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LGA Establishes Killeen Lake Protector Award

LGA Establishes Killeen Lake Protector Award August 2, 2023
Photo of the late Jeff Killeen.
The late Jeff Killeen. Photo courtesy LGA.

A gala for lake protectors could not have found a more exemplary one to honor than the late Jeff Killeen.

On July 14, the Lake George Association announced at its gala – the second to be held since it merged with The Fund for Lake George in 2021 – that it has established “The Killeen Lake Protector Award,” to be presented each year to the group or person who most closely approximates Jeff Killeen’s commitment to the preservation of Lake George. 

“His spirit, his charisma and his ability to get things done was unparalleled, and he will always be the greatest example of what a lake protector is and should be,” said Pete Menzies, who succeeded Killeen as chairman of the Lake George Association in 2022. “An award that honors anyone who can approach Jeff’s abilities and passion for lake protection will, of course, be our highest honor.”

The inaugural Killeen Lake Protector Award was presented to Jeff, posthumously, and to his wife Judy, who accepted the award on the couple’s behalf.

“Jeff wanted to go and do everything. He wanted to see everyone. He wanted to hear about everything. He wanted to experience it. He was full tilt boogie.” said Judy Killeen.

According to Menzies, the LGA’s board and staff have been discussing how best to honor Killeen’s memory since his death in December, 2022.

“Frankly, it took some time to arrive at a decision. Ultimately, we could think of no better way to honor Jeff Killeen than to establish a Lake Protector Award in his honor,” said Menzies,

Jeff Killeen and the New LGA

Killeen was arguably the single-most powerful advocate for the protection of Lake George since the pioneering conservationist John Apperson died sixty years ago.

Among other things, he was instrumental in the merger, or re-unification, of the LGA and The Fund for Lake George in 2021, which created the largest, best-funded lake protection organization in the U.S. As a fifth-generation resident of Lake George, that was an especially significant milestone for Killeen.

Killeen served as chairman of the enlarged and energized Lake George Association from 2021 to 2022 and was its vice-chair at the time of his death.

“We knew the merger was the right thing not only for the future of the two organizations but for the future of Lake George,” said Pete Menzies. “Jeff had the vision and the determination to make the LGA a best-in-class organization.”

According to Menzies, who was the LGA’s president at the time, he and Killeen began discussing a merger in earnest in September, 2020.

In November, 2020, when harmful algal blooms emerged in Lake George – the first confirmed outbreak ever and the first reported sighting in decades – cooperation between the two groups assumed a new urgency, accelerating the movement toward merger, which was approved by both groups in 2021.

“If the two organizations had remained separate, we would not have had the resources necessary to address the challenges facing Lake George and every other freshwater body,” said Dr. John E. Kelly III, former executive vice president of IBM and a member of the Board of Directors of the Lake George Association. “For that, we need an organization of the new LGA’s size and scale.”

The Jefferson Project

Speaking at the July 14 gala, which was held at the Sagamore hotel in Bolton Landing, LGA president Eric Siy noted that 2023 is the 10th anniversary of The Jefferson Project at Lake George, “our powerful partnership with RPI and IBM Research, which was created to make Lake George the world’s smartest lake, in order to make it the world’s best protected lake.”

Siy added, “The Jefferson Project’s world-leading breakthroughs now guide what we must do to tackle harmful algal blooms and reduce the risk of more and bigger blooms that could turn toxic.”

According to Kelly, Killeen played an indispensable role in the founding of the Jefferson Project.

Kelly, who was Senior Vice President & Director of Research for IBM when he met Killeen in 2013, recalled, “Jeff made a cold call on me at IBM headquarters in Armonk and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Killeen showed Kelly a preliminary draft of RPI’s thirty year study analyzing trends in the lake’s water quality, which was financed by The Fund for Lake George, “and I was stunned by the rising levels of salt and the increase in algae, among other things,” said Kelly.

Kelly proposed utilizing IBM’s advanced technology to gather more comprehensive data, and the Jefferson Project was born.

“Jeff recognized immediately that we had an opportunity to do something big, and he jumped right on it,” said Kelly. “It was a leap of faith for him, but he took that leap and never looked back.”

Killeen’s Legacy

“Jeff Killeen’s vision was that Lake George would become the global standard for freshwater protection, and he was always thinking about the many ways in which the LGA could help us realize that vision,” said Peter Menzies. “He set us in the right direction.”

“He laid a great foundation for us,” said John Kelly. “We all wish he could have been here to help us grow, but everything is now in place for us to build upon that foundation. The greatest tribute we can pay Jeff Killeen now is to keep growing – bigger, better faster.”

It Takes a Lake

Of course, it takes more than one extraordinary individual to protect a lake like Lake George, said Menzies.

“While the gala celebrated Jeff and Judy Killeen as the ultimate lake protectors, everyone in that room at the Sagamore on July 14 was a lake protector and is doing their part to protect the lake,” said Menzies.

“We live in an exceptional community and an engaged community, and that’s what it takes to protect Lake George,” said Menzies. “It takes the entire lake.”

“We can’t do it alone. The threats are too big and too urgent,” said Eric Siy.  

According to Siy, the LGA has launched a number of initiatives to “engage everyone as never before to participate in lake protection.”

Judy Killeen urged the next lake protector with the passion of Jeff Killeen and with the ability to accomplish something exceptional “to step forward and do it now. Why wait?”

“I look forward to seeing a new face, perhaps someone we didn’t expect to see, on this stage next year accepting the Killeen Lake Protector Award,” said Judy Killeen.
According to Pete Menzies, the amount of money raised at the gala was in excess of the $300,000 raised last year and is the equivalent of ten percent of the organization’s annual operating budget.

Among the auction items:  a 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage donated by Nemer Ford; a 1918 Old Town canvas-covered canoe restored for Jeff Killeen by Tumblehome Boatshop, donated by Judy Killeen and won by Ginger Bailey for Canoe Island Lodge; dinner for 25 on Big Canoe Island, courtesy of Canoe Island Lodge’s new owners; and a cruise aboard the Bixby family’s 1896 electric launch, the St. Louis, to a gourmet dinner on Leontine Island.

“Our means and method of protecting the lake vary, but the collective commitment is awe-inspiring,” said Menzies.

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