Stevie Wonder of Buckeye Brook

Warwick Beacon Online
Guy Lefebvre
Sep 08, 2009

Letter To the Editor:

I first met Steve in the year 2000 at an environmental meeting about watershed protection. He came up to me after the meeting and told me he was Steve Insana and there was a special brook where he lived, Buckeye Brook, in Warwick. He wanted to learn how to protect it. At the time, I was executive director of the Pawtuxet River Authority and recommended that he occasionally attend RI Rivers Council meetings. I explained to him that the RI General Assembly created the RI Rivers Council in 1991 to foster the protection and enhancement of rivers and streams in the state. Steve followed my advice and started attending Rivers Council meetings in Providence. He would generally stay after the meetings and chat with people about his brook, which he boasted had never been dammed and had a spectacular buckeye run each spring.

One day, Steve suggested we have dinner at his house. I met his delightful mother and I learned that Steve’s backyard bordered the brook. He offered to show me around. As we walked by the edge of the brook, I told Steve that I knew a couple of Insanas from my youth, Peter and Ellie, for whom I used to caddy at Kirkbrae Country Club in Lincoln when I was a teenager. To Steve, that was Uncle Peter and Aunt Ellie, brother and sister to Steve’s father who died when he was a youngster. Steve and I formed a familial bond. Later, he asked me to mentor him; which I found unusual and flattering. I said sure. How could I not agree to help Steve out with his important mission to save Buckeye Brook? There was really no choice in the matter.

In 2003, Steve wanted to know how he could get his new group, the Buckeye Brook Coalition, designated by the state to have legal standing to protect the brook and be eligible for state grants. That same year, Speaker Murphy had appointed me to the Rivers Council. I provided Steve the policies and procedures. As we went through the process, I learned Steve had recruited a large variety of folks to assist and “mentor” him on the Buckeye Brook Coalition board including a medical doctor, a computer programmer and many other talented folks. Steve led the way to successfully have the Buckeye Brook Coalition state designated by the Rivers Council in 2004.

Also in 2004, the Rivers Council was developing a curriculum for a RI Watershed Stewards Program – six weeknight classes and two Saturday workshops – to educate adults about river and watershed protection. The program was ready to pilot in 2005. Steve said the Buckeye Brook Coalition would be delighted to host the first offering of the program. The Rivers Council concurred. There wasn’t much choice in the matter. Steve lined up the Knights of Columbus hall for free. With Steve’s leadership and a nicely placed descriptive article in the Warwick Beacon, we garnered twenty-eight participants – about half were Warwick residents. Steve arranged for Mayor Avedisian to welcome the participants at the first class. He also arranged for the Warwick Sewer Authority to host the Saturday workshops. Brand new DEM Director Michael Sullivan was recruited to teach the wrap up class. Our program was off to a terrific start – largely due to Steve’s enthusiasm, diligence and charisma. To date, eighty students have been through the program.

With Steve’s amazing introduction to me of the Buckeye Brook area, I decided to move to Conimicut in the summer of 2005. That summer and for several subsequent summers, I spent many warm nights under the stars on Conimicut Point with Steve talking to the fishermen and women from many ethnic groups. He seemed to like everyone we met unless, of course, they were going to leave litter or take too small a fish that should be released back to the bay. When someone had a potential catch, Steve would immediately be drawn to the action spot. He generally carried a flashlight ready to beam on a fine striper catch. When one was caught, he would put his light on it and call out for someone to put a measuring tape on that flapping wonder. A nice striper caught on the Point would typically be about 38 inches. It was fascinating to go fishing with Steve on these summer nights because Steve went fishing with no equipment except his flashlight and his warm personality.

Steve had Native American instincts and a love for his land and the water and life that flowed through his land, namely the Buckeye Brook Watershed. Mill Cove and Conimicut Point were two of his most favorite spots. Steve was also fond of Warwick Neck, Oakland Beach and other fascinating places in Warwick. I also observed that Steve loved and cared very much for his humorous mother and his somewhat daffy dog and they clearly loved him as did many, many folks who were part of Steve’s Buckeye Brook universe.

Guy Lefebvre
Co-Chair, RI Rivers Council
Past President, Conimicut Village Association, 2006 – 2008