moment, ‘you better be as good as that River because that’s what it’s gotta be.”
At this time, commercial shipping had not yet begun as the St. Lawrence Seaway was years from being built. The Ward’s spent their honeymoon on the River that then raged with rapids.
“It was a beautiful River,” she expressed. “You know, the way it is now, but we didn’t have the great big ships coming down.”
The Ward’s were “hooked.” The young family then visited their small cottage in the Town of Alexandria for a few weeks.
But Ann said admiring the beauty wasn’t enough. She quickly stepped up to become an environmental advocate and protect the St. Lawrence.
This only intensified when an oil barge called the NEPC-140 ran aground in the St. Lawrence River in 1976. Known to the River community as the “Slick of ’76,” this released thousands of gallons of thick crude oil and remains one of the largest inland oil spills in the United States.
The tragedy caused rage in the local community, and two years later, the organization Save The River was founded.
Ward eventually joined Save The River and was a key player in starting the organization’s educational programming.
“I do remember taking kids out on boat, some of whom had never seen the River, some who knew of the River” Ann recalled. “But they didn’t necessarily swim in it or boat in it or all of that.”
This program that Ann referred to brought in experts to help young students identify wildlife on the waters.
Now at nearly 97 years old, Ann is known as the organization’s longest-serving board member, and she continues to prioritize education and environmental action.
“There’s some excellent, excellent project that go on in the schools and other youth organizations and I think getting that focused on the environment and River is critical,” she said. “Heaven knows we are persistent in trying to achieve these things.”
As a freighter passed by her window, and she looked to the powerful St. Lawrence, Ann said she hopes the community will come together to protect the River for many generations to come.
“We need the investment of people to be able to do the right thing for the River,” she expressed. “Because doing the right thing for the River is the right thing for people.”
“It’s a darn big job. It really is,” Ann concluded.