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Sexy Seniors group keeps Cooper Landing clean

Riley Board
Skye High (left), Linda Raveaux (middle) and her husband Greg Raveaux (right) are three members of the Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners.

In Cooper Landing, everything runs on volunteers. That’s what Linda Raveaux says.

“I volunteer at the museum, I volunteer at the library, I volunteer at this. You know, you just get involved in the community, and pretty soon you have no time to work on all the dead trees at your place,” she said.

The “this” she’s talking about is the memorably named Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners, a group of seniors in the Cooper Landing area that turns out each Monday morning to clean the transfer stations in the unincorporated communities of Cooper Landing and Crown Point, near Moose Pass.

The Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners were founded in 1997 by Mayme Ohnemus, who was the president of the non-profit Cooper Landing Community Club at the time. The club received complaints about the messiness of the transfer site in Cooper Landing, and Ohnemus was cleaning up the area herself until she learned that the sanitation department would pay someone to do the job. She negotiated with the Kenai Peninsula Borough: in exchange for cleaning the transfer site, she wanted a donation to the community club.

The first time Ohnemus ever organized a formal transfer site clearing, she said, it took three people the entire day to hit sites in Cooper Landing, Moose Pass and Hope. She started to gain a reputation — she said that people would joke, “Don’t get in Mayme’s car or she’ll make you pick up trash before she gives you a cup of coffee.”

But it worked. Soon, it became a group of 20 members, many of whom lived in Anchorage and spent weekends in Cooper Landing.

The group’s unforgettable name came from Helen Gwin, the late owner of Cooper Landing’s Gwin’s Lodge and an early member of the group. Ohnemus said that many members of the group weren’t huge fans of the name. But she said Gwin would respond by telling them “Oh, for pity’s sake, people will take one look at us and know we’re just joking.”

Linda Raveaux got involved almost two decades ago because she cares about protecting the natural beauty of the area. The Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners are also responsible for cleaning four miles of highway twice a year, in addition to the weekly clean-ups at the transfer sites.

“In this absolutely, stunningly gorgeous place, litter on the highways just distracts from it for me. That’s all I see, is the litter. So I joined mainly for the highways. But here I am every Monday doing this,” she said.

The group’s meeting on Monday is not without excitement. At the second site in Crown Point, near Moose Pass, Linda finds a dollar on the ground. Her husband Greg laments nails and screws around the dump site that could cause flat tires, and a pile of chicken guts near, but not in, the dumpster.

Of course, a big part of the draw for many of the seniors is the social aspect. After cleaning out the dump sites, they always stop for lunch, often at the Sunrise Inn Cafe, where whoever drives the group gets a comped meal.

“It actually turns out to be sort of a community gathering,” Raveaux said.

For the first three years, the money raised by the group went to the community club. In 1999 they organized as a corporation, called the Cooper Landing Senior Citizens Corporation Inc, or CLSCCI, and used the money from the borough to buy property and build a senior housing facility.

Many of the Sexy Seniors who volunteer with the group today live in that Senior Haven housing facility off Snug Harbor Road. They get to the dumps in one of the vehicles owned by the group, including two buses and a van.

One struggle for the Sexy Seniors is that dump users will often leave large appliances and furniture there — on Monday, that included a washing machine, mattress, cabinet, desk and an entire refrigerator.

Large items aren’t meant to be dumped at the unmanned transfer sites; they’re supposed to be brought to larger, manned facilities in the cities.

Group member Skye High, who’s been involved with the volunteers for about seven years, said it’s a problem for the seniors.

“Did you notice there’s all these appliances? That’s kind of a bad day. Oftentimes, people will come in here and just throw their garbage, and the birds and bears, and sometimes they’ll leave dumpsters open, the bears get in and just tear the heck out of everything,” High said.

Animals, especially bears, have been a huge problem for the group, too. Ohnemus said the borough once sent an armed man to protect the seniors while they cleaned the transfer sites. The borough also installed bear-resistant dumpsters, which she said have helped. In Moose Pass, they dealt with birds who would scavenge in the dumpsters and fly into the trees with trash.

And for several summers in a row, the group has dealt with massive amounts of fish guts, as many as 15 bags, which smell and draw bears.

Still, the social element keeps even the most garbage shy of the group’s members coming back Monday after Monday — like Linda Raveaux.

“I don’t dread it. I thought I would. When I first joined, probably 15 or 18 years ago, I thought “Ugh, why am I….’ I mean, I do not like to see garbage, it bothers me. But, I thought, why am I volunteering to do this? Well, it’s turned out to be a very fun, enjoyable thing,” she said.

Before COVID, ten or 12 seniors showed up each week.

The group was smaller this past Monday, at only five. Ohnemus said many of the long-standing volunteers in the group have moved out of town, or into nursing care facilities, or have passed away.

And the Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners are always in need of new volunteers. One member said that the age range suggested by the name of the group is really just a suggestion — they’ve had people as young as three years old out helping with the cleanup.

You can find the original story here.

Riley Board is a Report For America corps member covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL. A recent graduate of Middlebury College, where she studied linguistics, English literature and German, Board was editor-in-chief of The Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper, and completed work as a Kellogg Fellow, doing independent linguistics research. She has interned at the Burlington Free Press, covering the early days of the pandemic’s effects on Vermont communities, and at Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife, where she wrote about culture and folklife in Washington, D.C. and beyond. Board hails from Sarasota, Florida.
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