STEM seeks to recognize founding member

A founding member of Save The Environment of Moorestown (STEM),  Katherine “Kay” Smith established many of the natural care procedures the township follows to this day to maintain open spaces. So when she passed away, members of STEM approached Smith’s family and proposed they find a way to honor her legacy. 

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Almost one year later, Smith is getting the long-discussed recognition: Members of STEM approached council about renaming Waterworks Woods. The proposed name — Kay Smith’s Waterworks Woods — will be up for first reading at Moorestown council’s March 9 meeting,  while every member of council has already expressed support at previous meetings. 

Smith grew up in Yeadon, Pennsylvania, and her daughter, Becky Petrillo, said she was always playing in nature and would regularly take her dog to the local creek. Smith graduated from Temple University in 1954 and moved to Willow Grove with her husband Allan Smith, whom she met at college. The pair had three children. 

The family moved to Moorestown in the 1960s and Smith was active in a number of organizations, including the League of Women Voters. In the early 1970s, she and fellow league member Esther Yanai campaigned for the township to purchase and preserve an open parcel of land on Garwood Road. 

Out of that campaign, STEM was born. As one of its founding members and president for a time, Smith was in charge of the township’s natural area care goals and standards. 

Petrillo said when she and her siblings got a little older, Smith went back to school and earned her master’s degree in biology from Rutgers-Camden. While Petrillo was away at college, her mother was taking trips to the Jersey Shore to study the wetlands and collect grass samples. Upon graduating, Smith taught biology at Rutgers and the Community College of Philadelphia. 

All the while, Smith was actively involved in STEM’s efforts to develop a Natural Resources Inventory to catalog all of the township’s open spaces. Petrillo said the project was no small undertaking, and she remembers times when the family’s dining room table was filled with maps as her mother and other STEM members met regularly to develop the list. 

Smith was also a member of the township’s Environmental Advisory Committee. When developers approached the township with plans to build, Smith was one of the members who walked the land and advised the township on the environmental impact of any potential development. 

Waterworks Woods, a 20-acre parcel of land that borders the lower portion of Strawbridge Lake, was of particular significance to Smith. She helped design the trail that cuts through the space, and she identified more than 30 plants at the site. Throughout the years, she led clean-up days where a group of volunteers would clear the trails and remove any invasive species that had grown in. 

“She knew what needed to be done, and she had an unbelievable way of [rallying] folks who were wanting to accomplish what she wanted to be accomplished,” said Barbara Rich, a friend of Smith’s and fellow member of STEM.

Smith passed in February, 2019 after a battle with lung cancer. At the funeral, members of STEM informed Petrillo they wanted to commemorate her mother’s legacy. She considers it an honor to have her mother’s work recognized.

“She had a vision, an awareness, of how important all that open space was,” Petrillo said. 

To learn more about STEM, visit http://www.stemonline.org.

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