Vern Ehlers, 83, a research physicist and moderate Republican who represented a western Michigan congressional district for 17 years, died late Tuesday at a Grand Rapids nursing facility, Melissa Morrison, funeral director at Zaagman Memorial Chapel, said Wednesday.

Dr. Ehlers decided in 2010 against seeking reelection. He won the seat in a 1993 special election after serving 11 years in the Legislature and eight years on the Kent County Board of Commissioners.

In Congress, he successfully advocated for a law that authorized spending $270 million over five years to clean up sediments in the Great Lakes and oversaw the United States' first major statement on science policy in more than 50 years. He also was involved in improving math and science education and creating the congressional website.

He valued nonpartisan action and his personal mantra, according to his obituary, was "leave it better than you found it."

Dr. Ehlers held a doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, where he also earned a bachelor's degree in physics. He taught physics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids for 16 years.

Dr. Ehlers is survived by his wife, Johanna Meulink; four children; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. - AP