Isaac Kremer/ October 23, 2018/ family/ 0 comments

Patricia Huxtable (right) with mother Hazel Underhill (left) and grandson Isaac Kremer (center), at Interlochen Arts Camp, Intermediate Division (Summer 1993).

Patricia Huxtable was an early champion of environmental, conservation, and historic preservation causes in Michigan. She was born June 9, 1930 in Lansing, Michigan. She was the eldest daughter of Harold Paul Underhill (1901-1987) and Hazel Agnes Youry (1901-1994). Her sister Paula Janice Underhill was born in 1933. Among her inspirations to become active in conservation was her Grandfather Youry who made a point of letting plants grow along his fence lines to encourage birds and small game. This left a lasting impression on a young Patricia Underhill.

Harold Paul Underhill was a mining engineer with a degree from Michigan Tech in Houghton. He worked with the Conservation Department for the State of Michigan. In that role he flew many miles over Michigan and Ontario taking aerial photos of the land, which he later drew into maps.

Hazel Agnes Youry taught history at Trenton. While there she did correspondence work with the Normal College and completed her studies there a few years afterwards.[1] Later she taught 1st grade in Bath, Michigan. Every summer she went to school until she finished her degree.

On December 28, 1950 Patricia Underhill married Frank William Huxtable in Ovid, Michigan. In the 1950s the family lived at 1326 Bircham Dr in Lansing. Frank was a clerk at Mill Supplies Corp. They had four children, William Paul Huxtable born in 1952, Amy Louise Huxtable born 1953, David Bruce Huxtable born 1955, and Christopher Robin Huxtable born 1960.

Patricia started her studies at Michigan State University prior to having children. She made the bold choice to return to school and complete her degree. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Michigan State University, College of Home Economics, in 1969.[2] She studied Interior Design, and while she never practiced professionally, this was a lifelong source of inspiration for her. She remodeled several homes.

As a member of the Meridian Township Building Authority she was active in furnishing their new building, around 1972, with a particular eye towards including work from women artists from Michigan.

Hotel in Williamston, Michigan

Patricia served as Williamston Garden Club Chairperson, 1972-1973. Her major initiative was to fix up downtown. One of first things did was buy the hotel at the corner because someone wanted to put a gas station there.[3] As she recounted, “We liked having a building better.” To raise the money to buy the hotel Patricia found out that a chair factory on west end of town was closing. They had stock left over. Patricia went with a truck and got permission to pick up chairs, bring them back, and have a sale. This generated money to buy the hotel. The Garden Club also put some plants along the street in planters.

Patricia led U.S. Bicentennial commemorations for the Garden Club throughout Michigan. She traveled the state and gave a motion picture presentation. She also served on the Garden Club State Board. Patricia was State President of the Landscape Critics Council from 1977-1979,[4] served on Grand River Watershed Council, and the Community Design Center.

While living at 4375 Okemos Road in Okemos during the 1970s she was involved in civic discussions about the Redman property, a 300-acre wilderness area east of Okemos.[5] She was a frequent speaker before Meridian Township advocating on behalf of conservation. Nearly every day she would walk the land and keep a journal about the flora and fauna she observed. Among her favorite discoveries there was a Kentucky Coffee Tree which experts from Michigan State University tried to persuade her should not exist at this location.

Patricia Huxtable and Bill Huxtable (left) vacationing with David Kremer (right) and Isaac Kremer (center).

While vacationing among their happiest memories as a family was visiting a lot at Torch Lake. They would bring a trailer and stay two or three weeks at a time.

Patricia Huxtable was among those who advocated successfully for the Bottle Bill in the 1970s. She was the State Garden Club advocate for the Bottle Bill. Along with Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) they helped secure signatures to put the Bottle Bill on the Michigan State ballot. The Bottle Bill was enacted in 1976 by a statewide vote of 2.1 million for the bill and 1.2 million against.[6]

In 1978 she was among 50 people to publicly endorse Governor Milliken in his campaign for Governor for his strong conservation record.[7] At the time she was Chair of the Michigan Land Trust Fund. [8] One of the primary accomplishments was acquiring the beachfront land on East Bay, at the request of First Lady Milliken. This served to open up the park and provide some of the only recreational access to East Bay.

