A point of light: Remembering President George H.W. Bush’s visit to Birmingham-Southern College

President George Bush shaking hands with BSC President Neal Berte in 1990, Photo courtesy of the Southern Environmental Center at Birmingham-Southern College

One of Birmingham’s fondest moments of President George H.W. Bush was his visit to the Magic City promoting recycling and conservation nearly three decades ago.

In memory of President Bush’s  passing on Friday evening, November 30, 2018, at the age of 94,  Bham Now remembers that special Presidential visit to the campus of Birmingham-Southern College.

Bell tower on the Birmingham-Southern College campus. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

Earth Day

On April 20, 1990, two days before the 20th Anniversary of Earth Day, the college was honored by President George H.W. Bush with a Presidential visit recognizing their recycling and waste reduction programs and community environmental initiatives.

During the visit President Bush designated the Birmingham-Southern Conservancy, which is now the Southern Environmental Center a  “Point of Light” Award.  He also signed a national proclamation declaring April Recycling Month.

Here is an excerpt from his remarks that day, speaking directly to the students at Birmingham-Southern College.

“By enlisting elementary schools in neighborhood beautification efforts and working with the Cahaba River Society to involve inner-city youngsters in cleanup efforts, you are not only working to enhance our environment, you’re also imparting your love for nature and concern for its well-being to the environment’s future custodians, our youngest citizens. And you’re helping them learn that we all have a role to play in solving some of our most pressing problems.

If we’re to preserve our precious national heritage, each organization, business, individual in America must take direct and consequential action to protect our environment.”

Presidential Impact

The impact of that presidential visit continues today.

Birmingham Alabama
Ecoscape at Birmingham Southern College – Photo by Pat Byington
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Seven Springs Ecoscape at the Faith Apostolic Church in Powderly. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

In the late 1990s, Birmingham-Southern College’s Southern Environmental Center established an interactive environmental museum that welcomes annually over 20,000 school children and families. Beyond the campus, the SEC has established ecoscapes in neighborhoods throughout Birmingham and the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve program.  In March, the SEC re-purposed the planetarium on campus into the state’s first Geo-Dome.

Ignited interest in conservation

Commenting earlier this year in a story about recycling in Birmingham and the impact of that Presidential visit, longtime Southern Environmental Center director Roald Hazelhoff said, “President Bush’s visit helped raise the issue of recycling both on campus and in the community. In the case of BSC, it let us secure 100s of new recycling bins on campus. It ignited interest on other campuses to start up their own programs.”

President Bush’s Point of Light

It is amazing what followed after that one visit by President Bush in the Spring of 1990. Even though, President Bush was honoring Birmingham-Southern College that day as a “Point of Light” – the light he shined on the campus and Birmingham still burns brightly today, now more than ever.

Thank you President Bush.

Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

Articles: 2009