Vern Ehlers, a research physicist and moderate Republican who represented a western Michigan congressional district for 17 years and advocated for Great Lakes cleanup funding, has died. He was 83.
Ehlers died late Tuesday at a Grand Rapids nursing facility, Melissa Morrison, funeral director at Zaagman Memorial Chapel, said Wednesday.
Ehlers decided in 2010 against seeking re-election to the 3rd District, which currently includes much of the Grand Rapids region and stretches beyond Battle Creek. He won the seat in a 1993 special election after serving 11 years in the Legislature and eight years on the Kent County Board of Commissioners.
In Congress, he successfully advocated for a law that authorized spending $270 million over five years to clean up sediments in the Great Lakes and oversaw the United States' first major statement on science policy in more than 50 years. He also was involved in improving math and science education and creating the congressional website.
He valued nonpartisan action and his personal mantra, according to his obituary, was "leave it better than you found it."
Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement that "Ehlers represented the best Michigan had to offer and will truly be missed."
Longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph said Ehlers was "so well-respected on both sides of the aisle, hard-working and always a teacher at heart. ... He was a family man and a Christian who made his community and country a better place for all. We will certainly miss his common-sense voice, the likes of which is all too rare in today's political climate."
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser called Ehlers an "outstanding statesman" and an "incredible man who served our state with distinction."
Ehlers held a doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, where he also earned a bachelor's degree in physics. He later taught physics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids for 16 years.
Ehlers is survived by his wife of 59 years, Johanna Meulink; four children; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.