Monday, June 29, 2015

She changed Kerrville

Margaret Van Landingham
I was saddened to read this week of the passing of Margaret Van Landingham, whose grace and thoughtfulness was a blessing to my family, and to the city of Kerrville.
I became acquainted with Ms. Landingham in 1992, when we served together on the Kerrville City Council.
There have been very few members of the council who approached their duties with as much preparation and seriousness as did she. If a thousand-page agenda had been delivered by city staff to Ms. Van Landingham on a Friday evening, you could be assured she would have read each page before the council meeting on Tuesday evening. Her agenda book would usually be filled with notes and questions, and she made sure she understood each item before voting. I learned a lot from her -- and from her questions.
Not only did she ask important questions, but she asked them with such a wonderful accent -- an echo of her childhood in South Carolina.
She brought experience from her career in government to her time on the council. She worked in several levels of government, and became a personnel management specialist. Part of her working years were spent in Frankfurt, Germany. After a long career in government, she retired to Kerr County in 1986.
While she was involved in every issue before the city council in those days, her lasting contribution to our community was in her work on establishing a curbside recycling program.
While she had strong views about conservation and the health of our planet, that was not the main reason for her work to help establish the program.
In the early 1990s many of us were concerned about the life of our landfill: it was filling up faster than expected, and expansion of the landfill, with all of the federal regulations and red tape such an expansion would require, was going to be fantastically expensive.
The council spent meeting after meeting reviewing options for the community's landfill. We explored options to stretch the useful life of the facility; we asked for variances from some of the federal regulations since our geology here is different than other places; we listened to experts, we sat through presentations by engineers, suppliers, and landfill operators. We explored joining Fredericksburg and Gillespie county in building a regional landfill to serve both communities. After what felt like years of study, each member of the Kerrville city council had earned what felt like a doctorate in garbage.
Through all of those long meetings, Margaret Van Landingham championed the idea of recycling. By limiting what was placed into the landfill, we could extend its useful life. She chaired a task force to investigate the viability of such a program.
It turned out she was right: the numbers suggested our landfill would be open decades longer if the community recycled. The problem was designing a program that would encourage citizen participation and generate enough recyclable materials to help fund at least part of the program.
Ms. Van Landingham and her committee worked hard and long on the issue, and when the details were finally worked out, blue recycling bins were distributed -- by volunteers -- to every home in Kerrville. A recycling center was opened up for those who lived outside of the city limits, and for businesses.
The program was effective, and there was widespread participation by households, both inside the city limits, and outside of the city.
In the years since then, whenever I saw Ms. Van Landingham, she was unfailingly kind to my family and me. It was always a bright spot of the day to visit with her.
We had war stories to tell from our time in the trenches of city government, and we enjoyed visiting about those hectic days from long ago.
Kerrville was made a better place by Margaret Van Landingham, and I'll certainly miss her.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers distributing recycle bins in the Singing Wind neighborhood, along with other volunteers, several decades ago.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 27, 2015.

I often post historic photographs on my Facebook page.  If you'd like to visit that page, here's the link:

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