MARIETTA – If you have ever sat beneath the shade of a Marietta tree, swam in a local waterway or watched local wildlife, you owe a debt of gratitude to Marilyn Ortt.
Ortt, who passed away Sunday at the age of 78, championed local environmental causes for more than six decades, and had a hand in forming or reinvigorating some of the most notable community organizations and events in the area.
Her seemingly limitless energy for bettering her beloved city, and moreover her beloved earth, was contagious and made a lasting impression on those with whom Ortt worked.
“One thing to note about Marilyn, there was nobody better at finding a way to make things happen. She knew everybody, and she knew who to talk to to make things happen,” said Marietta College Biology professor Steven Spilatro, who worked with Ortt for two decades on the Marietta Tree Commission.
Ortt breathed new life into the city’s century-old tree commission and, Spilatro speculated, “probably inspected every tree in the city over the years.”
In addition to inspecting the trees, Ortt made recommendations on what to do with ailing or problematic trees and vigorously worked to plant new ones.
It is unlikely that anyone will match Ortt’s staggering knowledge base, said Marietta Streets Superintendent Todd Stockel, who regularly consulted with Ortt about city trees.
“She was a hidden gem. She would do it all and want no recognition,” said Stockel.
Ortt was quiet and humble, agreed longtime friend and Community Earth Day Celebration organizer Connie Grimes, who first met Ortt more than 30 years ago while they were both overseeing local 4-H clubs.
But despite her quiet demeanor, Ortt’s persistence when it came to her causes was ferocious, added Grimes.
“I think on the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, she called and asked me if I could get a committee together for something local. But I told her I couldn’t because we were doing Relay for Life for the first time,” recalled Grimes.
Five years later, Ortt called back, told Grimes she should have Relay for Life organization mastered by now, and again urged her to help organize a local Earth Day celebration.
Grimes happily agreed and the local Earth Day celebration has been a popular event for the past 15 years.
Ortt was also instrumental in initiating the household hazardous waste collection days, where county residents can get rid of clunky, unwanted appliances, paints, and other items too dangerous to be thrown in the regular garbage.
Spilatro, who was also involved in the inception of Washington County Household Hazardous Waste Day, said the event has collected tens of thousands of pounds of waste over the past 20 years.
“I don’t think many people full appreciate the positive impact she had on the community…Most of these good ideas initiate with Marilyn,” he said.
Ortt held a deep love of anything to do with natural history and helped form the Marietta Natural History Society in 1996. The club, which strives to foster awareness and sensitivity to the natural environment, has held monthly presentations and field trips since its inception and has put out a quarterly newsletter for the past 16 years – both of which Ortt helped organize, said Spilatro.
Ortt has long championed for the preservation of the Muskingum River, helping form Friends of the Lower Muskingum River, a local nonprofit committed to restoring, protecting, maintaining and promoting the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the Muskingum River.
After a Massachusetts-based power company announced plans to build hydro-electric facilities on several Muskingum River dams more than a year ago, Ortt fought to make clear the ramifications of such a project, encouraging residents to attend meetings and voice their concerns.
Community champions like Ortt are irreplaceable, said Grimes.
“If you don’t have people like her that love the earth…you just have to have people like Marilyn to save things,” she said.