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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
Comments (Taken from the old TI Life Site)
Comment by: Bud Andress
Left at: 3:33 PM Saturday, June 16, 2018
Ken Deedy is a man that always looks your way and gives a warm hello & handshake. What a great contributor to our 1000 Islands tapestry Ken has been through his direct effort.
Comment by: Allison Burchell-Robinson
Left at: 7:57 AM Friday, July 6, 2018
What a lovely tribute to a man who leaves an eternal legacy!
Comment by: Katy Thomas
Left at: 1:37 PM Thursday, August 16, 2018
What a lovely article and fitting tribute to a man determined to be a good steward of our beloved River and the islands. Thank you so much for sharing. I will be sure to mention the article to friends who share our love for the River.