Elaine Chesley, a Brainerd activist and longtime opponent of the fluoridation of Brainerd’s drinking water, died Wednesday.
Chesley, 84, died at Diamond Willow in Brainerd. She is survived by her husband Tom; a son Dr. Brent (Laurie) Chesley, Grand Rapids, Mich.; two brothers and nieces and nephews.
Chesley worked with Brainerd Mayor George Bedard to start the PORT facility in Brainerd, and served many years on PORT’s board of directors. She also was a co-chair with Irene M. Johnson with the Save Brainerd City Hall campaign.
Chesley also partnered with Johnson in opposing fluoridation of Brainerd’s water in the 1970s, and was a member of Minnesotans Opposed to Forced Fluoridation.
Mary Koep, current Brainerd City Council president, was one of five council members in the 1970s and 1980s who fought the state’s mandatory fluoridation, backing down only when they faced the threat of $250-a-day fines.
Koep recalled Chesley and Johnson taking information to the city council that allowed the city to put off fluoridation for as long as it could. She described Chesley as well read, well informed and well researched on the issue.
“Elaine was always extremely polite, she was gracious, but she didn’t back down on what she believed in,” Koep said Thursday after learning of Chesley’s death. “She was very instrumental in giving the Brainerd City Council the courage to go forward because so much of what she said was always grounded in the information she’d provided to us.”
Current council member Bob Olson, who also served on the city council during the fluoride controversy, said he and Chesley disagreed on the fluoride issue but he respected her and enjoyed having conversations with her.
“I’m sorry to hear about the death of Elaine. My prayers and thoughts go out to her husband, Tom,” Olson said Thursday. “Even though Elaine and I had a difference of opinion on fluoride, she still voted for me and supported me. I would say she was a fine and wonderful lady.”
Brainerd Mayor James Wallin, who also was on the city council at the time of the fluoride controversy, described Chesley as a “true lady.”
“She was really a neat lady and very sincere in her thought process, in her goal of trying to eliminate fluoride out of the city’s water,” Wallin said. “Even years after I’d get nice notes from Tom and Elaine encouraging me, thanking me for serving the city.”
Chesley also was a member of the Brainerd Charter Commission, Brainerd Community Action Council, the League of Women Voters, the DFL party, the Green Party, the American Association of University Women, Women Against Military Madness, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Brainerd Coalition for Peace, Save Our Northland, Minnesotans Opposed to Forced Fluoridation and the North Country CB Club.