I first met LaVerne at an annual meeting of the Smith Lake water watchers several years ago. He immediately struck me as a straightforward gentleman who was concerned about preserving and protecting the environment and was committed to doing something about it. He introduced himself and then asked me ‘can we get AWW to come up to Winston County and conduct some of your water testing classes for us?” I replied that we would be thrilled to train folks in Winston County in water quality monitoring since we had no volunteer water monitors there. And thus it began.
LaVerne went on to found one of the most dynamic volunteer watershed stewardship groups in the state, Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy (WCSLA) in 2007, within two years of he and his wife Cordy relocating to Smith Lake in 2005 after Hurricane Ivan wrecked their home in Florida. He’d had lots of experience being a champion for the environment in Florida on his beloved Bayou Chico, where, against all odds, he established the Bayou Chico Association. Through years of hard work, he and the association transformed the bayou from a polluted, nearly dead waterbody to one that was renewed and saw the return of dolphins!
LaVerne rolled up his sleeves and got to work on Smith Lake. He grew the WCSLA membership, worked with youth education, met with local and state resource managers and decision-makers, always championing watershed stewardship and preserving and protecting Smith Lake.
These excerpts from an AWW blog article in 2009 gives you a glimpse of LaVerne’s energy and commitment to preserving the environment for generations to come (source – http://wp.auburn.edu/aww/winston-county-water-monitors-get-refreshed-by-aww/):
LaVerne had done a good bit of publicity for the meeting, and had rallied a capacity crowd of over 50, including lake monitors and residents, as well as representatives from ADEM, the Bankhead National Forest, Extension, and the Alabama Rivers Alliance. Group members gave reports on the group’s finances, lake cleanups, water testing, the group’s involvement in the FAWN program, and water quality testing…
He (Eric Reutebuch) congratulated WCSLA on an excellent job of monitoring the previously unmonitored entire west side of the Smith Lake Watershed…
He (Bill Deutsch) pointed out that WCSLA has been very active in educating hundreds of Winston County students through participation in the Forestry Awareness Week Now (FAWN) program; and by removing tons of trash from Smith Lake during the annual Renew Our Rivers cleanups.
As well as this excerpt from an AWW blog article in 2010 (source – http://wp.auburn.edu/aww/smith-lake-residents-embrace-watershed-management/):
AWW personnel began meeting with various stakeholder groups in Winston and Cullman counties in the summer of 2009. Several meetings with key stakeholders (municipal leaders, resource managers, county officials, local residents, to name a few) were arranged by the president of WCSLA, LaVerne Matheson. LaVerne was keenly interested in educating children in the local schools about environmental issues and the value of protecting our natural resources. Many others residents have become involved with the watershed management planning process through meetings and expanding water monitoring efforts.
LaVerne received some well-deserved recognition (pictured below) when, unbeknown to him, a friend and colleague nominated him for a national award, recounted in this blog article in 2012 (source – http://wp.auburn.edu/aww/winston-county-smith-lake-advocacy-group-receives-rise-to-the-future-award/):
Congratulations to the Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy Group for receiving the Rise to the Future, National Hydrology, and Soil Science Award from the U.S. Forestry Service. WCSLAI was “recognized for their partnership with the National Forests in Alabama to sponsor lake shore clean up events as part of Alabama Power Company’s “Renew Our Rivers” campaign. Over the past six years, the partnership has engaged to the local community and convened hundreds of volunteers to remove approximately 180 tons of litter (appliances, Styrofoam, tires, boating and fishing accessories). Over 166 tributary river miles on Smith Lake have also been targeted. Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy Group is accredited for raising environmental awareness and engaging a broad coalition of community businesses and groups and the entire staff of the Bankhead National Forest in this effort.
For me, the greatest accolades that LaVerne could receive come from looking out over the clean glistening waters of his beloved Smith Lake. For that, we all owe him a debt of gratitude. We miss you, Laverne!