Senior citizens group turns trash to cash

Posted: Monday, October 02, 2000

When it comes to recycling trash, no one does it better than Cooper Landing's Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners.

After three years of picking up garbage, this group of seniors transformed its efforts into something for the whole community. A Thursday night ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opened the doors to an addition on the Cooper Landing Community Club. Nearly doubling the size of the existing building, the addition contains an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation-approved kitchen and two bathrooms, one that is handicapped-accessible.

For keeping the Cooper Landing, Moose Pass and Hope solid waste transfer sites garbage-free, the seniors earned more than $8,000, which they committed to the community center's expansion project. Anticipating their earnings wouldn't be enough to cover all the construction costs, they sent a delegation to Juneau in February 1999 and threw their financial needs at the feet of the state Legislature and Gov. Tony Knowles, netting an additional $150,000.

Besides the addition, they were able to utilize water from an existing well and also tied the old and new portions of the building together with a new roof.

Combining work and fun, Thursday night's agenda included the season's first meeting of the Cooper Landing Community Club, which adjourns during the summer.

"We had quite a bit of business because this was our first meeting," said Mamie Ohnemus, president of Cooper Landing Senior Citizens Corp. Inc. "The place was packed."

Part of the evening's business was thanking individuals who helped achieve this milestone, including Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, and Rep. Gary Davis, R-Soldotna.

"We made them honorary Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners," Ohnemus said. "They were very proud."

This isn't the first time Davis has been honored by the Sexy Seniors. He is the proud recipient of a picture of the good-natured group that they framed in a toilet seat.

Ohnemus, who was dubbed "Agent Ohnemus" by Knowles for her untiring effort to promote her community, used Thursday night as an opportunity to pay tribute to those who did the real dirty work, the Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners. Drawing from experiences of the past three years, Ohnemus told stories about each member of the group, the oldest who is just a few days short of turning 93, and presented them with certificates of appreciation.

"There were so many people from out of town there that didn't know about us," she said. "They were just cracking up."

Some of the out-of-towners invited to the celebration were candidates for Tuesday's Kenai Peninsula Borough municipal election, including school board and borough assembly hopefuls and one legislative candidate.

"I was impressed with that whole community. They hear everyone's opinion, make a plan and then go act on it," said Ron Long of Seward, candidate for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

"They're quite a bunch. If they can demonstrate that kind of consensus, they're going to make my job a lot easier. They've obviously done a lot of homework, and I can't ignore that."

John Sorensen, Alaska Department of Transportation project engineer, also received an invitation to the shindig.

"I was sent an invitation to answer any questions about roadwork," Sorensen said. "But there weren't any questions. They wanted to have me there to express their appreciation for the roadwork done on the small roads around there."

In two weeks, Sorensen and his crew built up and paved a total of 3.5 miles on Bean Creek, Snug Harbor and Quartz Creek roads.

Thursday night wasn't the first time Pete Sprague, who represents Soldotna on the borough assembly, has seen the Sexy Seniors in action.

"I was (in Juneau) when they were down there lobbying," Sprague said. "It was really fun to watch. They had news crews following them around. It was wonderful. They've certainly done a heck of a job."

Ohnemus said there are still a few items to be completed on the community club's new addition.

"There's no toilet yet," Ohnemus said. "We're still using the outhouse."

With the building well on its way, are the Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners calling it quits?

"We're more busy than ever. We really, really need transportation for our seniors," said Ohnemus, who claimed the community organization has 72 senior members.

"We talked about us being a 'graying community' and asked for a show of hands Thursday night of anyone that claimed to be under 50," she said. "There were only two.

"But we have 36 kids in school, so there are some young people here somewhere," Agent Ohnemus said. "Because I know we're not having the children."

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