Van Buren Township’s first woman supervisor – who went to jail to protect Belleville Lake against pollution and ultimately was recalled over her choice of a police commander – died Jan. 5 at the age of 81.
Patricia Cullin, who served in positions of trustee, clerk, and supervisor of Van Buren Township for a total of more than 14 years beginning in 1970, died after a long illness.
Donna Hall, one of the “Van Buren 7” board members who were incarcerated in the Wayne County Jail on Beaubien in Detroit, said they were convinced that a requested tap into the Ypsilanti sewer system for the development of Presidential Estates mobile home park on Rawsonville Road would overload the system and possibly pollute Belleville Lake.
“The judge ordered us to vote affirmative and we didn’t,” Hall recalled Saturday from her Florida home. “He found us in contempt and ordered us to jail.”
Hall said the board members stayed in the private trustee section of the jail, with men and women separate. Residents brought food to them and there was a procession to the site of the project where the judge was burned in effigy.
“Those were interesting times,” Hall recalled.
Hall said two board members, Treasurer Dorothy York and Clerk Doreen Craven, signed the document to get out of jail. She said those incarcerated for the full seven days besides Cullin and herself, were Fred Domen, Jerry Maton, and Tom Welty.
A grant was obtained that ultimately brought the township sewer line through Pine Creek, Hall said.
“We saved the lake,” Hall said.
Hall said Cullin hired the first five full-time VBT police officers: Kenneth Brooks, Greg Laurain, Ernie Thornsbury, Keith Smyth, and Fred Yono.
Cullin also hired the first fire chief Brad Traskos, who was chief over both stations. There had been a chief at each station before that, said Hall, who was fire commissioner at the time.
“Under Pat, we got a grant to refurbish French Landing Dam,” Hall recalled, noting Cullin also was instrumental in getting grants for historical markers.
When money was not available to publish the township’s history book – “Water Under the Bridge” — in about 1977, she made arrangements to mortgage her own house to pay for the publication.
Cathy Horste said Cullin encouraged her and Diane Wilson to write the history book and then named Horste township historian in 1977.
Cullin also served on the board of the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) when it was brand-new and kept VBT at the front end of governmental activities in the region, Hall said.
Horste recalled that it was Cullin who marshaled the forces to purchase the lake and park when Detroit Edison wanted to drain the lake to avoid repairing the dam.
Also, Horste recalled that Cullin appointed her as the first female to serve as a VBT police officer and launched the political / public service careers of two other females – Donna Hall and Delphine Dudick.
“She was forward-thinking and … She was not afraid to speak her mind,” Hall said.
The township was split over Cullin’s 1981 appointment of Richard Debs as part-time police commander and she was recalled, marking the end of an era