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Canton Civic Leader Remembered

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CANTON - A prominent Canton resident who died last week is being remembered as a progressive leader who cared deeply about his community, St. Lawrence University and the environment.

After battling a fatal blood disease for the past three years, Peter E. Van de Water, 77, died peacefully Wednesday at the Canton village home he shared with his wife, Elizabeth “Becky” Van de Water.

Mr. Van de Water is being recalled by friends and other civic leaders for his tireless work with community organizations, his concern about the environment, his love of sports and the outdoors, and his devotion to making Canton a better place for future generations.

Most recently, he was instrumental in establishing Grasse River Heritage, a local not-for-profit that developed Heritage Park along the banks of the Grasse on the eastern edge of the village. The park’s walking trail was officially dedicated as the Peter Van de Water Walking Trail on May 13, 2011.

A plaque attached to a large rock at the trail’s entrance recognizes him as a founding member of the Grasse River Heritage.

Peter Wyckoff, a Canton resident and Grasse River Heritage member, said Mr. Van de Water had a unique capacity to imagine broadly, work diligently and succeed by persistence.

“He used these attributes to work tirelessly on village, local and regional projects. A mentor as well as a friend, Peter showed me how to lead by example and include others in the decision-making process,” Mr. Wyckoff said.

He said the work of Grasse River Heritage to develop Heritage Park within the village seemed to encompass several of the ideals Mr. Van de Water most strongly believed: rejuvenation of property in decline, highlighting local history and welcoming people to enjoy a beautiful natural setting.

“Walking his mother, Sally Van de Water, across the King Iron Bridge on the park’s opening day in 2008 will remain one of my fondest memories of him,” Mr. Wyckoff said.

Robert N. Wells, a former Canton village mayor, described Mr. Van De Water as an innovator who was never shy about advocating for projects he cared strongly about.

“He was in my (mayor’s) office a lot,” Mr. Wells recollected. “I was always impressed with his strong concern with improving and enhancing the environment. He was a very creative, outstanding person. I am so pleased I had the opportunity to work with him.”

Mr. Van de Water’s other civic involvement included leading the Canton Community Action Plan, more than 20 years membership in the Canton Rotary Club, initiating the Canton Community Fund and representing St. Lawrence County on the Northern New York Community Foundation. He was on the board of both the St. Lawrence County Historical Association and the Canton-Potsdam Hospital Foundation which he chaired.

His career at SLU included serving as the university’s director of student activities, financial aid, admissions and vice president of student affairs. He fought to preserve the environment as chair of the Citizens to Save the Adirondack Park and the Coalition on Low Altitude Flights.

Varick A. Chittenden described Mr. Van de Water as a great competitor who loved a challenge and often took on causes that were difficult and even unpopular.

“He not only voiced his concerns, he always did something about them. I don’t think any of us may realize the real power of his influence on Canton and the north country for years to come,” Mr. Chittenden said.

Marilyn I. Mintener, a downtown business owner and former village mayor, said she remembers seeing Mr. Van de Water at college hockey games even when he wasn’t feeling well.

“He loved sports. He loved the Canton community and the college community,” Ms. Mintener said.

A celebration of his life is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canton. Memorial contributions can be made to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canton or Hospice of St. Lawrence Valley.

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