ROSCOMMON - When Harry Whiteley was about to attend his first meeting of the Natural Resources Commission as a member in 1961, his father had a bit of advice for him.
"He told me, 'You keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut until you know what you're talking about,'" he said.
Whiteley, who lives in Rogers City, would go on to serve for 25 years on the NRC, six times as chairman. It was for all the work he did to conserve Michigan's natural resources that the Harry H. Whiteley Conservation Education Building was dedicated in his honor Thursday.
News Photo by Jordan Travis
Harry Whiteley, former Natural Resources Commission chairman and Rogers City resident, speaks after he and Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh unveiled the sign that will stand in front of the building behind him. The Harry H. Whiteley Conservation Education Building, part of the Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center, was dedicated in his honor Thursday.
The building is part of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center, a fitting place for a building that will be Whiteley's lasting legacy, he said. He and MacMullan, former director of the DNR, were good friends, and went hunting and fishing together.
"I couldn't think of any place I'd rather be honored," he said.
Whiteley spoke to a gathering of people at the steps leading up to the building that will henceforth bear his name. The dedication served as a brief interlude to a day-long NRC meeting going on inside. Some NRC members, both past and present, spoke before Whiteley and DNR Director Keith Creagh unveiled the sign that will stand in front of the building.
Among them was Bob Garner, who now serves on the Natural Resources Trust Fund Board. He read through a long list of Whiteley's achievements and positions he's held in his 93 years, from the director of the Rogers City Power Company, to serving as a delegate to the 1954 Republican National Convention, to his time in the newspaper business, including as former owner of the Presque Isle County Advance, to name a few.
It was Whiteley's time on the NRC that NRTF Board member Keith Charters wanted to highlight. Whiteley "is the single reason that I became a commissioner," he said, and expressed his appreciation to Whiteley for being his mentor.
Charters also said he believes Whiteley deserves the honor of having the building named for him.
"People owe you that gratitude, and this is a very small token of that gratitude," he said.
When Whiteley took to the lectern, he was visibly emotional. After gathering himself, he told the audience how pleased he was to have the building as a legacy for his children and grandchildren. He then introduced the family members that attended that day, and thanked his wife Betty for her support throughout the years.
Whiteley recalled the time he spent with his grandfather Paul Hoeft, an avid outdoorsman who kindled his passion for conservation. Hoeft would go on to give 300 acres of his own land to the state to create what is now P. H. Hoeft State Park, north of Rogers City.
Later in life, Whiteley spent much time hunting, fishing and boating throughout the state, he said.
"If you think, do I know this state, I sure do, and I cherish the memories of those outings."
Five different governors appointed Whiteley to the NRC, he said, each with their different personalities. The list stretched from John Swainson to John Engler.
"The one who stands tall among all of them is Bill Milliken, Michigan's conservation governor," he said. "He was, is, and will always be Michigan's conservation governor, and I'm proud to have had such a close relationship with him."
After dabbing his eyes during another emotional moment - Whiteley joked it was the bright light making his eyes water - he said his hope is "we'd never lose sight of the gift that God created for us in the Great Outdoors."
"I just think that Michigan is the greatest piece of real estate on earth," he said. "We've got to protect it for all of those coming after us."