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South Shore bike, sustainability advocate dies

Dylan Silver
dsilver@tahoedailytribune.com
South Lake Tahoe resident Tom Wendell relaxes at the Fresh Ketch in 2006. Wendell, a passionate advocate for sustainability, passed away Aug. 5.
Tribune file photo |

South Lake Tahoe’s Tom Wendell walked his talk. From bicycling to composting, Wendell adopted the practices in his own life that he advocated for in his community.

“He definitely spent a lot of his own personal time advocating for his causes, which were not selfish,” said brother Ted Wendell, also a South Lake Tahoe resident. “They were very much for the betterment of the community at large, whether it was bicycle trails, sustainability, recycling or environmental issues.”

Tom Wendell passed away Aug. 5 from complications due to lymphatic cancer. He was 62.



The 6-foot, 5-inch massage therapist could often be seen pedaling his bicycle through town or on the area’s many trails. For years, he pushed city and county governments to build more bike paths. He advised and energized bike groups like the Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association and the Lake Tahoe Bike Coalition.

“He’s one of those guys who was just always on his bike,” Sierra Ski and Cycle owner Gary Bell said. “He just had a good handle on what the bike community needed. He’d always been instrumental in steering bike advocacy in a good, level-headed direction.”




Tom Wendell was instrumental in forming the advocacy group Sustainable Tahoe. He believed the area should lead the world in stewardship and incorporated sustainable practices into his own life first, said Sustainable Tahoe executive director Jacquie Chandler.

“He lived what he preached,” Chandler said. “He rode his bike everywhere. He composted his dryer lint. He was just a great supporter of everything sustainability. He lived it. He was a lead-by-example model.”

Born in Montreal to a German mother and American father, Tom Wendell spent his youth in Southern California. After high school, he traveled extensively in Europe with his brother and spent two years living there when he was 20. Many of his beliefs in sustainable lifestyles may have originated there, Ted Wendell said.

“He was always on the cutting edge of sustainability, even back to my earliest memories of him,” Ted Wendell said. “He observed the functionality and efficiency that is pretty prominent throughout Europe.”

Whether he was pushing for stricter greenhouse gas emissions or encouraging citizens to ride their bikes, Tom Wendell presented his argument with tact and intelligence, Ted Wendell said. Tom Wendell ran for City Council in 2006. Though he lost, he never wavered in his beliefs.

“Whatever Tom decided, he embodied it, passionately embodied it” said Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition executive director Ty Polastri. “I mean every cell in his marrow was about what he saw.”

Away from his advocacy work, Tom Wendell found solace in his recreation. He was an avid cyclist and kayaker. His mono-skiing, which he adopted because it was easier on his knees, was famous.

“That was the core of his being, his recreation,” Ted Wendell said. “That was his go-to solitude. That’s where he did most of his thinking.”

A celebration of Tom Wendell’s life will be held at 3 p.m., Aug. 18 at Lake Tahoe Golf Course. Attendees are encouraged to come by bicycle. Donations in his memory can be made to Sustainable Tahoe, the Lake Tahoe Bike Coalition or Barton Hospice.


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