Phyllis Willis

Phyllis Willis speaks in opposition to the Prestage pork plant proposal at a City Council meeting in Mason City last year.

FERTILE | Phyllis Willis is being remembered today as a kind, caring environmentalist and animal rights activist.

Willis, 74, died Wednesday night at her home in Fertile.

Willis was a champion of clean air and water causes as well as animal rights; pigs and chickens roamed freely at Niman Ranch, her family's land with 140 acres of native prairie grasses near Thornton.

"She had the Mother Jones philosophy — pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living," said Tom Willett, an activist who knew her well. "Only she would have said it in a softer tone."

Most recently, she was active in opposing the proposed Prestage hog-processing plant in Mason City where the City Council rejected it and in several other areas in North where it was being considered.

At a meeting nearly a year ago in Northwood, she told Worth County supervisors, "I would just hope you would be opposed to it. It's really bad for the state, bad for the country. What can I say? We need our water and our air."

Willett said, "She was an awesome person — kind and polite, dedicated; she fought for decades for animal rights. She loved nature and was an expert at identifying native plants.

Willett said one of his fondest memories of her were the times she would pick him up in her vehicle and they would go along the countryside picking up garbage from the ditches.

"She had this contraption she would use where she could reach down and pick the stuff up without it every touching her. And she knew the history of the area so well. We'd drive a long and she'd talk about where everyone once lived. She was just a remarkable person."

Clear Lake area farmer Chris Petersen said, "Phyllis had the biggest, caring, honest heart in the world. She loved everybody. And she stood up for what she believed in — the farm, the animals, the planet.

"But when she expressed her views, she had her own special touch. She was a special person."

State Rep. Sharon Steckman said, "Phyllis was a devoted environmentalist. I feel so badly that some of the issues for which she fought so hard never got resolved. I wish we could have made more progress on her issues."

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