Como Park memorial Saturday for environmental education leader

Kathy Kinzig
Kathy Kinzig

Kathy Kinzig, known for her work in the environmental education of middle- and high-school students, will be honored Saturday at Como Lakeside Pavilion’s indoor space at St. Paul’s Como Park.

She died last month at age 43 after a long fight with osteo sarcoma.

Kinzig was executive director of Eco Education, a nonprofit with the goal of “fostering within young people the appreciation, knowledge, values and skills necessary to inspire ecologically sound decisions and actions.”

Jane Prince, a former Eco Education board member, said Kinzig was the person who figured out that kids didn’t need to go into the woods to learn about the environment.

“She taught us that it’s in their own backyards. “The urban environment’s flora and fauna include workers, residents, businesses, colleges, dogs and cats, boulevard trees and weeds asserting themselves through the cracks in the sidewalk, which all leave their mark on the health and well-eing of the city’s ecosystem,” Prince said.

The memorial, which runs from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, will be a chance for educators, environmental activists, philanthropists and civic volunteers to celebrate Kinzig’s contributions.

“Kathy was an increbibly passionate person who lived her beliefs and truly believed a focus on the environment and youth were crucial,” said Nalani McCutcheon, a long-time Eco Ed board member.

For 11 years, Kinzig was executive director of the St. Paul-based Eco Ed, which serves students and teachers in grades 5 to 12 at about 15 public and charter schools in St. Paul and Minneapolis. It offers programs in “City Connections” and “Urban Stewards” that teach kids how to identify problems in their communities and gives them the tools (through community resource volunteers, buses, equipment, materials) to make change. Kids even do grant-writing and make presentations to Eco Ed staff to make their case for additional dollars.

St. Paul has recognized Eco Ed in each year of the Mayor’s Environmental Awards, and Eco Ed has also received other state and national recognition.

Under Kinzig’s guidance, school kids cleaned urban wetlands, did health research on the impact of the controversial former Gopher State Ethanol plant and persuaded neighborhoods to turn in toxic cleaning supplies in exchange for nontoxic sustainable recipes they can make at home.

Last year, Twin Cities Academy was featured on a television news show promoting stainless-steel water bottles as a substitute for throw away plastic ones, and Somali kids from a charter school in Minneapolis produced a cable TV show to teach Somali immigrants about the benefits of recycling, Prince said.

Kinzig, she said, was soft-spoken and mild-mannered but grew Eco Ed from a shoestring to a $400,000 annual budget.

One of her enduring messages to kids: You don’t have to be a grown-up to start making a difference in the world.

She was also a powerful fundraiser, known by most of the leading foundations and individuals who support environmental sustainability, Prince said.

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