Pretty much all of us have opinions about how to improve our communities.
Most of us are all too eager to condemn local governments, corporations and institutions.
“Our taxes are too high. “Our roadway medians are useless.” “Industry is screwing up the environment,” are common refrains.
But outrage is cheap. It doesn’t take much to launch a rhetorical explosion into the digital ether or conversations between friends.
And, usually, all that hot air equates to a sense of self-righteousness. More often than not, it does next to nothing to actually improve our lives. We are too often content to condemn rather than act.
Fortunately, our community contains those who are not content to just sit down and give their opinion. We are fortunate to have some who are ready and willing to make the necessary changes by taking the first bold steps themselves.
This year we have lost two of those residents – former Victoria Councilor Tom Halepaska and Port Lavaca conservationist Myron Spree. Halepaska, who also owned and ran beloved local bakery Halepaska’s Bakery, died Oct. 1. Spree, a former commercial shrimper and Alcoa employee, died Aug. 29.
Both men were the embodiment of the change they wanted to see.
Born and raised in Victoria, Halepaska decided to run for council after his wife challenged him to take action rather than just complain about local issues. For 15 years, he represented local residents and their interests as a municipal councilor and acting mayor.
His humility hid a deeply curious and analytical mind. When he wasn’t applying this gifted mind to his business and other personal pursuits, such as an airplane he had built, Halepaska was busy exploring the most important issues of city government.
He was passionate about local parks. He led a personal crusade to push for the creation of aquifer storage and recovery wells in the city’s water system. In his obituary, Mayor Jeff Bauknight recalled how Halepaska would call him and others to push for those wells, which he considered vital.
He has also served on an impressive number of local boards and committees, including the Victoria Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Victoria Health Facilities Development Corporation, the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission, the Food Establishment Appeals Board, the Victoria Sales Tax Development Corporation and the Charter Review Committee, which led to a successful charter election.
Halepaska could have been content to focus her energies on her professional and personal pursuits. Instead, he lent his entrepreneurial spirit, tireless work ethic, and natural curiosity to better the lives of us all. Those countless hours spent digging into the affairs of the city have been a huge sacrifice, and we should all recognize that sacrifice and be grateful.
Like Halepaska, Spree saw a need and acted.
A resident of Port Lavaca for decades, Spree has spent countless hours in a skiff on local waterways, collecting evidence of environmental damage. He was passionate about our environment and acted as a self-proclaimed investigator, advocate and spokesperson for its birds, fish and other organisms and the ecosystem and habitats on which they depend.
From 2017 to 2019, he was deeply involved in a federal lawsuit brought by local environmental activists against the giant Formosa Plastics Corporation. During the trial of this lawsuit, he testified on the side of attorneys, for whom he had helped provide evidence of plastic pellets released by Formosa.
In 2019, the defenders won a jaw-dropping $50 million settlement that was used to help ensure local environmental protection.
For years before this trial, Spree and his skiff were commonplace in local bays, where he rooted in murky water and mud to gather evidence of this pollution.
For Spree, the health of local waters was a personal responsibility, and he stepped in wherever he saw injustice.
Seadrift environmental activist Diane Wilson said she recalled that even after the trial, Spree continued her efforts to investigate other environmental injustices – until the week of her death. She also recalled how his house was filled with sample jugs that he hoped to hold accountable those who harm local waters.
Residents like Halepaska and Spree are inspirations to us all. They show us that change can be made when we are able to find the courage and motivation to improve our communities.
These are men who have gone the extra step beyond simply expressing their opinions. They saw problems that needed to be fixed, and instead of asking someone else to fix them, they volunteered.
They are residents whose legacy bears witness to future and existing generations, and we hope that others will follow in their footsteps.
By all means, make your voice heard. Send a letter to the editor or comment on social media.
But often there is more, much more, that can be done.
In memory of Spree and Halepaska, we should all take a moment to also ask ourselves, “What can I do to help the community I call home? »