Greg Neuschafer (’73) Returns to UW-Green Bay to Launch His New Book through the Teaching Press

Greg Neuschafer signs a copy of his book, Lower Fox River PCB Cleanup Timeline, on Oct. 18 in the Brown County STEM Innovation Center (Joey Prestley)

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

To describe him in just one word, Captain Greg Neuschafer is thorough. That’s the impression he gave at the October 18 launch of his book, Lower Fox River PCB Cleanup Timeline: Introducing An Electronic Reference Library through the UW-Green Bay Teaching Press. During the time he spoke, he wove together stories of a lifetime of adventure, an unfolding environmental catastrophe and an ethos of collaboration that culminated in a one-of-a-kind book.

In a room roughly the size of a two-car garage in the Brown County STEM Innovation Building, Neuschafer stood behind a podium, checking and rechecking his notes, adjusting the camera for the Zoom broadcast launch party while the in-person attendees filed in. Those present, a mixture of Teaching Press interns, students, community collaborators, and old friends of Greg’s, took their seats around the horseshoe table setup. “Get more chairs,” Dr. Rebecca Meacham, the UW-Green Bay English Department Co-Chair and director of the Teaching Press, instructed two of her students. They left the room and returned shortly after with chairs to fill the inner horseshoe. There still weren’t enough seats. Neuschafer seemed surprised his event was now standing-room-only. After a brief introduction, he began to speak.

Copies of Lower Fox River PCB Cleanup Timeline are seen at the book’s launch party on Oct. 18 in the Brown County STEM Innovation Center (Joey Prestley)

A Life Fueled by Water

When Greg Neuschafer tells a story, he tells all of it. As he spoke, covering both the subject of the book and the process of creating it, he started at the start, recalling his upbringing on a dairy farm in Fremont along the Wolf River. Growing up, Neuschafer felt a duty to protect the river that sustained the livelihood of three generations of farmers before him. “Our DNA is figuratively infused with a conservation philosophy and practice,” he told the crowd.

Neuschafer’s connection to the water and its stewardship led him to pursue an Environmental Sciences degree at UW-Green Bay. He graduated in 1973 and completed an MS in Marine Geology through a combined program at UW-Milwaukee and Duke University Marine Laboratory before launching into what would become a 36-year career as a Naval Oceanographer. “I had many adventures,” Neuschafer said of his career, listing working in the Arctic, mapping the ocean floor and chasing hurricanes in an airplane to name a few.

When he retired, Neuschafer realized he had been, “blessed with a great career that was due, in large part, to the teachers and the learning institutions” he attended. “They gave me the tools to be inquisitive and determined that my next adventure had to be to find ways to give back to the schools that gave me my start,” said Neuschafer.

So, he did give back.

He created a water forensics lab for his former high school. He got involved with supporting the Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program—a collaboration between Northeast Wisconsin high schools, university scientists and community partners—in the region he grew up in. And, when he had the idea of creating a book, he came to his alma mater to start the process.

Greg Neuschafer speaks to a crowd at his book launch on Oct. 18 in the Brown County STEM Innovation Center (Joey Prestley)

Research Beginnings

Before the book was ever a book, it was a curiosity. The story’s subject had been developing all of Neuschafer’s life, largely unbeknownst to him. While he grew up along the Wolf River in the 50s, an environmental catastrophe was in the making nearby. Paper mills along the Fox River began producing a new invention, “carbonless copy paper,” created using polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs would be banned by the EPA in 1976 due to suspected negative health effects in humans and wildlife, but not before contaminating 11 million cubic yards of Fox River sediment. While a 1996 EPA study suggested that PCBs were probable human carcinogens, it took until 2004 for a cleanup project to begin.

