“I sincerely believe that we humans are on a self-destruction course. Already the results of decades of selfish, wasteful and thoughtless uses of natural resources are being felt. If we do not drastically change our modes of living and of thinking, it is estimated there are about only 30 years of this norm of life left for us and at the beginning of the next century will come complete collapse of our society.”
These passionate sentiments may sound contemporary, yet they were written more than 40 years ago by Avon Lake resident Kathryn (also known as Kay or Kate) B. McClellan in an article that was part of a weekly local newspaper column she voluntarily wrote for three years in the early 1970s.
McClellan began her column in The Press, Lorain County’s weekly newspaper that covered Avon, Avon Lake, North Ridgeville, and Sheffield Lake, on July 5, 1972, calling it “Small Thoughts” and using the name “Pollution Polly”. Occasionally, the “U” in the middle of the first word was capitalized because, as McClellan explained to her readers in a November 1972 article, “it is U who has created pollution and [it] is only U who can solve the problem. Remember always – if U are not helping to solve the problem then U are part of the problem.”
In her first column, McClellan explained the meaning behind “Small Thoughts”: “Pollution of all kinds is swiftly affecting our universe. . . . The more I read and thought about it, the more depressed I became. Then I realized I was thinking too big – so big I couldn’t do anything about it but become depressed. So I’m going to “think small” and try to do something about it. And I’m going to share my “small thoughts” with you – small things each of us can do, and if each one of us would do the small thing, what a big effect it would have!”
As a columnist, McClellan educated her readers about a variety of environmental aspects, from the long-term negative effects of environmental hazards such as chemicals, pesticides, and noise pollution, to the positive impact individuals can make by reducing food, water, and paper waste. She also advocated for positive relationships. “There is nothing so polluting to your spirit as meeting with a grouchy, old, sour-puss!” she wrote in February 1973. “Make sure you are not one. Why don’t you make a conscious effort to smile today?”
McClellan’s last article appeared in The Press on April 16, 1975. Two months later, a letter from her appeared in the Letters to the Editor section of that newspaper, in which she announced that she would no longer write her columns because of her family’s upcoming move to Taiwan. She thanked the paper and her readers for the opportunity to “[fulfill] my conviction that everybody should do something constructive as a payment for their right to live.” Specifically addressing Avon Lake residents, she wrote, “I hope that as the community grows, the small-town atmosphere of care and concern will not diminish, for it if does, we will lose the vitality that has made us one of the most outstanding and desireable [sic] cities in the area.”
Kathryn McClellan died on July 24, 2016, at age 93. According to her obituary, “[f]amily was everything to her. She enjoyed golf, traveling, camping, and loved to read.”
McClellan’s “small” legacy is now a part of Avon Lake Public Library’s local history collection and can be viewed in the Marybelle Arnold North Coast History Room during regular library hours. For more information, please visit the Library or call 440.933.8127.