Chad Pregracke, Founder & President, Living Lands & Waters, Illinois
Chad Pregracke is a modern day leader and proof that one person can make a difference. What started as one man’s crusade at age 23 to clean up the Mississippi River has evolved into a cultural movement that had resulted in more than eight million pounds of garbage being cleaned out of America’s rivers. The vision and leadership skills that Mr. Pregracke possesses have inspired more than 70,000 people to volunteer their time and resources.
Mr. Pregracke has always loved the water, growing up in Hampton, Illinois, with the Mississippi River literally in his backyard. His family spent the majority of their time on, in and around the river. Mr. Pregracke’s first jobs were working on the river, as a commercial shell diver, commercial fisherman and barge hand. Working on the river gave Mr. Pregracke a first hand and close up look at the shores that were littered with toxic trash.
At age 17, Mr. Pregracke began calling government agencies to tell them about the problem. None of his calls resulted in government action, and the trash problem seemed to be escalating every year. Mr. Pregracke decided that it was up to him to make a difference and clean the rivers.
At age 23, Mr. Pregracke founded Living Lands & Waters, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving U.S. rivers. Mr. Pregracke worked tirelessly calling businesses to ask for an appointment just to tell the story of what he was seeing along the banks of the river. Mr. Pregracke heard “no” during every phone call and was near emotional bottom. After begging with a receptionist at Alcoa, Mr. Pregracke finally secured his first appointment. Alcoa took a chance on the young river kid and gave him his first check for $8,400, enough to cover expenses for his first cleanup project.
Since 1998, the organization has grown to include more than 10 full-time employees, a fleet of four barges, two towboats, one crane, six workboats, two skid steers, five work trucks, and a large box truck to haul trash. Mr. Pregracke remains the driving force behind the organization and still jumps in the water, gets his hands dirty and tosses trash into the boat. His efforts have earned him global notoriety.