Editor’s Note: Tanya was born and raised in Whitehall and although modest, she has lots of awards under her belt. She is currently an elected city council member of Whitehall, a vice-chair of the statewide Public Advisory on Michigan Areas of Concern, appointed to represent the Whitehall City Planning Commission and wrote grants and papers for many organizations in the name of preserving the environment. Her business is Great Lakes Consulting—go to www.tanyacabala.com for a detailed list of her accomplishments and goals.
It is becoming rarer to find people who live where they were born and grew up. What keeps you in Whitehall and what do you think are the advantages of being a “home” resident?
I didn’t necessarily plan to stay in my hometown – it just happened that way. Regardless, I do love living here, in the house I grew up in, for countless reasons. Mostly, I love the casual, small town atmosphere, the beauty of the area, White Lake, and how close we are to my favorite Great Lake — Lake Michigan. I get a lot of pleasure from regularly seeing people I’ve known since elementary school, former teachers, and other people who have been a part of the fabric of life here for so many years. I am very involved in my community. I feel connected and grounded.
What led you to becoming an environmentalist? Is it something you always knew you wanted to do?
My becoming an environmentalist was kind of “accidental,” but probably not. A former elementary teacher, I was an “at home” mother with two small children under the age of four. I tutored and was a substitute teacher. As much as I loved my children, I felt like something was missing in my life – maybe a grand passion or mission. And too, I was becoming aware of how much waste my growing family was producing – disposable plates and cups, diapers, etc. A big fan of the local library and an avid reader, I mentioned to the staff my concerns and hopes to have a local recycling center in the area. They kindly passed along the name of an elderly woman who was also interested in recycling and we got together and thought we would start an environmental group. Very innocent and naïve, in hindsight. We started a “concerned citizens” group, connected with a local “firebrand” activist, became immediately and passionately caught up in a local issue, and my life took a surprising and fortunate turn. I had a grand passion. After two years, one group I worked with as an obsessive volunteer, the Lake Michigan Federation, now the Alliance for the Great Lakes, hired me to open and direct their Michigan office. I worked for them for 14 years and for the last eight years have been an independent consultant and freelance writer, working on a variety of environmental issues.
What do you consider your most successful achievement as an environmentalist? What is your greatest challenge?
I am very proud to be working with White Lake area local citizens to get White Lake cleaned up. We hope to be off the Great Lakes Area of Concern or “toxic hotspot” list in 2014. (43 lakes or rivers in the Great Lakes were put on this list in the mid-1980s to give them extra help at cleaning up pollution.) This was one of my first areas of involvement, dating back to 1989. In 1992, I helped to establish the White Lake Public Advisory Council, which has been the local guiding force throughout this long-term effort. Much progress has been made, the lake is healthy once again, and even though it took a long time, we learned that a small group of people can make a BIG difference. My greatest challenge is, and always has been, finding a way to communicate to people the value of nature, why we need to protect it, and how much becoming informed and participating in environmental decision making makes a positive difference.
There’s a lot of controversy — and pros and cons — of Walmart coming to Whitehall. What is your take on this?
There are always two (or more) sides to every issue and this one is being debated very passionately in my hometown. My position is fairly simple – I care deeply about maintaining our community’s traditional downtowns and I care about the local people that have maintained small businesses in these downtowns for years. Because of this, I cannot support Walmart coming to the area and causing the negative impacts it is known to cause in communities of our size and character. My community is a resort and tourist destination and people like our small town and rural character. They are not coming to shop at Walmart. There are a number of Walmart stores already located within a half an hour drive in more suitable urban locations for people who want what they offer. I am a Whitehall City Council member and was glad we voted to express our opposition to Walmart locating east of our downtown.
If you could have another career, what would it be and why?
I would be an author. I am doing much more writing as part of my work and I currently write a column for the local weekly newspaper. It’s a very creative and rewarding outlet and I’ve begun to make plans to write several nonfiction books, as well as try my hand at writing fiction. I love reading a good novel so much; I am excited to see if I can write something that will captivate readers like books written by some of my favorite authors.
Tell our readers what you think are three simple actions to take that can improve the health of our planet.
1. Get out in nature to see what’s at stake. We have so much and take it for granted. There is much to lose.
2. Get educated. There is no excuse in the Information Age to be uninformed on environmental issues.
3. Get involved. Buying organic or recycling won’t save the planet. I am not saying don’t do that, but that more is needed. Your voice, your letter, your phone call, your showing up to hearing on an environmental decision is essential.
What do you do for fun?
I thoroughly enjoy the simple things of life. Spending time with my family and friends. Taking my dogs for walks on the Lake Michigan beach. Kayaking. Reading good books. I love a good novel I can get lost in. Books like Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Most of the time I like to unwind with a good mystery or suspenseful drama. I am also a huge fan of nonfiction. Right now I am reading three at once: The Heart of the Soul: Emotional Awareness” by Gary Zukav and Linda Francis, Know Yourself, Forget Yourself by Marc Lesser and The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. All of these are about looking inward at our emotional awareness and coming to a better understanding of how we react to the world around us and how to make life more meaningful and satisfying. And last—but still important– dancing, both free style and a little ballroom.