Environmental pioneer for Lake Tahoe dies
Dwight C. Steele was at Lake Tahoe up from Walnut Creek because the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency had meetings scheduled that week.
Steele, 88, rarely missed a meeting that had to do with preserving Lake Tahoe or the San Francisco Bay. He was a staunch environmentalist and labor attorney who devoted the last third of his life to conservation causes.
On June 24, he took a misstep on a steep path that leads to a garden behind his home at Alpine Meadows. His wife, Alberta, warned him not to go outside because he had two bad hips and was overdue for a double hip replacement.
He went anyway telling his wife he couldn’t sit around and not do anything. Steele fell as he made his way to the garden, breaking his neck.
Steele’s condition got gradually worse until he died in Washoe Medical Center at Reno on July 11 just before noon.
“Dwight was one of the people with vision who was here from the beginning of TRPA,” said Juan Palma, TRPA executive director. “It’s because of people like Dwight, I believe, who laid out the foundation for us today to be able to address water clarity of Lake Tahoe.
“It is with that we have a great sense of gratitude to Dwight, and we have a sense of respect and a sense of honor to him for his life and dedication to Tahoe.”
Steele served on the TRPA Governing Board from 1978 to 1983. He served at the League to Save Lake Tahoe from 1967 to 2002, with terms as president, general counsel and member of its board.
Steele was a founder of Tahoe-Baikal Institute, an exchange program established in 1990 between the United States and countries in the former Soviet Union, and the Tahoe Transportation and Water Quality Coalition.
He also worked hard to protect the San Francisco Bay. He helped keep it accessible to the public and was key in establishing a new state park along its eastern shoreline. Steele was a member of Save the Bay and chairman of the Bay Area Conservation and Development Commission Citizens’ Advisory Committee.
“Dwight was a pillar of the bay protection community,” said David Lewis, executive director at Save the Bay. “He gave the bay his heart and mind and labor for many years.”
In the summer of 2001, Steele again served on the TRPA Governing Board. He used the opportunity to warn of the consequences of increasing traffic at the basin and construction of “monster homes” that were destroying views of the lake.
“Dwight was a tremendous leader for conservation causes, and a wonderful teacher, friend and mentor to others, especially young people,” said Rochelle Nason, executive director at the League. “His legacy is not only greater protection for the places he loved, but the continuing activism of so many people he taught and inspired.”
Born in 1914, a native of Alameda, Calif., Steele earned a degree in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1935. He then left the states and hitchhiked through the Near East, Africa and Asia.
On his return, he attended law school at Berkeley and graduated in 1939. He married Alberta the following year, which he considered his greatest achievement, Nason said.
During World War II, Steele served as a member of War Labor Board and the War Manpower Commission. He later worked as an executive of several trade organizations.
He is survived by his wife, two of his four children, Marilyn Steele of Berkeley and Diane Smith of Rhode Island, and a brother, Roger Steele of Lafayette, Calif. His family also includes seven grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Steele lived at Walnut Creek, Calif., and Alpine Meadows. Memorial services will be held at the Diablo Room of the Hillside Club at Rossmoor, Walnut Creek, on Aug. 11 at 3 p.m., and at Granlibakken Resort, Tahoe City, on Aug. 25 at 3 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made in his memory to the League to Save Lake Tahoe, Citizens for an Eastshore State Park, Save the Bay, Tahoe-Baikal Institute or another charity.
“This man is an inspiration,” said Patricia Ronald, a longtime friend. “He was committed. One of our mutual friends described him as being ‘unwavering’ in keeping Tahoe beautiful.”