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In Remembrance: Jan Nona

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View Lisa Evans's blog posts
02 December 2013, 1:06 PM
Big-hearted fighter never gave up
Jan Nona in her kitchen, with tap water contaminated by coal ash. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Jaffe / Circle of Blue)

“You have the right to safe drinking water in this country. They took that right away from us.”

Jan Nona, 1939–2014

This Thanksgiving the world lost a great woman. With unequaled intelligence and tenacity, Jan Nona fought for clean water in her small Indiana town after toxic coal ash from the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) poisoned the town’s drinking water with deadly chemicals. NIPSCO and the local landfill owner tried to hide evidence of contamination, but Jan was there to uncover the truth.

Jan Nona in front of her Town of Pines home, one of the many with water contaminated by coal ash.Jan Nona in front of her Town of Pines home, one of the many with water contaminated by coal ash.
(Photo courtesy of Lisa Evans)

As a founding member of People In Need of Environmental Safety (PINES), Jan maintained a “war room,” stocked with binders of documents and boxes of videotapes, maps, and photographs. She opened her home to neighbors, elected officials, lawyers and journalists.

With absolutely no experience in law, science or environmental advocacy, this retired secretary for U.S. Steel employed her raw intelligence to catalogue hundreds of pieces of evidence dating back decades to expose the dumping that threatened her family and her neighbors. Her work for PINES hastened a federal order requiring the polluters to install a public water system. Jan’s unerring sense of justice, her instinct for uncovering the truth, and her superb organizational skills were invaluable to this effort.

Jan was the most effective of activists—she fought smart and never gave up. Jan inspired her friends and neighbors and was endlessly generous with her homemade fudge, beef stew and heaping portions of sharp good humor.

Jan inspired me, my family, and my colleagues. As Charles Norris, the hydrogeologist for the citizens of the Town of Pines expressed so well: “Jan was rock-hard and soil soft.”

Sweet as her famous fudge but tough as steel, a woman like Jan comes along once in a lifetime. The world will sorely miss one incredibly kind, caring and talented woman and we are all thankful for the work and legacy she leaves behind.

I first met Jan at a meeting organizing a group to fight a garbage transfer station in the Pines. She provided invaluable advice and support in this fight. Jan was a born organizer who was not afraid to do the hard work. She also knew the value of delegating tasks...I'm proud to say that I was one of Jan's minions on a number of occasions!

Jan, you were, and remain, a force!

I never knew Jan but certainly admire her qualities. Those who house these qualities are the real heroes of this world. They never wait for a big funder's check to get started and may never have that support. They are driven by something else--a sense of justice and the need to try to protect the environment their community calls home.

I really believe they are carried away on the wings on angels because they have stood, alone when necessary, for justice and right and for the rights of those who have not yet found their voice.

Thanks to Jan and the Jans of this world for their service.


Jan, Ginger and Chuck Norris were and are my saving grace. They gave me the strength to continue my fight against the "supposed" beneficial use of coal ash on town roads in New York. Jan made me believe I should and could stop bothering the three Lisa(s) and take one step at a time. Bless you always!

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