Activist Verna Mize dies in Maryland

HOUGHTON – Verna Grahek Mize left the Copper Country in the late 1930s, but because of her efforts to clean up Lake Superior, a roadside park in Houghton was dedicated in her name in 1981.

Mize died Jan. 1 in Potomac, Md. at the age of 99. She will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery Tuesday.

Born in Houghton on April 25, 1913, Mize was a daughter of John and Ann Grahek. Her husband, Alton McLean Mize, preceded her in death in October 1975.

Mize attended Calumet High School. She had a career in several United States government agencies, including but not limited to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mize used to return to the Houghton and Lake Superior area for vacations. It was on one of those trips she noticed the water of the lake looked grimy. She did some investigation and found the Reserve Mining Company of Silver Bay, Minn. was dumping mine tailings into the lake.

After a 13-year effort, Mize, other citizens and some government agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, were successful in getting the company to stop dumping into Lake Superior.

For her efforts to stop the dumping, Mize received several honors, including the title of “The First Lady of Lake Superior,” which was given to her by then-Gov. William Milliken. The now-defunct American Motors Corporation gave her their Conservation Award.

She received a U.S. Department of Commerce bronze medal for superior federal service.

In 1980, the Houghton City Council approved naming a roadside park on Memorial Drive (M-26) next to the Michigan Department of Transportation carpool lot in her honor. In 1981, she came back to Houghton for the dedication of the park.

There will be a Mass of Christian Burial Tuesday at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Potomac, Md.

Arrangements are being handled by the Robert A. Pumphrey Funeral Home of Bethesda – Chevy Chase, Md., 301-652-2200, pumphrey@pumphreyfh.com.


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