Steele, Davis reflect on service
By Kevin Dye
A mother-daughter pair who have brought awareness to Madison County residents about the importance of recycling and reducing landfill usage will cease operation after almost 30 years of service to the community.
Darlene Steele has been the program coordinator for the Madison/Union county recycling program for the North Central Ohio Solid Waste District since 1982. Steele is now eligible for retirement just as the Madison/Union county program is being merged with the Champaign County program, where it will be stationed.
The merger of the three counties also brought about the layoff of her daughter, Gennie Davis, who has served the department for 29 years. Together the duo have made an impact in Madison County by working with schools and residents to demonstrate the importance of recycling materials that would normally be thrown into a landfill.
“I have been here 30 years and they held a nice retirement party for me this week,” Steele said. “Over the years, we have tried to think of different ways to try to get people to recycle. We worked with local schools with arts and craft projects to show kids there were better things to do with trash than just throw it away.”
Steele said that the county recycling program had grown from meager beginnings in 1982 to become apart of a three-county waste district. The program started with a hard-to-get grant for funding.
“In 1982 Dr. Jack Starr applied for a grant through ODNR’s office of litter control,” Steele said. “A grant was awarded to the county commissioners, who in turn gave it to the health department. From there the grant just continued every year.”
Madison County Litter Control became apart of the North Central Ohio Solid Waste District in 2000 and in 2005 the Madison and Union county departments were merged and became totally funded by the North Central Ohio Solid Waste District.
“We tried everything,” Steele said. “We used blenders to change newspaper into paper pulp and we used that to make things like Christmas ornaments. We gave away flowers for Earth Day since 1987. About six years ago we switched from flowers to vegetables when the economy got bad. We thought that people could use vegetables to eat more than they needed decorative flowers. We teamed with Madison County Soil and Water to hold compost classes and gave away composting kits for folks to get started. There were small kitchen compost kits for people to collect their kitchen scraps in. We always tried to think of different ways to try and get people to recycle.”
Steele said they worked with all of the school districts in Madison County to educate kids in fun ways to get interested in recycling and to care for the environment.
“Even things that could not be recycled we found a use for,” Steele said. “We used No. 5 plastic from plastic salad containers, which can’t be recycled, to make colorful shrinky dinks. We would work with the schools to get into the curriculum plans so we could get our programs into the schools.”
Steele said that curbside recycling is the best way to get residents in larger communities to recycle items. West Jefferson was the first community in Madison County to get curbside recycling and eventually Plain City and London also had similar programs. Mt. Sterling does not currently have curbside recycling available yet, but Steele said they do have a large recycling bin and the residents have really put it to use.
It becomes much more difficult to offer curbside recycling programs for smaller rural areas, but Steele found another alternative for those communities.
“We have access recycling once a month smaller township areas,” Steele said. “Each month a Union Recyclers truck comes for two and a half hours for those residents to drop off recycling. Areas such as Jefferson, Deercreek, Canaan, Monroe, Oak Run and Paint townships are utilizing access recycling. The EPA says we have to have at least 90 percent of the population recycling and access recycling is the only way to accomplish that.”
The Madison/Union County program offered household hazardous waste programs once a year from 1995-2010, but Steele said the cost became to high to continue it.
“We had great turnout for those, but at the last one we had 850 cars show up and at a cost of $85 per car it just became too expensive to continue to offer that. We now encourage people to take their household hazardous waste to Union Recyclers, but they charge $1 per pound.”
Steele says she will miss the work and it’s sad to see the local department close in London, but she feels they have made an important difference in Madison and Union counties.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Steele said. “I think we can sit back and say we made a difference. The tonnage that is not going to the landfill is incredible and people are really recycling a lot more now. Things like glass are 100 percent recyclable and aluminum cans are also recycled a lot and are generally turned into new cans.”
Steele looks forward to using her free time in retirement to devote to her duties as mayor of West Jefferson.
“I am looking forward to retirement and to be available in West Jefferson during the day as mayor,” Steele said. “It has been challenging to do this job and be mayor of West Jefferson. All of my vacation time has been used to be mayor, but now I have the opportunity to be available if I need to. I am going to miss the kids in the school, that’s been a lot of fun. It been a challenge to come up with interesting things for them to do, but it was fun.”
The realignment of the department also brings to an end the mother-daughter working relationship. Daughter Gennie Davis said she will also miss the job she has spent so much of her life doing.
“I will really miss working in the schools with the kids and watch the kids grow up,” Davis said. “I have been here 29 years and 21 on salary. I’m looking forward to taking a break before I start hunting for my next job.”
For her mother’s retirement party, Davis made her mother a picture board of the many newspaper articles and photographs that chronicled their recycling years together. She said it also made her aware of the time they have shared on the job.
“When I made the board it occurred to me that we started together and now we are finishing together,” Davis said. “Recycling has played a huge role in all of our lives.”
Already Davis’ own daughter, Emily, has made her mark in recycling as this past summer. Emily won the prestigious 4-H Clock Award at the Ohio State Fair, where you try to solve a problem that your community is currently facing. She chose to work with Madison County township trustees and village mayors for a recycling program for rural residents.