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GUEST COLUMN: Anna Mattes: My hero

On Friday, my friend Anna Mattes passed away at her home in Ottawa. I carry her closely with me today and always will. My deepest condolences to Anna’s loved ones, friends and everyone who had the honor and privilege of knowing her.

As a veteran of the first Earth Day in 1970, the founding member of many local groups (which started right in her living room), a Master Gardener and lifelong environmental steward, Anna was a pillar of the Ottawa community.

My earliest memory of Anna was at the Ottawa City Hall in June of 2013, where the city council had been reviewing a permit proposal for a frac sand transport operation. I arrived not knowing a single person in the room, but felt in my heart that this proposal needed to be struck down. I thought of my friends in Southern Illinois and every corner of the country being poisoned by fracking and knew we were to become just another sacrifice zone in the chain of fossil fuel destruction. I walked into city council chambers ready to speak my truth. Anna was there to greet me upon walking back to my seat after my testimony. Her smile and warmth felt like the light of a million suns.

What started as a series of meetings on Anna’s back porch transformed into much more than I could have ever dreamt. We banded together to resist the proliferation of the mines and brought more and more people into the fold. Anna had a bold vision and was not afraid of holding those accountable who sought to plunder our environment and communities for the profit motive. As sweet as she was, the local politicos still knew that she meant serious business.

At 82 years young, Anna decided to go back to school. She went on to take five classes during the fall semester at Illinois Valley Community College (IVCC), my alma mater, and she loved every one of them. She never wanted to stop learning. This speaks to the core of who Anna was. Anna has since inspired my own mom to go back to school to follow in her footsteps and pay homage.

As a daughter of German immigrants and devout follower of Catholicism, care for Mother Earth came natural to Anna. Before meeting Anna, at 22 years old, I had just concluded my first semester at IVCC. I was still trying to understand my path in life. Through Anna’s mentorship and loving instruction, she inspired me to be the environmental organizer I am today.

I only hope these words could do justice to Anna Mattes and the remarkable life she led. If you have a story or memory about Anna, please share ...

I love you, Anna. Rest in Power my dear friend. Until we meet again.

Ashley Williams, of Michigan City, Ind., formerly Ottawa

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