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Arlee water/sewer district honored with public health award

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ARLEE — Clean drinking water is something most Americans take for granted. But when you’ve spent 25 years working on providing your community with good water, as Arlee residents Gary and Connie Wining have, certainly some recognition is due. That’s why the Lake County Board of Health recently presented the Arlee Sewer and Water District with the 2010 Virginia Reber Public Health Award, named for Virginia Reber, long-serving public health nurse and director of the Lake County Public Health Services Department.

The award was the first of its type given out by the board of health, said Susan Brueggeman, director of the Lake County Environmental Health Department. For the past couple of years, the board had been discussing the idea giving an award “just to acknowledge there are people in the community improving public health,” and now Reber will also be honored through the annual award. 

From 1976 through 1991, Reber responded to the needs expressed by the community to expand public health services. She laid a solid foundation for nursing services, a home health visiting program, well-child clinics, child immunization efforts, and many other public health services. She reached out to schools, worked with tribal counterparts and mentored new public health workers. In her retirement, Reber served two terms on the Lake County Board of Health.

“(Reber) basically expanded the program to include many of the things we offer today,” Brueggeman explained. “She kind of built (the public health) aspect of the department.

“She’s a wonderful person and very well-respected.”

The board chose the Arlee Water and Sewer District as the winner out of four or five nominees for the award, Brueggeman noted. Arlee’s water and sewer system was completed in September 2004, after a quarter of a century of work — gathering signatures for petitions, writing grants and wading through government paperwork, most of which the Winings took on. 

“They really were the driving force behind this effort,” Brueggeman said.

Arlee is located over a shallow aquifer and gravelly soils, and prior to the new system, area home sites were served by relatively shallow wells and septic systems, Brueggeman explained. 

The situation presented a serious threat to public health, as the local wells were showing signs of both bacterial contamination and elevated nitrates. Since its completion in 2004, the system has run perfectly, and recent tests showed that the water quality is improving. 

“We noticed that the nitrates in the water are dropping, and the water in Arlee is improving,” Gary explained.

Gary continues to manage the district, along with board members Keith Parsons, Anna Baldwin, Ron Couture, Randy Hanson and Tony Hoyt. Connie Wining is retired from the board.

While Gary said he appreciates being recognized for the improvements to Arlee water, he pointed out that Reber is the true honoree.

“She did a great thing too … she was the county nurse that expanded (the health department) and took care of a lot of people,” Gary said. “Personally, I feel that what’s neat about the award is … every year we’ll continue to recognize Virginia. I think it’s more about her than anything.”

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