Ellen Peterson (1923-2011)


She would want an army of people to keep following in her footsteps protecting the environment. Ellen cried out for everything to be just in the universe.

Bobbie Gruninger - Chair, Calusa Group of the Sierra Club

Ellen Peterson wanted to change the world or in some cases keep it from changing. As a young woman from North Carolina who grew up in Georgia, Peterson advocated for the environment even riding a bicycle across country to bring attention environmental issues. Since the early 1970s, she dedicated herself to grassroots conservation efforts in Southwest Florida. Her life combined a strong belief in education…she held a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s in counseling…with her passion for fighting for a cleaner earth. Peterson served on several boards and advisory committees including the Agency on Bay Management, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, Save Our Creeks, the Responsible Growth Management Coalition, the Everglades Committee, the Environmental and Peace Education Center and the Calusa Group of the Sierra Club. In 2006 she founded the Happehatchee Center, an eco-spiritual and educational center on Estero River. Happehatchee Center board member Bobbie Gruninger said that Peterson was fearless, “Ellen was afraid of no one. There was nobody in the world she was afraid of when it came to environmental issues and making a stand. She never cared about what anybody thought about her. It was about doing what was right for the environment” She fought to keep her beloved home, the Happehatchee Center, “a labyrinth you can walk… a very peaceful, quiet place.” In describing the Center, she once said, “Happe means happy and Hatchee means river, so it means happy river. Our mission is really to be a cohesive force for environmental groups and people interested in preserving and enjoying the environment.” Even in death, says Gruninger, “A group of people have been drawn to her that will carry on her work. Hundreds of people will step forward in her footsteps, and I think that was her grand plan in her final days – that many people will carry on her work.” (Information provided by Jenny Bechtold)