Park providing access to the East Bay in Traverse City.

Also while on the Michigan Land Trust Fund she was involved in the acquisition of 3300 acres of land, bog, and fen by Skegemog Lake. This became the Skegemog Wildlife Area. Husband Bill was involved in building the board walk and viewing platform on the east end of the lake providing recreational access to the wetland.

Panorama of Lake Skegemog from the viewing platform that Bill and Pat Huxtable helped to build.

Patricia Huxtable ran unsuccessfully for Ingham County Commissioner in 1978. At the time she took a stand on the effect development was having throughout the county:

“Unrestricted urban sprawl causing loss of agricultural land; lack of coherent policies regarding development. Balance between cost of publicly funded utilities and tax base not currently considered in planning… Public participation should be encouraged more to promote understanding of common concerns. A Regional Park Authority would minimize narrow local conflicts and provide protection for natural systems, multiple use public spaces for recreation close to urban areas. County policies based on land inventory will encourage compatible planning.”[9]

She came within 27 votes of winning.

Due to concerns about being able to afford rising taxes on a fixed retirement income, the family decided to relocate to Torch Lake near Alden in 1981.[10] In her retirement Pat extensively remodeled her house. She was a successful real estate agent too, including orchestrating a deal for preservation of the train station in Alden. She persuaded Township officials to purchase the station. Subsequently several grants helped with its restoration.

She was very supportive of the land use determined by the voters of Old Mission Point, which allows property owners to keep large parcels in agricultural uses, while discouraging subdivision and mass development.

In the early 2000s after grandkids had gone on to college and start lives of their own, the Huxtables sold the Torch Lake house and moved to 830 E State St in Traverse City. Patricia was an active member of the choir at Central United Methodist Church and the Friendly Garden Club of Traverse City, which she joined following the invitation of First Lady Milliken.

As a Friendly Garden Club member she was instrumental in statewide advocacy efforts on behalf of sand dunes along Lake Michigan, to conserve sand dunes that were not already protected.

Patricia’s husband Bill Huxtable passed away in 2016.

Sources Cited
[1] The American Schoolmaster, Volume 13, 1920. https://books.google.com/books?id=BcrNAAAAMAAJ&lpg=PA396&ots=GJg4MCzgu3&dq=Hazel%20underhill%20graduation&pg=PA396#v=onepage&q=Hazel%20underhill%20graduation&f=false

[2] http://spartanhistory.kora.matrix.msu.edu/files/1/4/1-4-13AE-54-S201_1969.pdf

[3] https://goo.gl/maps/Bgk2DpboNTp

[4] Michigan Garden Clubs records: 1931-2009, Bentley Historical Library, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/b/bhlead/umich-bhl-07101?view=text

[5] Unspoiled Meridian Land at the Crossroads, Lansing State Journal, February 19, 1976. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/24058083/19760219unspoiledmiridianland/

[6] “Michigan Bottle Bill,” Michigan History Magazine, May 2013. http://seekingmichigan.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/mitten_bottle-bill.pdf

[7] “We’re for Conservation, We’re for Milliken,” Detroit Free Press, November 3, 1978. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/24058179/19781103wereformilliken/

[8] “Conservation ballot issue,” Lansing State Journal, November 5, 1978. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/24058045/19781105conservationballot/

[9] County Commission, Lansing State Journal, October 29, 1978. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/24058259/19781029countycommissioner/

[10] Traverse City Record Eagle, January 9, 2011. https://newspaperarchive.com/traverse-city-record-eagle-jan-09-2011-p-28/

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About Isaac Kremer

Isaac Kremer is a transformative leader with a track record of success in downtown revitalization, placemaking, and supporting small businesses. He holds an M.A. in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University, and a B.A. in Economics and Management from Albion College.

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