By Abby Turpin, Director of Communications
STAMFORD, Conn. (August 26, 2022) – Keep America Beautiful® honors the life and legacy of Roger W. Powers, who passed away in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 8 at the age of 89.
Powers worked for Keep America Beautiful from 1969 to 1997. His daughter, Pamela Powers January, tells KAB his time with the organization was “his life’s work.”
“Keep America Beautiful became an extension of Dad’s personal beliefs and core values. He proudly and tirelessly championed the KAB mission that had people coming together at a grass roots level, cleaning up their towns and highways. Dad admired a ‘can do’ attitude and those who accepted responsibility for their actions. He fervently believed that one’s individual efforts make a difference, and that good stewardship included sound management of one’s property, one’s home, one’s community, one’s self.”
Roger Weldon Powers was born on October 12, 1932, in Peoria, Illinois. He attended Bradley University and served in the US Army at that time. He was elected into Keep America Beautiful in 1969 after spending 12 years with the United States Brewers Association. It was there he created a nationwide litter prevention program that was used by brewers and packaging manufacturers in 36 states. He brought that expertise to KAB, becoming the Executive Vice President before becoming President.
“Dad possessed a tremendous pride of country. He was patriotic to his core. He recalled often that serving our country provided him with the foundation for his success in life. He appreciated the order and structure which also produced his enormous drive and self-discipline. He valued camaraderie and teamwork, too,” Powers January told KAB. “These traits, I believe, made him a good fit with Keep America Beautiful. He upheld the belief that all Americans share the responsibility of keeping America litter-free as a matter of national and civic pride.”
In his time with KAB, Powers met with several U.S. Presidents – Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton – to promote KAB’s litter abatement campaign. Powers considered litter a “people problem” and knew that just raising awareness about litter wouldn’t solve the problem. He knew there needed to be a call to action, so he worked with behavioral scientists to create the Clean Community System which is now the KAB affiliate network. He traveled all over the country to promote the Model for Change and to encourage communities to join KAB. He started with three pilot communities in the early 70’s which have now grown to 700 affiliates nationwide.
“I think it’s accurate to say that the Clean Community System was dad’s finest hour at Keep America Beautiful,” said Powers January. “It seemed to me that this was the effort he was most proud of and enthusiastic about. It put him in touch with people in a very personal way. Many of his constituents became lifetime friends and admirers.”
KAB Board member Carolyn Crayton is the founder, President and Chief Executive Officer Emeritus of the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission and the Macon, Georgia International Cherry Blossom Festival. She began working with KAB before Powers began his tenure and was one of those who traveled with Powers to promote the Clean Community System.
“When Roger came onboard, I was among the first to meet him. Everyone instantly admired him and was so grateful for his work. He worked so hard. He truly loved KAB. He was made for the position and did it so well,” Crayton told KAB. “Roger and I had the responsibility to tell everyone about Keep America Beautiful. We wanted everyone to love KAB and get people involved. We developed the Clean Community System program from 3 cities and worked so hard on it for 18 months. When Roger felt we had completed our work, he decided we would travel the country to spread the word about why others should be a part of it. He made the announcement in Macon, the first statewide program in the US, and we are so proud of that program to this day.”
Hard work aside, Crayton says the caring human being Powers was made them instant friends.
“From the day he began at KAB, we were close friends. The way he served the organization – you couldn’t help but feel a close friendship. He was that kind of person. He was a great businessperson and, more important, a great friend. Strong, honest, dedicated to the mission, and a great friend.”
It is evident Powers had a big hand in transforming not just the American environment but also lives within the organization. He is the person who hired Sue Smith in 1991. Smith is well-known throughout the organization and beyond, formerly serving as the Keep America Beautiful Director of Education & Training and currently as the Keep America Beautiful-Chicago Director.
“It was a pleasure to have worked with Roger. He was a strong and steady leader and I learned much from him. He was ambitious for Keep America Beautiful and open to hear how we could better serve the affiliate network,” said Smith. “The wisdom he brought from the business world helped me see how best to be a good steward of the non-profit funds and the reputation of Keep America Beautiful.”
