LAKE PLACID - When seasonal resident David Ackerman wrote a plan for protecting the village's watersheds in 1996, he wanted people to remember one thing: Lake Placid lake is the source for the community's drinking water.
"It made sense to see what we could do to protect our lake water," Ackerman told the News in 1997 before his plan was adopted by the town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid.
Furthermore, he added, a clean lake makes sense economically, as visitors use Lake Placid for various activities.
"If there are signs up that you can't swim, then it's a less attractive place to come visit," he said.
Ackerman died Dec. 26 at the age of 88, leaving behind a legacy of watershed protection in the town he kept returning to most of his life.
Ackerman was born on June 30, 1925, in Passaic, N.J., the son of Sarah Jane Benson and David Greenlie Ackerman. He spent summers with his family in Lake Placid at a home his maternal grandparents had built on Buck Island in 1916, and they vacationed at the Lake Placid Club. Ackerman's experiences at the club would inspire him to write a book in 1998, "Lake Placid Club, 1895-1980, An Illustrated History."
"That was a wonderful book," said Beverly Reid, historian for the village of Lake Placid and the town of North Elba. "I think that was the best one that he did. I've used it for references many times."
Town of North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi wasn't close to Ackerman, but said he loved his Lake Placid Club book.
"I know that he was a historical buff and absolute advocate and lover of Lake Placid," Politi said.
When Ackerman was 14 years old, he entered the freshman class of the Northwood School, which was operated by the Lake Placid Club Education Foundation. During his Northwood years, he was active in skiing, football and crew, and he was president of the Northwood Outing club for two years.
Ackerman graduated from Northwood in 1943 and was accepted at Princeton University; however, he joined the U.S. Army that fall instead, serving with the First Infantry Division in Europe during World War II. He went overseas in September 1944 and saw his first front-line action in early November. The March 9, 1945, issue of the Lake Placid News reported that Ackerman received a Bronze Star for heroic achievement during a Nov. 27, 1944, battle in Langerwehe, Germany:
"Undaunted by intense enemy fire, Pvt. Ackerman fearlessly led his squad across hazardous terrain to a building at the edge of a strongly defended town and then maneuvered to a position from which he skillfully observed hostile dispositions and directed the group's fire upon the foe. Pvt. Ackerman's heroic actions and initiative exemplify the finest traditions of the service."
Following Army service, he was admitted to the Class of 1947 at Princeton and later studied at Harvard Business School, according to his obituary.
As an administrative geologist, Ackerman traveled extensively in the U.S., Canada, West Africa, Portugal, Australia and the Caribbean. For many years he chaired the board of Benson Mines Inc., originally an iron ore company founded by his great-grandfather Byron David Benson near Star Lake in St. Lawrence County. He participated in local government in New Jersey and in the Adirondacks and served on the boards of nonprofit organizations.
As a seasonal resident, Ackerman became interested in the protection of the watersheds of Lake Placid lake and Mirror Lake. He became active in the Shore Owners Association of Lake Placid and wrote a book, "Placid Lake, A Centennial History, 1893-1993," that was published by the SOA in 1993.
When Ackerman was president of the SOA in 1996, he wrote the Water Management Plan for the Lake Placid-North Elba Sub-Watersheds, which was adopted into the Lake Placid-North Elba Joint Comprehensive Plan in 1997. He joined forces with Bill Billerman to form the Mirror Lake Watershed Association.
"He was pretty influential in getting us off the ground and getting us organized," said Billerman, who is the current chairman of the MLWA. Ackerman was chairman emeritus. "I'm sorry to see him go. He was someone who I always respected and learned from, and I think the community respected him and his points of view and the awareness that he raised."
Ackerman is also credited with co-establishing the Placid Lake Foundation, a land conservancy on the lake, and it's his work with watershed protection that made an impact on the village and town, according to Billerman.
"He looked to minimize the impact to Mirror Lake, which is the jewel of our community," Billerman said. "He was very good in raising awareness of the impacts and helped us as an organization to do the research and groundwork for some of the things that we had proposed and some of the things the village ended up doing, such as stormwater control around Mirror Lake."
In 1997, the SOA honored Ackerman with the Trustee's Award for Distinguished Service. It is now called the David Ackerman Award. And in 2008, he was inducted into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame.
"He left a good footprint in Lake Placid," said Lake Placid village Mayor Craig Randall, who noted his passing and contributions to the community during the Jan. 6 village board meeting.
Asked if Lake Placid is a better place for having Ackerman around, Billerman said, "Oh definitely. I think he contributed so much to not only Mirror Lake but Placid lake. He had an impact. He definitely had an impact."
Mark Wilson recently stepped down as president of the SOA and said he learned a lot from Ackerman.
"One of the most important examples David set was of a lifelong seasonal resident who was fully engaged in promoting the well-being of the entire community," Wilson said.
Ackerman became president of the SOA in 1996 and stepped down in 1999, but he continued as the organization's historian, a post he held from 1992 to 2013. And Wilson's work with Ackerman ensures that another generation will continue to hand down that institutional memory of the SOA and Ackerman's work with watershed protection.
"I took over from David as historian," Wilson said. "When I became active in the organization, he was very generous with his time giving me information and history that I was not aware of."
When Ackerman was involved with the Placid Lake Foundation, he worked with officials at the Nature Conservancy to secure easements from several property owners around the lake, according to Timothy Barnett, vice president for TNC in the Adirondacks and the organization's first executive director.
"David was a real player in introducing us and helping us work on lakeshore protection," Barnett said.
In addition to his environmental work, Barnett said many people forget that Ackerman was also an advocate for the economy of the Adirondack region. Ackerman worked with Barnett's wife, Claire, to establish the Venture Capital Network through the Technical Assistance Center at SUNY Plattsburgh. Launched in 1987, the service matched investors with entrepreneurs looking for financing, and Ackerman served as president of the network's board of directors.
Ackerman leaves behind his wife of 57 years, Elizabeth. They had moved from New Vernon, N.J. to Shelburne, Vt. and eventually to Wake Robin. They maintained a second home in Lake Placid.
A memorial service will be held in Lake Placid later in the year. Memorial donations may be sent to Northwood School or Placid Lake Protection Fund, c/o the Adirondack Foundation at P.O. Box 288, Lake Placid, NY 12946.