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Cleveland Clean Water Pioneer Remembered for Vision, Diligence

a photo of Ben Stefanski with Carl Stokes at Edgewater Beach
Ben Stefanski (standing at right) with Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes at Edgewater Beach in May 1969.

The man who helped initiate efforts to clean up the Cuyahoga River was remembered in Cleveland Friday. 

Ben Stefanski, Jr. served as utilities director under former Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes in the 1960s. Stefanski helped create the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and pass a $100 million bond issue to clean up the river, something his brother Marc said even Mayor Stokes did not think would win approval. 

“You know, that was unprecedented. He was going out on a limb, taking on a huge, huge problem and we admired him for it. He was diligent and wouldn’t necessarily take no for an answer,  even from the mayor of the city of Cleveland.”

The Stefanski family founded Third Federal Savings and Loan. Marc Stefanski remains CEO. Ben was a banker, an entrepreneur, and a public servant who Marc said convinced people to care about the quality of the water. 

Marc calls his brother, Ben Stefanski, a visionary.

“I think there were other priorities, but clean water was not necessarily one of them. But the reality was it was poisoning people in Northeastern Ohio, and my brother was a visionary.”

Ben Stefanski was remembered for his contributions to supporting Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood, where his funeral was held at St. Stanislaus. Stefanski passed away July 7 at age 81.