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Indiana Dunes trailblazer Herb Read remembered for lifetime of activism
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Indiana Dunes trailblazer Herb Read remembered for lifetime of activism

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CHESTERTON — Longtime environmentalist Herb Read, best known for his advocacy to protect the Indiana Dunes, died Sunday.

His family is remembering Read, 93, as a gifted storyteller, activist, designer and father.

"We had the most unique, wonderful childhood you could imagine growing up right across from the Dunes State Park," Herb's son John Read said. "You didn't realize it until later what a privilege it is."

In Northwest Indiana, the Read name is synonymous with environmentalism.

Herb and his wife, Charlotte Read, who died in May, spent their lives championing environmental causes. The couple helped pioneer the Save the Dunes Council, served as founding members of the Porter County chapter of the Izaak Walton League and were influential in helping the Dunes attain its National Lakeshore status in 1966.

Both Charlotte and Herb were the subjects in the final chapter of Hoosier author and journalist Steven Higgs' 1995 book "Eternal Vigilance: Nine Tales of Environmental Heroism in Indiana."

Herb worked with fellow environmental advocate John Nelson beginning in 1955 to create a film capturing the splashing waves and sandy lake shore beaches. By 1958, the duo took the film to whoever would watch it, using it as a tool to lobby state and national lawmakers for environmental protection.

Later that year, Sen. Paul Douglas, D-Ill., authored legislation in the U.S. Senate to preserve the Dunes, and in 1966, Congress successfully authorized the 8,000-acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Herb's sons reflected on the years of triumph, but also of challenges — receiving angry phone calls and rallying Chicago-area political leaders when some Indiana politicians sided with industrial interests.

"When they started with Save the Dunes in 1952, and even preceding that, every political and governmental force in the state of Indiana was vehemently opposed to establishing a national park," Herb's son David Read said. "Earlier this year when the park became a national park instead of a lakeshore, my dad went to the Indiana Statehouse and received a standing ovation from the entire Legislature of Indiana. What a change."

Save the Dunes shared a statement Monday on its Facebook page thanking Herb for his years of dedication.

"Both Herb and his wife, Charlotte, were instrumental to the cause of protecting the Dunes," Save the Dunes wrote in its post. "We are honored to carry on the Read legacy in our work, and are grateful for their wisdom and guidance through the years."

Herb's family also recounted his long lasting sense of adventure and curiosity — flying vintage aircrafts, exploring steam locomotives, and taking lists of titles he'd read with him to Barnes and Nobles to be careful not to purchase the same book twice. And, family, Herb's sons said, was paramount.

Herb, an architect by trade, designed and built a home for his parents, environmental advocates Philo and Irene Read, in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He frequently took his children to the Dunes for nature walks and cookouts, even in the winter, David said.

"Up until his final hours or minutes on this planet, my dad could recall everything about the Dunes," he said. "The fire was still there. The energy was still there, the passion was still there until the moment he died."

Herb is survived by children John Read, Jim Read, David Read and Suzy Hodge, along with nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. His son, William Read, preceded Herb in death. The Read family is making plans for a celebration of life service, which will be announced at a later date.

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