If you don’t know Ken Deedy, you have heard of him. And if you haven’t heard of him, you have still been touched by him and the extraordinary legacy he has created in the Thousand Islands.
Susan Smith and Susie Wood
Susie Smith Remembers…
In February, Ken learned that he was terminally ill and since then, an extraordinary group - no, a multitude - of people have joined forces to help him get the best care, to help him sort out his personal affairs, to help him ease the difficult times, and to honor him and the generous way in which he has lived his life and especially, given to all of us in the Thousand Islands.
Not a day goes by that people from the river community or from Ken’s working life on Long Island, make their way into Samaritan Summit Village in Watertown, and ask, “Which room is Ken…?” and before they finish his name, the receptionist smiles and gives directions. “Third floor, first room on the right.”
Ken, on my most recent visit to you, I said I was going to write a tribute to Ken Deedy, now. Right now! You scoffed, as you do, but truth be known, I was not asking for permission.
Meanwhile, Susie Wood has been going through thousands of photographs at the Thousand Islands Land Trust, looking for photos of you. The trouble is, you were always behind the camera, documenting TILT’s history. Unfortunately, you got it wrong – because you weren’t in the photos and so much of TILT’s history is owing to you.
Your memorable contributions
Over the years, you have contributed to and served the Thousand Islands in so many ways. You came forward to form the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT); you were a member of the transformation of Save The River; and you helped guide the Thousand Islands Art Center, But perhaps your greatest legacy is the work you have done with TILT.
Though you weren’t born an “islander,” you saw something in this region that made you want to help preserve it, forever. You knew others shared your vision and you organized them to found the Thousand Islands Land Trust, and helped to lead it through its first three decades.
Ken, your years with TILT have all been memorable… I have had the pleasure and honor of serving with you on TILT’s board, and I want to remind you that very little of what we all enjoy today would have happened if you were not tenacious.
We remember one of our first board meetings, held on Grindstone at the MacLean family’s Red Top. You asked the board to approve the purchase of an ATV. “What!?” “An all terrain vehicle on Grindstone?!” A motorized machine… a gas machine?!” Absolutely NO, was the answer. Almost unanimous. Over the next few weeks, you systematically gave each one of us board members a tour on your ATV. (And one tour with Ken around the island…) Everyone, without exception, was sold. Next vote… a unanimous yes!
In 1989, TILT was awarded a grant from the Northern New York Community Foundation and the St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Commission (SLEOC), to study and evaluate all undeveloped islands in the United States sector of the Thousand Islands. It was a study that assisted TILT in gaining knowledge required for future land conservation and management.
You realized that it was vital for TILT to investigate who owned all the uninhabited rocks and shoals, with the hope that TILT could conserve them. You soon discovered that, as far as New York State was concerned, a number of islets had no subsequent owner since Elisha Camp, a Sackets Harbor settler, had purchased “all of the islands” in 1825. Theoretically, Elisha Camp’s descendants owned these islets. If TILT could find Mr. Camp’s heirs and obtain their agreement, TILT could acquire these rocks and shoals by quitclaim.
However, there was a problem: no one knew if Elisha Camp had any descendants and if he had, how would we find them? You decided that these were questions that deserved to be asked and you began to mention the problem to other islanders. Before long, you learned that there was a preserve on Sanibel Island, Florida that was named after an “Elisha Camp.” You called the “Ding” Darling Refuge on Sanibel, but nobody had any information.
You persevered though, and after seeing a television advertisement about the attributes of the FedEx delivery system (watching what else but the Super Bowl), you decided to send a FedEx overnight letter containing information about TILT and a request for a quitclaim deed. The envelope was simply addressed to: “Mr. Elisha Camp, Sanibel Island, Florida” — no further information provided. (Yes, this is true!)
About two weeks later, TILT received a handwritten letter containing a $100 donation from a Mr. Elisha Camp, long-lost descendant of the original Elisha Camp. He had considered TILT’s request and agreed to quitclaim any interest he may have inherited from Elisha Camp to all islets less than 2 acres in size and to deed them to TILT. He executed two deeds, one for Jefferson County and the other for St. Lawrence County. TILT was successful with the quitclaim and we were able to protect, in perpetuity, these fragile islets.
Rocks and shoals provide an essential service to the ecosystem of the Thousand Islands. Don’t think of them simply as obstacles that send you to a marina for a new propeller. Their shallow waters provide spawning habitat for fish and nesting and loafing opportunities for waterfowl. They are often surrounded by underwater vegetation that provides shelter and feeding grounds for all the species that share this Thousand Island habitat with us, and provide us with such pleasure.
One of the stories about you that I love most does not relate to the islands, but rather to a Chinese family living in your house on Long Island. They were looking after your mother, and they had a young daughter who had no friends and had little connections to the community. You decided she was ready for school but when her mother went to register, she was told the child was too young – born on January 1 and the cut-off date was December 31.
