IN MEMORIAM: Rest in peace, Sally Stovall, 70, eco-advocate

Opinion: Columns

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Sally Stovall, 70, died on Tuesday, May 21, surrounded by family and friends after a massive stroke Monday evening. A memorial service for this compassionate leader was celebrated at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, at Euclid Ave. Methodist Church, 405 S. Euclid Ave., in Oak Park. In honor of Sally's bike-centered living, attendees were encouraged to ride their bikes to the service, if they were able. 

When most people retire, they kick back, take cruises, and visit the grandchildren. Sally Stovall was not most people. She did, indeed, relish visiting her grandchildren, but after she retired from a career in organizational development, Sally embarked on a new, vibrant career as climate activist and community organizer.

In September 2010, Sally and her partner, Dick Alton, were worried about global warming and decided to hold a community meeting to see if others felt the same way. Out of the woodwork poured a cohort of people with the same concerns — no real surprise in progressive Oak Park.

Together, they formed Green Community Connections and started holding meetings to talk about how individual actions can help reverse climate change. Sally took the helm, enlisting volunteers to create a website with a blog and resources pages. Monthly newsletters followed, along with community meetings about native plants, edible gardens, food waste, organic lawn care and more. Her efforts helped spur a steady and sustained green revolution in Oak Park and River Forest.

One project near and dear to Sally's heart was "Mobilizing for Monarchs." After she learned the monarch butterfly population had declined dramatically over the past 20 years, she developed a plan to use Green Block Parties to disseminate news about planting milkweed, an essential food for monarch caterpillar survival.

Lately, food waste became another major concern. Sally had read Paul Hawken's book Drawdown, which ranked reducing food waste as the third most effective of 80 solutions to reverse global warming. Again through Green Block Parties, she taught people about sustainable eating and composting.

In 2015, Sally and Dick challenged themselves to give up their car for 90 days in order to lower CO2 emissions. In 2018, they stepped up this challenge to a whole new level by giving up their car entirely. At events and meetings, they regularly arrived with pink cheeks from bike riding.

The One Earth Film Festival, which began in 2012, is the largest program of Green Community Connections. Sally, who was instrumental in the success of the film festival over the years, led the charge to spread the festival to Lake County, expanding its reach from the original boundaries in Oak Park/River Forest. This year she took on double-duty, managing several of the screenings in the Oak Park area.

One of our favorite blog posts by Sally was "A Posthumous Appreciation for an American Elm Tree." In it, she remarked on her alarm at exiting her church to see a tree stump instead of a majestic elm tree. She wrote:

"On reflection, I realized that what was really bothering me is that I had not noticed that tree until it was gone! It was part of the familiar landscape that I passed a couple of times a week but never fully appreciated its beauty and all the many benefits it brought to the block at the corner of Washington and Euclid. Since I work with a group of about eight elementary-age children at the church, perhaps we will have a mini-memorial service for our tree to say "thank you" for all that it has done for us and the birds, the insects and other living creatures that it supported over the years!"

Somehow, this absent elm tree echoes our collective experiences with Sally and her work with Green Community Connections. We will mourn and weather her sudden absence, the absence of a fervent advocate for the birds, the insects, and other living creatures.

"She did an amazing eco-job in our towns," said fellow ecology eco-activist Gina Orlando. "Such vision, detail, a gentleness of spirit, hard work, great gatherer of wonderful people. What a loss."

At her family's request, donations in Sally's memory may be made to Green Community Connections.

Sally Stovall was co-founder of Green Community Connections and a founding member of the annual One Earth Film Festival.

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