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Pillars of Recycling Program Honored with 2020 Recycler of the Year Award

from our November 12, 2020 media release on the award winners

As Emmet County’s renowned recycling program celebrates its 30th anniversary and America Recycles Month, its 2020 Recycler of the Year Award is honoring nine pillars of the program. All of the honorees contributed to developing the program in its early days and have served Emmet County Recycling (ECR) for at least 20 years.

Bill Dohm, supervisor of Little Traverse Township, laid the foundation for Emmet County Recycling when, in the 1970s, he took the bold political step of volunteering his township to host the county waste Transfer Station. The transfer station property, which is located on Pleasantview Road, later became the home of the county’s recycling collection and sorting operations. When the county Department of Public Works (DPW)—of which ECR is a program—was established in 1979, Dohm became one of its first board members and continues to serve on the board 30 years later. Dohm is known for always being solid and fair, for reading every line of every budget report and reviewing every construction document, and for always asking the tough questions.

2007 DPW Board and Management

Seven of the nine Pillars of the Program honorees are shown in this 2007 photo: (from left) Arden Bawkey, Denny Keiser, Jack Jones, Ann Smith, Leroy Sumner (Honorable Mention for 17 years on the DPW Board!), Elisa Seltzer, Bill Dohm, and Don Mapes.
Not shown: Max Putters and representatives of Recycle North.

Max Putters, the former director of the Emmet County Office of Planning and Zoning, was instrumental in the establishment of the DPW and led it for roughly a decade before the first DPW director was hired. In this role, he went above and beyond the call of duty in working with residents advocating for excellent resource recovery services. Also, as designated county planner, Putters led the public process of drafting the first County Solid Waste Plan in which Emmet County committed to implementing recycling.

Ann Smith was another pillar who was in place even before Emmet County Recycling was established. First as a County Commissioner and then as a DPW Board member, Smith served for over 30 years, including a long run as DPW Board chairperson. In a 2004 interview, Smith noted that she developed a real interest in recycling and was once described as “getting lyrical about garbage.” She said, “It’s been interesting to see it grow…and to keep asking what else we can do, like electronics recycling.”

Elisa Seltzer was the DPW’s executive director for 30 years, right up to 2019. She spearheaded the development of ECR into the locally popular, regionally key, nationally prominent program it is today. Seltzer often framed her approach as making recycling “convenient, comprehensive and cost effective,” and stuck to that formula through over a dozen major expansions of facilities and services. As Emmet County showed what is possible in a rural area, Seltzer came to be looked-to as an expert nationally and the program was recognized in the National Recycling Coalition’s Outstanding Government Program award category in 2017.

Denny Keiser, Bear Creek Township Supervisor, has served over 20 years on the DPW Board and eight years as its chairperson. He and Dohm were the first local leaders to advocate for curbside recycling for their townships. Keiser has been a member of the DPW Board’s Building Committee through several key construction and expansion cycles. Another widely respected community leader, his reputation has helped ECR through many tough spots over the years.

Don Mapes worked for the DPW for 38 years, including 28 as its operations superintendent. He played key roles in nearly every development in Emmet County Recycling’s history, including the hiring of dozens of employees, purchases of trucks and equipment, six building expansions, and the additions of composting and curbside recycling services. In a 2018 interview, Mapes observed, “We really got more response from the community than we thought we would. Everything that we built, we have outgrown it sooner than we thought. I was the one who had to make it work. But we always get by and get things done.”

Jack Jones, a longtime County Commissioner and DPW Board member, contributed to making the board a solid base of support and guidance. In 1990 and 1991, he served on the Recycling Funding Committee that put in place the innovative approach that supports ECR without reliance on tax dollars. Until retiring from the DPW post in 2018, Jones brought his love of the woods and waters of Michigan, his stories, and even his maple syrup to the DPW Board.

Arden Bawkey, the Emmet County Drain Commissioner, has served on the DPW Board for over 20 years. When the Board was constituted in 1979, Little Traverse Township, the Emmet County Road Commission Board, and the Drain Commissioner were all given standing positions. A mandated board member might be excused for being lukewarm, but Bawkey is known for being the board’s most enthusiastic recycling supporter and is a positive voice, even when the going gets tough.

Last but not least, Recycle North was a major force in establishing and growing ECR. The non-profit operated early household recycling efforts in Emmet County and then advocated for the county taking over and expanding recycling. Serving the area for over 20 years, they prepared a highly detailed plan for a county recycling program in 1985, obtained the grant that funded the county’s first recycling building at the Pleasantview Road facility, and contracted with the county to educate about recycling for nearly a decade.

Today’s director of the Emmet County DPW, Andi Shepherd-Tolzdorf said of the nine award winners, “These leaders have played crucial roles in moving Emmet County Recycling forward through thick and thin, incredible growth and many challenges. They have recognized the value of maintaining waste management, recycling, and composting as publically run services. And they have supported employing innovative best practices in both policy and operations while steadfastly maintaining cost-effectiveness. We can’t thank them enough.”

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