Susanne Woods led development at Keep America Beautiful for decades, working closely with Powers on multiple projects.
“Roger was my mentor for many years. He introduced me to anybody he thought I could learn something from,” said Woods. “He loved KAB. It was in his blood. He was an inspirational and charismatic leader. He was persuasive and committed. He had all the qualities of a leader that you want because he could articulate what it was that he was trying to accomplish.”
Powers also hired Becky Lyons, who has served many roles within the organization for 36 years, joining in 1986. Lyons is currently the organization’s Chief Operating Officer.
“Roger had an incredible vision for KAB. His passion and enthusiasm were inspiring,” said Lyons. “I was privileged to work for him for over a decade and I am incredibly grateful for the tutelage and mentoring he provided me in my early career.”
The 1971 PSA campaign featuring “The Crying Indian” with actor Iron Eyes Cody was created by the Ad Council under Powers’s watch. The ad was named by Ad Age Magazine as one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th century and won two Clio Awards.
“Dad reminded me of a proud parent whose child had just been born! I was 11 years old at the time, and I recall him excitedly bringing home the Ad Council poster of Iron Eyes Cody and asking me whether I wanted it,” recalls Powers January. “I hung it up on the wall in my room. I loved the image, as did millions of others. It remains emblazoned in my memory for all time.”
Upon the news of Powers’ passing, Terry Ricketts, who worked with Powers as an Executive Director in Phoenix for about a decade, was one of many who reached out to KAB to share about the important role Powers played in his life.
“When I got started, I heard about Roger Powers, the man. I still remember the first conference I went to. I was nervous. I had been reading about him. Here’s the opportunity to meet the guy that is guiding us through everything,” said Ricketts. “But he really was a lot of fun. This was his life, and he wore it right on his collar. He always had a pin that said Keep America Beautiful. There was not a man that was more dedicated to a cause than Roger Powers.”
Former KAB employee Roger Baumgarten also reached out to share his memories.
“Roger gave this 20-something a foot in the door of public/media relations back in 1986 and put me on the path to a 35-year career in the field. My three years with KAB remain one of the highlights of my professional career,” said Baumgarten. “In hindsight, I think it was the big picture: his willingness to hire – and trust – a bunch of mid-twenties college grads with no discernible skills or experience to represent one of the nation’s most recognizable organizations. In the ensuing years, I’ve had few bosses who trusted their staff as Roger did. I will always be grateful for the opportunity he gave me.”
And, to this day, those opportunities Powers gave to so many play a significant part in the foundation and strength of Keep America Beautiful.
“As I take on the role as KAB President this year, I am eager to capture the energy and passion Roger Powers built and championed during his tenure with KAB. He had a vision and plan for this organization that served us so well,” said Keep America Beautiful President and CEO, Jennifer Lawson. “Roger’s work to include and inspire people to take action was far ahead of its time, and I am committed to carry on what he so skillfully began.”
Powers retired from KAB in 1997, remaining in Connecticut for a short time before relocating to Scottsdale, Arizona. Powers January says appreciating the beauty of the American environment, and taking pride in it, continued to be of utmost importance to her father. He spent his retirement years playing golf on courses in the southwest, which he admired for their unique beauty, and he tended to his home, diligently taking care of the property’s landscaping.
“Even after he went into private memory care, he’d sit in his chair on the back porch and talk to me about how lovely the property was, with its native pineapple palms against a clear blue desert sky, marveling at the wonder of it all. ‘Beautiful,’ he’d say.”
Keep America Beautiful offers deepest condolences to Roger’s family and friends. He will forever be a part of the KAB family.
“Dad sincerely believed that his life’s work had to be about something greater than he was. That something was Keep America Beautiful. His humble, self-effacing manner was genuine. He was continually proud to lead the Keep America Beautiful effort and happier still to see his staff in action, doing the good work. He always credited them for their accomplishments and preferred them to be in the spotlight. It was about teamwork, all in the spirit of the greater good.”
Pamela Powers January
Full interviews on the life and work of Roger W. Powers:
Contact: Abby Turpin, Director of Communications
Keep America Beautiful®