Ehlers’ countless efforts felt in GR and beyond
Why does the U.S. Congress have internet connections? Vern Ehlers. It was one of the statesman’s first official impacts on and for the country, designed to provide citizens with access to legislation and connection to their elected representatives in the late 1990s. Ehlers’ impact is as immeasurable as the pathways and connections of that ubiquitous service and as profound as the universe of science about which he taught and touted, as the first to bring discussion of STEM education to a national policy.
Like the burst of atoms he so fondly described (while assisting Michigan State University to win the national bid for its cutting-edge nuclear research facility), his service to the Grand Rapids community and beyond are too many billions to count or contain.
As someone who “just wanted to be a positive force in the community,” Ehlers assisted the creation of the Baxter Community Center and Inner City Christian Federation. He helped Lyman Parks become the first African-American elected to the city council and on to mayor. When he eventually became a candidate and won election to the Kent County Board of Commissioners, Ehlers commented he was appalled there were no women on the 21-member board and worked to change it. He helped craft the federal Great Lakes Legacy Act and, much earlier, the founding of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. His leadership on manufacturing and trade issues were instrumental in affecting change, especially for small businesses.
Outtakes from hundreds of Business Journal reports include:
On WMEAC’s 40th anniversary, then Executive Director Rachel Hood acknowledged Ehlers, saying, “We should take a moment to hear Vern Ehlers.” Rising from the audience, Ehlers said, “A moment? I’ve been with this organization for more than 40 years and all I get is a moment?” While Hood recounted several of Ehlers’ achievements, he reached the podium and instructed the group to “never forget those who have come before you and built this.” Ehlers said his proudest achievement was to “bring Republicans into the fold,” noting years of national media attention to his formation of Republicans for Environmental Protection and the ever-pressing question as to whether the words “environmentalist” and “Republican” were an oxymoron. It was a “quote that went around the country,” Ehlers recalled, but also noted, to audience chuckles: “Republicans are very concerned about keeping things the same. What better group to keep things the same? That’s what environmental groups want to do.”
On campaign finance law debate, he said, "The real issue is not campaign finance laws but the character of the candidate. I don't care what the laws are, if you have a candidate with good character, he's going to abide by them. If you have a candidate with poor character, he's going to find loopholes in the law no matter what."
Ehlers lived by the motto, “leave things better than how you found them.” And he most certainly did.