Honoring a ‘native son’

Street will be dedicated to environmental activist Denis Hayes

Denis Hayes

Marquita Call is not a woman who sits on the sidelines and watches others.

So, when she thought it was fitting that the city of Camas name a street after environmental activist Denis Hayes, she went straight to Mayor Scott Higgins.

“He can’t say no to me,” she joked.

Hayes, who founded the first Earth Day in 1970 and is board chairman of the International Earth Day Network, is a 1962 graduate of Camas High School. He and Call were in the same class.

“I have known Denis for a long time and am extremely excited that the city is honoring him with a street dedication,” she said. “It’s an honor to be a part of this.”

Ione Street will be ceremonially named after Hayes. He will have a street dedicated in his honor, next to the school that bears his name. Hayes Freedom High School is an energy efficient alternative school that was built in 2010.

Higgins noted that Call is, “very driven to honor people who have left Camas and gone on to accomplish big things.”

“She was instrumental in honoring Jimmie Rodgers, and she has been instrumental in honoring Denis Hayes,” he said. “This one also is a nice tie to our school district as Denis is the namesake of Hayes Freedom High. We are happy to be part of honoring people who have made a positive contribution to the world and in turn helped build some Camas pride.”

As a lifelong environmental activist, Hayes has chaired the Earth Day Global Advisory Committee, served as president of the Bullitt Foundation since 1992, and is currently overseeing construction of the Bullitt Center in Seattle.

He has also received the national Jefferson Awards Medal for Outstanding Public Service as well as being named Time Magazine’s “Hero of the Planet,” in 1999.

Hayes is excited to have a street in his hometown named after him, and is looking forward to reconnecting with those from his past.

“When you are 70 years old, it’s always a relief to see old high school classmates again, to see how many are still on the right side of the grass,” he said. “Those early relationships retain a candor, an authenticity, that is often missing in the working world. No one has an agenda. There’s no posturing. Nobody plays ‘top dog’ or other adult games. And, of course, having a school and a street named after me is very cool. I’m sure it will shock some of my old high school teachers.”

Hayes added that he has spent much of his life interacting with people who attended elite prep schools, and have never found them to have an educational advantage.

“Any student who works hard in Camas can learn everything she needs to know to succeed at college and at life,” he said. “The people who will succeed tomorrow will be those who acquired extensive knowledge about a lot of things, who learned to be disciplined and self-motivated.”

Hayes’ engagement in environmental issues came at a young age.

“Camas is in one of the most spectacularly beautiful and biologically diverse parts of the planet,” he said. “But the mill filled the air with unregulated poisons, it poured enormous volumes of toxic effluent into the river, it mowed down the surrounding the Douglas fir forests in devastating clearcuts, losing rich topsoil and decimating fragile ecosystems.”

He added, “Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that it must be possible to make paper without destroying the planet. And that basic insight, writ large, has been a recurrent theme in my career–applied not just to paper but to industrial civilization.”

However, 45 years later, things look much different.

“Within a couple years after Earth Day, we had passed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act…set up the EPA to enforce the new laws, and fundamentally changed the legal framework in which the mill operates: The framework within which America does business,” he said.

The street dedication ceremony will take place near Hayes Freedom High School at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10. A reception will follow at the Camas Gallery, 408 N.E. Fourth Ave.