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Canton leader remembered for civic projects, love of nature

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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 Wednesday at the village home he shared with his wife, Elizabeth “Becky” Van de Water.

Mr. Van de Water is being remembered 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 nonprofit that developed Heritage Park along the banks of the Grasse River. On May 13, 2011, the park’s walking trail was officially dedicated as the “Peter Van de Water Walking Trail.”

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 seemed to encompass several of the ideals Mr. Van de Water most strongly believed: rejuvenating property in decline, highlighting local history and welcoming people to enjoy a beautiful natural setting.

Robert N. Wells, a former 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 said. “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 and admissions and vice president of student affairs. He fought to preserve the environment as chairman of the Citizens to Save the Adirondack Park and the Coalition on Low Altitude Flights.

Marilyn I. Mintener, a downtown business owner and former 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. Memorial contributions can be made to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canton or Hospice of St. Lawrence Valley.

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