After retiring—and especially after meeting UW-Green Bay professor Kevin Fermanich through the watershed monitoring program—Neuschafer became fascinated with the PCB cleanup. Wanting to learn more, he sought out a resource that documented all seven decades of the contamination and cleanup history. Finding none, he decided to compile a resource of his own. He began amassing court documents, newspaper articles, notes from conservationists and more in a folder on his computer. As he spoke to the crowd at the launch, he referred to that research as a “perishable commodity.” His goal became to preserve it.

Rather than storing hundreds of files on something like a USB drive, which he quipped he might leave in his pocket and lose in the wash, Neuschafer came up with the idea of a book. He approached Meacham and the burgeoning UW-Green Bay Teaching Press with the idea, and they ran with it.

Greg Neuschafer holds up a wrench as a prop as he speaks at his book launch on Oct. 18 in the Brown County STEM Innovation Center (Joey Prestley)

A Novel Idea

Greg Neuschafer’s book is unique. The text itself is less a narrative and more a timeline, a research tool. “It’s a wrench. It’s to get you into a database that we put together. So, it’s not for reading for excitement or for pleasure,” Neuschafer put it bluntly.

While not necessarily thrilling, the text is fascinating. A line bisects almost all of the 45 pages, with blurbs above and below, attached to dates, detailing significant events in the PCB crisis and cleanup. When there’s a document to link to, a QR code directs the reader to that entry in the UW-Green Bay digital archive. Every page of the book folds out like wings, allowing the reader to see the events of a year or a few years laid out in front of them.

That format, as Neuschafer put it, was the product of trying, failing and trying again. “One of our expressions is, ‘failure is baked in,’” said Meacham, who explained that the novel approach to printing couldn’t be done commercially. So, students worked collaboratively to develop a folding and binding technique they could do entirely in-house that would preserve the fold-out pages. The Teaching Press gave life to a unique book for a unique project by a unique author, but with it, Neuschafer said, “a technical topic became readable.”

When Neuschafer began his research process, the Fox River Cleanup was ongoing. In 2020, after 16 years, over $1 billion spent, and 6.5 million cubic yards of sediment dredged from the Fox River, the EPA declared the project complete, marking the end of the largest cleanup effort of its kind.

That’s where the book ends. But Neuschafer doesn’t view the process of river stewardship as complete. He’s optimistic about new technologies that may someday soon aid in the safe disposal of dredged materials. And he’s worried about contaminants like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) of which new publics are gaining awareness. He’s hopeful we’ll learn from our history.

Students demonstrate the book-binding process after Greg Neuschafer’s talk on Oct. 18 in the Brown County STEM Innovation Center (Joey Prestley)

Giving Back to UW-Green Bay

More than anything, Neuschafer was grateful.

During his speech at the book launch, his eyes seldom left the pages on his podium. Except, that is, when he told a joke or when, with a palpable earnestness, he looked up to the faces in front of him—glancing at the students that physically bound his book and the longtime collaborators who helped fill its pages—and offered his sincere thanks.

If there was a through line to Neuschafer’s talk—and by extension, his life—it was that nothing he did was done alone. He credited his instructors at UW-Green Bay and during his graduate studies in Milwaukee for catapulting him toward his long career. And he hoped the Teaching Press could open doors for the students who worked with him on his book. “I tried to get all their names (I hope I got them all) in the back [of the book],” said Neuschafer, “so they get official recognition for their work. That’s so important as college kids. Goes back to 50 years ago when I had a chance to collaborate with professors. For a professor to gracefully put your name on a paper, that’s golden. So maybe my little project here with these folks having their names on it, maybe someday, that’ll open the door. I hope so.”

The order form for Lower Fox River PCB Cleanup Timeline can be found here. You can learn more about the UW-Green Bay Teaching Press here. The PCB digital archive can be found here.

You can support the UW-Green Bay Teaching Press with a gift here.

—Story by Joey Prestley, Communications Specialist, Office of Advancement

Greg Neuschafer (center) poses with Dr. Rebecca Meacham (far right) and UW-Green Bay Teaching Press interns on Oct. 18 in the Brown County STEM Innovation Center (Joey Prestley)


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