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Who We Are

Ogden Doremus - David and Olga Chesakov and Patricia Burke


Ogden Doremus

Mettier, Georgia
Georgia Chapter Vice Chair

“Georgia’s coast is the least developed in the nation,” declares retired state court Judge Ogden Doremus with more than a touch of pride. Indeed, while it is far from immune to development, Georgia’s coast is still characterized by long stretches of tidal marsh rather than hotels and condominiums. Doremus, 83, is largely to thank.

Doremus co-founded the Izaak Walton League in Georgia in 1950, was among the first trustees of the Georgia Conservancy in the 1970s, and co-founded the Georgia Center for Law and the Public Interest in 1992, where he still serves as director.

In 1970, he helped plan the Georgia Marshlands Protection Act, which declared Georgia’s coastal salt marshes to be state property. He organized public support and lobbied a joint House-Senate committee to support the bill, which passed after what he calls a “bloody” fight. On his 75th birthday, the Georgia General Assembly honored the judge with a resolution calling the Marshlands Protection Act his “crowning glory.”

But the fight is ongoing, he says. “Developers see the Act as an impediment. The business world considers land something they’re simply entitled to use.”
Doremus laments that environmentalists have been fighting defensively of late, but he feels the pendulum will swing back. He cites as positive signs the recent defeat of water privatization in Georgia and the election of slow-growth commissioners in suburban Atlanta.

“Ultimately, the environment’s biggest threat is population growth,” he says. “Look at any statistics you want and you’ll see that we’re going to have to deal with more people. If we don’t set up some safeguards, the march of time and population growth will take an inevitable toll.”


David and Olga Chesakov—
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Allegheny Group volunteers

An avid hiker and kayaker in his native Russia, David Chesakov first learned about the Sierra Club while researching environmental issues and social initiatives during the perestroika era. “I saw so much environmental damage in Russia,” says Chesakov, an engineer. “Northern forests were being cut, waters were being polluted, 18-wheelers were tearing up the landscape bringing supplies to oil rigs. It was painful to watch.”
He and Olga met on a backpacking trip in the Caucasus Mountains. “We were at 12,000 feet,” Olga recalls, “looking at gorgeous views of snow-covered ranges—and rusty tin cans, leftovers of previous expeditions. On the way back David and I picked up full backpacks of metal. Not everybody in our group could understand what we were doing.”

In 1992, the couple moved to Pittsburgh, where they had relatives. Upon buying a new home, the first person to knock on their door was a young Sierra Club volunteer, wanting to talk about clean water issues. “This was very meaningful to us,” David says. “To have a live person come to our door to talk about something important like clean water gave us the spark to join the Sierra Club.”

Last year he and Olga became two of those live persons knocking on doors when they participated in several Sierra Club community walks, talking with neighbors about the importance of keeping the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act strong. “There’s an obvious difference in the way people are responding compared to last year,” David says. “They’re saying, ‘Yes, we’re interested in what you’re doing’—maybe because it’s an election year. Being involved with the Sierra Club helps us feel that we’ve really become Americans.”


Patricia Burke—San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico volunteer


When the Sierra Club Board of Directors meets in Puerto Rico this February, Club members there like Patricia Burke hope that their bid to become the newest chapter will be ratified. A passionate environmentalist, Burke has been a major force behind the nascent chapter’s growth. A resident of San Juan, she also teaches English to German students.

“Patricia’s just amazing,” says Sierra Club staffer Camilla Feibelman, who has worked with Burke to coordinate chapter efforts and a partnerships program. “She’s been a major force in building membership, and it’s incredibly hard to grow an organization from nothing. She stuck to her vision all the way.”

“I’ve always been involved in environmental issues,” Burke admits. “I’ve had the opportunity to live in California and Germany, and in those places you can really see what’s possible. It’s not the same for Puerto Rico yet.”

One local issue that’s close to Burke’s heart centers on the Northeastern Ecological Corridor, which is under threat of serious development. “It’s a rare and ecologically important place,” Burke says, “and it would be an irreplaceable, devastating loss.”

Burke finds ways to bring people together over such causes. She’s manned booths, mailed letters, gone door-to-door, and most recently she helped draw the largest crowd ever at one of their monthly Club meetings.
“Forty people came,” Burke recalls with amazement. “Students, adults, Boy Scouts. One woman drove three hours one-way!”

Such are the tangible results of Burke’s energy and mission. “Everyone is an environmentalist at heart,” she says. “That’s something I first learned from the Sierra Club.”



— profiles by Tom Valtin and Caroline Kraus


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