Water Education Fund a fitting tribute to former LOTT administrator

A few short days after the untimely death of Mike Sharar in March, family members, friends and colleagues set their sights on ways to memorialize his work as the mastermind of a long-range plan to protect water quality and put highly treated wastewater to good use here in South Sound.

The memorial plan is now in place, and it’s a good one for keeping his dream of a cleaner Puget Sound alive.

Sharar, who died at 61, was the former administrator of the LOTT Alliance, which is the regional wastewater utility serving Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County. He was equal parts environmental educator, facilitator and public-policy shaper.

He’s credited with advancing the knowledge of elected officials and the South Sound public regarding the idea that wastewater is a resource that should be recycled, not treated and dumped into the nearest body of water.

That’s the essence of LOTT’s highly managed plan, and it continues to drive South Sound wastewater decisions to this day.

So it makes perfect sense that those close to Sharar have created the D. Michael Sharar Water Education Fund. Proceeds from the fund, which no doubt will be ably administered by The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, will provide long-term funding support for programs, activities, displays and materials offered at LOTT’s Water Education Center, which is scheduled to open in late spring or early summer.

“I think he would be both embarrassed and pleased that his work was recognized as making such a difference,” said Anne Sharar, his wife and friend of some 40 years. “He’d be pleased the fund will allow his work to promote public understanding of water quality and water resources to continue.”

Lots of ideas were floating around about how best to memorialize Sharar after his death from complications following open-heart surgery. Some said the new LOTT eduction center should be named after him. Or maybe the LOTT boardroom should carry his name, others suggested.

But Sharar was an idea guy, not a building guy. A fund with an environmental education theme is a much better fit.

Four women, with the support of his wife and two daughters, deserve credit for making the water-education fund a reality. They are former Olympia City Councilwoman and LOTT board member Holly Gadbaw, Sharar’s environmental consultant colleagues – Linda Hoffman and Molly Adolfson – and LOTT community relations and environmental policy director Karla Fowler, who worked with Sharar at LOTT when you could count all the employees on one hand.

LOTT officials also plan to recognize Sharar’s legacy with a plaque in his honor at a reclaimed-water fountain and water feature that will flow from the WET Center to the East Bay Public Plaza, all part of the East Bay redevelopment project in downtown Olympia.

“These are wonderful ways to memorialize Mike,” Anne Sharar said.

Fundraising for the water-education fund begins in earnest next week, when letters are mailed out to engineering firms, environmental consultants, government officials and others who worked with Sharar on LOTT’s highly managed plan.

Once the fund reaches a minimum balance of $10,000, interest earned on fund investments will be available each year to pay for LOTT environmental education programs and materials.

“I think it’s going to be successful,” Anne Sharar said.

Anyone who wishes to make a tax-deductible gift honoring Sharar and continuing his work can call the Community Foundation at 360-705-3340 or mail checks to The Community Foundation, 111 Market St. N.E., Suite 375, Olympia, WA 98501.

The letter seeking donations ends with this telling anecdote and request:

While he was in the hospital after his open-heart surgery, Mike was asked what he liked to do. He replied, “I like to work.”

Please join us in keeping Mike working for use and our community. As Mike would say, “this dog won’t hunt” without your support.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444