Paul Rink, a 'Hero for the Planet'

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"Avon boy, 12, a 'Hero for the Planet'

AVON -- Teachers were surprised when an envelope from the Ford Motor Co. arrived at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception School addressed to sixth-grader Paul Rink.

When the 12-year-old opened it, he learned he had won an international essay contest sponsored by 'TIME For Kids' magazine, and that Ford would pay for Paul and his family to travel to San Francisco for a parade and ceremony.

Paul is one of the students in Sharon Cudlin's sixth-grade class who'd submitted essays describing what they would do to protect a beautiful natural place they knew.

Paul wrote about his back yard.

It's not a trimmed patch of lawn, but a 40-acre stretch of woods and farmland smack in the middle of Avon's rapidly expanding subdivisions.

Paul is the sixth generation of the Rink family to live on the land, which was purchased by his German immigrant ancestors more than 150 years ago.

Members from four generations of Rinks, including Paul's 95-year-old great- grandmother, still live in a row of houses that line Long Road between SR 254 and Stony Ridge Road.

Paul Rink sits in a white birch tree on his family's property in Avon after winning an international environmental essay contest. (Morning Journal/Ross Weitzner)

In his essay, Paul said he hopes to donate the land to the Lorain County Metro Parks. His inspiration, he wrote, is fellow Avon resident Buddy Miller, who donated 45 acres of nearly untouched woods to the Metro Parks in 1998.

Real estate developers have long had an eye on the Rink land.

'My great-grandma had a lot of developers coming to her asking if she'd sell so they could build houses,' Paul said, adding that the callers are told the land will remain in the family.

The property stretches as far as the eye can see behind the Rink home, where Paul's father grew up.

Rabbits, raccoons, deer and squirrels thrive on the land, which also is home to at least 15 species of birds.

Paul said he worries about what would happen to the animals if the land were developed.

'There's barely any land in Avon, and the animals won't have anywhere to go,' he said.

At the heart of the property is 'the Big Oak,' a towering red oak that measures more than 19 feet around.

Paul and his parents, Howard and Linda, will fly to San Francisco on April 14, where they will meet the other 'Heroes for the Planet,' as the school-age authors of the 25 winning essays are titled. Some of the winners, from eight different countries, will come from as far away as Kenya and Japan.

For Paul and his father, it will be their first trip on an airplane, and both admitted being a little nervous.

The experiences that await them will make it worthwhile, the family agreed ...

Once he's returned from being a 'Hero for the Planet,' Paul will have plenty of other activities to keep him busy.

The week he returns, Paul will help run an Earth Day program at his school.

Baseball season is approaching and Paul, who was on the 11-year-old All-star Little League Team last year, is eager to get back to playing first base.

He also has a 4-H project to start. He's making a chessboard that will use wood from a branch that fell off the Big Oak."

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