The Mississippi River was literally Chad Pregracke’s backyard while growing up near East Moline, IL. The son of educators and river enthusiasts, KeeKee and Gary Pregracke, Chad and his older brother, Brent, spent the majority of their time on, in, and around the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.
During his summer breaks Chad worked on the river–primarily as a commercial shell diver for the cultured pearl industry, but also as a commercial fisherman and barge hand. Typically working miles away from home, he camped on the islands and shorelines of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to save money and fuel. It was during this time that Chad began to realize how neglected the rivers were, with the unsightly and toxic accumulation of trash along their banks.
At the age of 17, he started making calls to government agencies to notify them of the problem, assuming someone would take care of it. Year after year passed by and the problem only worsened. In 1997 Chad decided that, if no one else was going to clean up the river, he would.
In 1998 at the age of 23, Chad founded Living Lands & Waters. Today, the organization has grown to include a full staff and fleet of equipment. The crew averages nine states a year along the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio Rivers, as well as many of their tributaries. Since the project’s inception, Chad, his crew, and over 70,000 volunteers have collected 8 million pounds of debris from our nation’s greatest rivers. Most recently, Chad expanded the mission of the organization to include educational workshops, The MillionTrees Project, Adopt-a-River Mile, Invasive Species Removal, and The Great Mississippi River Cleanup.
My Highlights | There have been so many highlights of my life and career but seeing and hearing about the difference that Living Lands & Waters has made is a big one. I certainly don’t take credit for all of that. I have had a lot of help. I think it goes back to achieving the goals you set out and not letting much stop you. Knowing that anything is possible and having that mindset that anything is possible.
A Key Talent | Being very persistent has been critical to my success. Also, having a clear vision and sticking with that and being very persistent until that vision is fulfilled. As far as advice goes, I would say you use your accomplishments and momentum and you build upon that to create more momentum and just keep building on your accomplishments.
Principles I Live By | Time is a very valuable thing. I always try to make the most of my time and other people’s time as well. I try to do good work and keep moving forward while trying not to waste any time.
Critical Skills I Develop | Organization is one skill that I try to work on. Also, I try to simplify problems so they don’t seem so overwhelming. It helps to make them more manageable. I also try to rally people around a cause and bring people together and get them excited about the cause.
The Best Advice I’ve Received | I’ve had a ton of people give me great advice but some advice I could give is that people’s time is very important to them. I’ve met a lot of extremely important people and time is more valuable to them than money. Always be respectful of people’s time and they will appreciate that you’ve made that effort.
On Inspiring Others | I think the job itself keeps people here to a certain extent because it’s so rewarding and we see results but I also try to make it a fun and exciting, adventurous place to work.
I Am Inspired By | My role models are people who have blazed their own path and done their own things or done things differently. I think hard working people are really my role models. My parents definitely embody that hard working spirit.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | That I made a difference by cleaning America’s rivers and that we planted well over a million trees.