In true Deedy fashion, you tried to talk the school administrator into making an exception, but had no luck. Then one night you woke up with a start – the child was born on January 1 in China, but with the International Dateline, that would be December 31 in the USA. You asked the administrator and his comment was “Creative, Ken. If you can give us documents to that effect, we will see.”
Ken, you arranged for the Chinese document to arrive, full of stamps and seals, stating that this young child was born on December 31, US time. And sure enough, she was enrolled. She has gone on to a wonderful life and is ever grateful for your tenacity.
Thank you my friend, for what you have accomplished for the River and as importantly for me, for being my mentor, confidant and best friend forever…
Susie Wood remembers…
I knew of Ken long before I met him, and his legend loomed large. When I did finally meet him, I realized that it wasn’t a legend at all.
Ken, good things happen when you are around, because you make them happen. You have an uncanny ability to see beyond what the rest of us see, to a greater and more meaningful goal, and you lead us all there. You are strong-willed - often stubborn - but more importantly, steadfast in your belief in the cause you champion. TILT is the result of your stubborn steadfastness, and everyone who ever visits the Thousand Islands forevermore will benefit from that.
I realized as a young adult that this place, these islands in this River, mattered more to me than anything, and that I wanted to live my life here somehow. And so, by creating TILT, you have indirectly given me a large part of my life. I’ve been involved with the organization for all but a few of its 33 years – in a small way in the beginning, and in a larger way more recently.
Over these years, you have taught me about the many small communities within the larger Thousand Islands region that each have wonderful and long-lived stories of families enjoying summers, making their living on the River, intermarrying. You’ve created bridges between many of the island communities – from Grindstone to Chippewa Bay, from the Admiralties to Grenadier (the Canadian one!) – and introduced so many people to each other, expanding our knowledge about who else loves the Thousand Islands as much as we do. I am so grateful for your teaching me about the larger river community.
But I am most grateful for something you did early in TILT’s life. You helped protect Oak Island in Chippewa Bay. My father, Bob Wood, was one of many like you who recognized that the Thousand Islands were going to “take off,” and that many families who inherited large homes and holdings from earlier generations were going to struggle to keep them. Rising taxes, development pressures, little-to-no land-use planning in towns along the River, all were going to contribute to the degradation of irreplaceable lands and permanently alter the character of this magnificent place. Oak Island, the largest island in Chippewa Bay, has extensive wetlands at each end, and a rich variety of habitats. It sits smack dab on the Frontenac Arch, making it part of the wildlife highway that runs between the Adirondacks and Algonquin Park, in Ontario. (Alice the Moose crossed Oak Island in 1998, on her epic trek from Newcomb, NY to Algonquin, a 570 km/350 mile trek that included crossing the St. Lawrence River, Highway 401 and ViaRail’s Trans Canada railroad. She has since become the “poster moose” for the A2A Initiative.
When Margo Griffin, the island’s owner, was getting ready to pass the island on to her heirs, my dad contacted you to see if there was any way to ensure that the island would not have to be subdivided and could continue to be a wild haven, with its beautiful wooded shoreline. You went to work and helped Margo and her family put a conservation easement on the island that protects the wetlands (Muskie spawn in their shallows) and woodlands (full of songbirds) for the benefit of all of us, now and forever.
Every year, on Labor Day weekend, folks in Chippewa Bay congregate early in the morning for the annual Row Around Oak. We always see deer, and frequently Bald Eagles. Fish jump ahead of us. Once a muskrat swam right underneath me. We can paddle close to the shoreline to peer into the deep woods. Quiet voices marvel at the beauty of this island in the early morning, and I, for one, always say a prayer of thanks to Margo Griffin and to you, Ken, for making this wondrous thing possible.
Ken, we are so grateful, personally as your friends, but more than that… If there are a 1000 islands – then there are 1000+ stories to tell about how you, Ken Deedy, have touched our lives not only on Grindstone Island, but up and down the River. For that we thank you.
By Susie Smith and Susie Wood
Susie Wood is Membership Coordinator for the Thousand Islands Land Trust. Her family has vacationed in Chippewa Bay for four generations. Susie and her husband, David Duff, live year round in Macomb, NY, about 6 miles inland from the river. She has been associated with TILT for over 20 years.
Susan Weston Smith (known as Susie) editor, TI Life. Susie was recruited to the Thousand Islands Land Trust board of trustees by Ken Deedy serving for 20+ years culminating as president for three years. She and her husband Marceli live on Sagastaweka Island in the summer and in Ottawa during the offseason. In 2010 Susan was honored to receive the Keeper of the Islands Award by the Gananoque Chamber of Commerce. (Note: I had the honor of presenting my tribute to Ken Deedy at the 2018 TILT Community Picnic. He attended and was surprised that I rememberd these stories!)