Easy Being Green
by Sally Kuzemchak
As Denison's first campus sustainability coordinator, Jeremy King '97 will guide the college along the right environmental path.
King has always been a fan of the natural world. While a student at Denison, the BioReserve was one of his favorite spots. Photo: Tim Black
Jeremy King remembers the exact day–Monday, December 19th, 2005–that his wife called him from work and said five words that changed his life: “I can’t do this anymore.” It’s a moment he now recalls with a laugh. “I thought she was breaking up with me,” he says.
Instead, King’s wife (Susan Studer ’96) was asking that the couple make good on a promise they wrote into their wedding vows, recited on the steps of Doane Library five years earlier. “We said we wanted to help make the world a better place,” he says. They applied to the Peace Corps the very next day. Eighteen months later–after selling their house, most of their furniture, and their Toyota Prius–they found themselves in Ecuador.
King, who is now Denison’s first campus sustainability coordinator, was no stranger to green living before his service in the Peace Corps. He was raised in a family that grew some of their own food and vacationed in national parks, and he and his wife biked to the grocery store, composted their food waste, and bought second hand whenever possible. In his ten years teaching science at Circleville High School in Ohio, he tried to impress basic environmental ideals on his students.
But in Ecuador, King saw places where sustainability was a matter of life and death, not lifestyle. During his two-year service, he worked on a watershed conservation program to protect drinking water for the town of Puyo, and he taught community members and local school children about deforestation, pollution, erosion, remediation, and conservation. When he visited schools to do presentations on water conservation for the students and help teachers incorporate environmental education into their curriculum, he became known as “mago,” or magician, for the magic tricks he performed using water. Smaller amounts of his time in Ecuador were spent building composting toilets to keep rivers clean and rainwater collection systems to combat dry conditions, teaching farmers to compost so crops could grow in nutrient-poor soil, and establishing fish ponds to provide food and sources of income. And through all of it, he lived without the usual creature comforts like television (he read 70 books instead).
King’s approach to his new job at Denison reflects some of what he learned during his service. “As a Peace Corps volunteer, you don’t just jump in and start changing things,” he says. “You see where the community is, what they need, and what they want. I don’t plan on being Denison’s ‘sustainability czar.’”