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2010 UNSUNG HEROES

Ben Senturia

Ben Senturia

Ben Senturia with a few placards from the many campaigns on which he has worked over the years. Photo: Mike Sherwin

Ben Senturia has spent the past 30 years working on environmental, social justice and campaign reform issues at the local, state and national levels. He also has been a presence in the peace movement and interfaith organizations.

"I love interacting with people," says Senturia. "All my work has provided a platform for me to have a wonderful time getting to know interesting people who do important work. I get my energy from that - as well as a lot of pleasure."

David Lander, an attorney and fellow activist, describes Senturia as a "steel-fist-in-a-velvet-glove" kind of guy who "carries his fierce determination for a better world in a warm, sweet exterior." Pedro McMillan, co-owner of Pedro's Planet and immediate past president of Missouri Votes Conservation - an organization that Senturia co-founded - salutes Senturia's tenacity but also his diplomacy, noting, "Ben can sit with anybody on any part of the political spectrum and have a civil, meaningful conversation."

Barry Commoner, the biologist and eco-socialist, was one of Senturia's professors when he was a graduate student at Washington University. "His involvement framed my interests," says Senturia. "I ended up on the St. Louis Committee for Environmental Information, and instead of getting my master's degree, I helped organize the first Earth Day here in 1970." Senturia laughs. "I found what I was good at, and went for it."

Senturia has worked with the Great Rivers Legal Defense Fund, St. Louis Coalition for the Environment, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, East-West Gateway Coordinating Council, the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, Citizens for Modern Transit and the St. Louis EnvironMentors Project.

He served as president of the Missouri Alliance for Campaign Reform, worked with Missouri Voters for Fair Elections and was an integral part of the Prop 1 Campaign that successfully prevented a local utility from charging customers upfront for a nuclear power plant still on the drawing board. Senturia has been active nationally with Public Campaign, which promotes campaign finance reform. He also has worked in leadership positions in many political campaigns.

Senturia coordinated state and local nuclear-freeze initiative's campaigns and worked for Instead of War, a local peace group. He co-founded All God's People - a coalition of Muslim, Christian and Jewish clerical and lay leaders - and was involved with Jews United for Justice.

One year ago, Senturia retired from his job helping activist organizations around the country with board development, fundraising and strategic planning. "Now, I'm thinking about how to pass the baton, how to develop the next generation of leaders in social change," he says. To that end, Senturia co-founded Leadership for Social Change. Lara Granich, director of Missouri Jobs with Justice, is among those serving as a "start-up committee" for the group.

Senturia's many affiliations are indicative of his many accomplishments. What has he learned over the years? He says, "If you want to create change, you have to build power at the community level."


Ben Senturia

AGE:  66

FAMILY:  Married to Bronwen Zwirner

HOME:  University City 

OCCUPATION:  Retired in 2009 as director of the Center for Active Citizenship

HOBBIES:  Vegetable gardening, European soccer and bird watching