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Public Papers - 1989 - July

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Take Pride in America Awards


Please be seated, if there are chairs out there. For those who have no chairs, eat your heart out. It's warm. [Laughter] Let me first thank Lee Greenwood and the Moodys for being with us today, and salute all you distinguished guests and the award recipients, fellow citizens of what a child once called the nearest thing to heaven, this America -- lots of sunshine, lots of places to swim, and peanut butter sandwiches.

I want to welcome you to the White House and to a city which takes pride in its contrariness. Only in Washington could they call the office that manages the great outdoors the Department of the Interior. [Laughter] And in particular, I want to thank the man who superbly leads that Department, Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan; and also Secretary Derwinski, the head of our Veterans Administration; and then I saw our able Peace Corps Director over here, Paul Coverdell -- but most of all, each of you who've taken pride in America and whom we take pride in saluting now.

Last month we celebrated the volunteer spirit, which is as timeless as America and as timely as today. For by launching the Points of Light Initiative, we sounded a nationwide call for each American to engage in community service. Well, this afternoon we renew that call in the cause of conserving our national and cultural resources and of enshrining our parks, forests, wildlife, waters, and monuments. For the great outdoors is precious, but fragile. To preserve it, we must protect it.

And now, as you may know, I, too, love the outdoors -- always have. Love to hunt and hike and go fishing in the Keys or out West. And you can just ask the honorary chairman of Take Pride in America, Barbara Bush. She might feel that she's a fishing widow at times, but she, too, loves to fish. And in fact, she's the only person I know who can read and fish at the same time. [Laughter] You might call it reading between the lines. [Laughter] I knew that was risky.

You know something? Among our greatest joys has been exploring the outdoors with our kids and our grandchildren, and seeing the Grand Tetons through the eyes of a 13-year-old grandson, or teaching George's twins, Jenna and Barbara, 6 years old, about the mysteries of the ocean. For it's at times like these, seeing the wonder in their eyes, that we are overwhelmed by nature -- when we realize, more than ever, that our children will, indeed,inherit the Earth.

And today, it is for them, America's children, that we've gathered here, for we know that our pride in America is central to their future in America. And that future demands that anyone concerned about America's quality of life must be concerned about conservation. For America can only be as beautiful as her people are vigilant.

You know that, and so did one of my favorite Presidents. Over the years, I've often talked about Theodore Roosevelt, a vital man, a visionary, and one of America's great conservationists. It was Teddy who called our lands and wildlife ``the property of unborn generations.'' And he had this to say about America's redwoods and sequoias: They ``should be kept as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral.''

Well, that's where you come in, the winners of the Take Pride in America Awards. Two years ago when I hosted the first Take Pride ceremony out at the National Arboretum, there were only 38 top winners. You know this year's number? One hundred and four. And let's not forget the other thousands of program participants in 48 States: military and Peace Corps volunteers and veterans, 11 agencies of the Federal Government, churches and businesses, inner-city groups and garden clubs, groups and individuals -- volunteers all.

I think, for example, of how in Page, Arizona, volunteers rally every year to clean up the nearby Glen Canyon Recreation Area and Navajo Reservation. Or -- how's this for a tongue twister? -- in Craig, Colorado, the High Country Cactus Kickers preserve archaeological sites. In Lilburn, Georgia, 12-year-old Vanessa Cline is passing out Pride in America brochures to ``each person around my neighborhood,'' she says. ``I want people to get the message.'' And in Kansas City, that message has moved Phillip Mendenhall and his best friend, Nathaniel Riley, both 11 years old, to start a conservation club. ``We formed it,'' Phillip writes, ``because we wanted to help our public lands.''

Today, across America, millions of kids of every age have gotten the message: protecting and preserving America's cathedral of the outdoors. And they're restocking our forests and wildlife refuges and helping from campgrounds to playgrounds. And in rural and urban areas, where the environmental ethic and personal commitment are restoring the purity of our air and our waters and the beauty of our land -- for that, I thank you. I thank you for protecting the bounty of America, our soils, lakes, and forests, its teeming fisheries and mineral reserves. And yet I also challenge you -- challenge you not to rest but to move onward, always upward, preserving the splendor of America.

I began with a fishing reference, so, not surprisingly, I'd like to close with one. It concerns Mark Twain, who loved to brag about his fishing exploits. He once spent 3 weeks fishing in the Maine woods, ignoring the fact that the State's fishing season had closed. He had a great catch and, like all fishermen, couldn't wait to find someone to tell all about it. On the train back to New York, Twain got relaxing in the club car, and it was there that he came upon a stranger. And as he began to describe his catch, this stranger appeared at first unresponsive, then positively grim. ``By the way, who are you, sir?'' Mark Twain wondered. And the stranger answered, ``I'm the State game warden. And who are you?'' [Laughter] And with that, America's greatest writer nearly swallowed his cigar. ``Well, to be perfectly truthful, sir, I'm the biggest liar in the United States of America.' [Laughter] Well, Mark Twain loved to brag, but then, he had much to brag about. And so do you, for you are helping to reclaim and recover America's precious environment for our posterity and for our children.

More than 130 years ago the poet Walt Whitman said, ``I hear America singing.'' And perhaps he was talking about Big Hole River in Montana or Pelican Island in Florida or treasures from Big Sur in California to the rocky coast of Maine. And today each of you is helping America sing, through your caring and your sacrifice and through deeds that are making America a more pristine and glorious place.

To every award recipient, my heartfelt congratulations. And let me leave you with these familiar words of Irving Berlin: ``From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam, God bless America, my home, sweet home.'' God bless you all, and thank you for taking pride in this country and enriching the beauty of this great, good, and beloved home, the United States of America. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to country music entertainers Lee Greenwood and the Moodys.

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