West Bloomfield residents reflect on loss of environmental activist

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published July 27, 2022

 Community activist Lorna McEwen died in May at the age of 90. Debbie Macon — who was previously a West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees member — said, “We are benefiting today from her vision, passion and her drive.”

Community activist Lorna McEwen died in May at the age of 90. Debbie Macon — who was previously a West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees member — said, “We are benefiting today from her vision, passion and her drive.”

Photo provided by Charles Douglas McEwen


WEST BLOOMFIELD — In the 1960s, along with her husband and two children, Lorna McEwen moved to West Bloomfield.

According to her son, Doug, she was involved with activities to help benefit the community “from the beginning.”

Doug recently reflected on some of his mom’s contributions, following her death in May at the age of 90.

He said that, throughout her life, his mom — who was born near Queens, New York — had a passion for the environment, with much of her service to the community reflecting that.

Doug recalled some of the efforts that his mom, who graduated from Queens College, was involved with.

“She prioritized the protection of woodlands and wetlands in a township that has 26 lakes,” Doug stated via email. “As president of Concerned Citizens For West Bloomfield, Lorna initiated and helped lead the successful effort to (acquire) the 160-acre West Bloomfield Nature Preserve and 4.25 miles of Grand Trunk Railroad, which became the first segment of the West Bloomfield Trail Network. The Trail Network is now 7 miles long and attaches to other rail trails. She also led CCFWB’s effort to preserve the 108-acre Marshbank Park on Cass Lake when it had been appraised for ‘highest and best’ use.”

David Burley served as the deputy director of the West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation Department for approximately 25 years. He knew Lorna very well.

“She had a huge impact in the community,” Burley said. “I’m sure a lot of people that live in West Bloomfield don’t know the kind of impact she had. If it weren’t for Lorna and Concerned Citizens For West Bloomfield, the township probably would not have the West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve or Marshbank Park. She was a driving force in the community to work with, both on a local and state level, to acquire those properties.”

Burley said that Lorna “volunteered for a lot of park programs and activities that we offered.”

According to Doug, his mom “got quite a few awards” for community service.

Debbie Macon was a West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees member from 1996 to 2008. She recalled meeting Lorna after moving to West Bloomfield in 1984.

“She was intimately involved,” Macon said. “She was a leader, follower, motivator, activist, advocate, philanthropist — all of those and more. Lorna was a member of the League of Women Voters. … If there was an interest or action to be taken to improve the quality of life, the quality of the environment, the culture across the community … Lorna was going to be part of helping to do that.”

Doug also recalled that his mom and Concerned Citizens For West Bloomfield helped to block a proposed expansion of Northwestern Highway, which would have involved the freeway going “through the heart of West Bloomfield.”

Macon shared more details about the proposed Northwestern Highway expansion project.

“The intersection of 14 Mile and Northwestern was, before Lorna McEwen and friends, to have been the home of 12 Oaks Mall,” she said. “I moved after that had happened, but the legacy and story stayed forever. My understanding was that development had been planned to go through major wetlands. … That’s when, I understood, Concerned Citizens For West Bloomfield was born.”

Macon expanded on her thoughts.

“It’s the intersection where 14 Mile, Northwestern and Orchard Lake all come together,” she said. “The original plan was that, not only would there be the mall there, but Northwestern Highway was also going to just keep on going forever. … This was about environmental preservation. When you look at that site now, there are protected wetlands.”

Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society President Gina Gregory also remembers the successful fight for the “cancellation of Northwestern Highway to extend through West Bloomfield out to 275.”

“That had a critical change for the layout of West Bloomfield, as to how the community is,” Gregory said. “It would’ve cut the community in half. Because of that, it doesn’t.”

Lorna’s community interest expanded beyond environmental causes.

Macon recalled that, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, there was a push to have public meetings aired via local cable television in an effort to provide residents more opportunities to stay abreast of what was happening on a local government level.

“Lorna was an advocate for doing that, as well as a number of people in the community,” Macon said. “Greater West Bloomfield — Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake, Sylvan Lake and the township — together formed the Greater West Bloomfield Cable Communications Commission. In the days when Lorna was there, the name was the Cable Advisory Board. … In many ways, there were many in the greater community contributing to, ‘Let’s help residents know what’s going on — whether it’s about the environment, whether it’s about preservation, whether it’s about roads, lighting, you name it — let’s put information in the hands of people who would be interested, and isn’t cable a fine medium for that.’”

Gregory shared her perspective on the role that Concerned Citizens For West Bloomfield has played in the community.

“They were vital to changing things in West Bloomfield, from the cancellation of Northwestern Highway and the possibility to successfully air municipal meetings through the cable commission,” Gregory said. “I know some people have watched those proceedings, not liked what they’ve seen, and then driven over to the meetings so that they could be involved.”

Burley said that Lorna’s death is a “great loss to the community.”

“Without her involvement, along with Concerned Citizens (For) West Bloomfield, (and) a number of other people, West Bloomfield just wouldn’t have the park system that they have now — the protections for woodlands and wetlands would not be what they are now. Lorna and those other volunteers had a huge impact on some of those things,” Burley said.

Doug stated that his mom was a writer by profession, working as a public relations coordinator for the West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation Commission from 1975-1980, prior to spending 17 years as a public relations manager for Henry Ford Maplegrove in West Bloomfield. She retired in 1998, according to Doug.

“She kept working on behalf of the environment, though,” he stated. “Lorna was (a) founding member of the Oakland Land Conservancy.”

He stated that she served as OLC’s president for 10 years, before it was eventually absorbed by a larger conservancy.

On a personal level, Doug said that Lorna was a “wonderful mother.”

From Macon’s perspective, Lorna was a visionary, with her “every effort focused on uplifting, improving, (and) preserving quality of life and culture in greater West Bloomfield.”

She is of the opinion that Lorna had a forward-thinking view of the world.

“She is an example of someone who was looking forward, multiple generations. It was as if she was saying, ‘What can we do today to assure a brighter future?’” Macon said. “That’s how I recall her. … We are benefiting today from her vision, passion and her drive.”

Lorna was preceded in death by her husband, Charles, who was a physician and a Harvard Medical School graduate, and her daughter, Jennifer.