COLUMBIA – Marion Stoddart was given the derogatory nickname of the “Queen of Nashua” by people who thought she was crazy, Susan Edwards said. As the producer and director of the film, “The Work of 1000”, Edwards chronicles Stoddart’s life and her activism to restore the Nashua River in Massachusetts.
Stoddart, a resident of Groton, Mass., and Edwards arrived in Columbia on Tuesday for several screenings of their 30-minute film. It presents a message that power lies in numbers and anyone can succeed if they commit to their passion.
“What I was looking for when we moved to Groton was to go out for some purpose in my life," Stoddart said. "I was questioning why I was here, not just in Groton, but why I was here in this world."
When Stoddart first moved to Groton in the 1960s, she said the Nashua River was in the worst condition in its history. At that time, it was still legal to dump anything into rivers, Edwards said.
“The river could flow any color of the rainbow," Stoddart said. "Any day it could be red or green or yellow or white, and there was a lot of sludge from the pulp" from local paper mills.
"The river was so thick that birds and small animals could walk right across the top," she said. "The river had died, there was no oxygen and there was no life. And it stunk, you could smell it from a mile away.”
Stoddart's only background in activism was as a volunteer for the League of Women Voters, where members were trained in the political process.
“The League was working to get federal legislature passed to make it illegal to pollute rivers," Stoddart said. “One of the things I’ve learned that is really important is you do not need to know in advance how to do something.”
The federal Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 and Massachusetts was the first state to pass a complementary act. That legislation addressed the pollution of rivers by providing money to help with the cost of waste-water treatment plants, Stoddart said.
Millions of dollars went into the construction of treatment facilities, and money is still being spent to prevent pollution, Stoddart said.
Stoddart is a recipient of the United Nations Environmental Programme's Global 500 Award that recognizes environmental achievement.
She founded the Nashua River Watershed Association in 1969 and continues to serve on its board of directors. The association works to maintain local and federal laws and protect the greenway of land alongside rivers, Stoddart said.
The Nashua River Watershed Association is considered a national and international model for restoring river ecosystems, promoting the monitoring of water quality and educating children by putting them on the river, Stoddart said.
Edwards said she was inspired when she first heard about Stoddart’s story and wanted to make a film so everyone could get to know Stoddart and be inspired by how she did what she did.
Work on the film began in 2007 and took three years to finish.
“Marion really encouraged me to pursue my river, which was her,” Edwards said.
At Tuesday’s screening in the Little Theater at Hickman High School, Stoddart said she found her purpose in life with the restoration of the Nashua River, but anyone can make a difference by committing to a vision and enlisting other people.
“I was really amazed. The fact that she could almost single-handedly do all this was really amazing,” said Sean Brennan, a junior at Hickman and vice president of the Biology Club.
Hickman junior Megan Anderson said she found the event more interesting than she thought it would be.
“I was glad I stayed and listened to it. It was kind of eye-opening,” Anderson said.
The film will be shown at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at Lee Elementary and at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Stephens College Lab School and Film Department. It was also scheduled for a screening at MU on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Jesse Wrench Auditorium.
Sponsors of the film include the Sierra Club, Missouri Rivers Communities Network, Missouri River Relief and the Columbia Audubon Society.
“The reason I’m out here with this film and visiting schools all over, not just in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, is to let everyone know, children and adults, that they can make a difference," Stoddart said. "They don’t need to be especially bright or especially trained or especially anything. All they need to do is make a vision in life for what they want to have and commit to it.”