Re-use, recycle and retire

Sharon Root, the Lyon County recycling educator, retired Friday after 25-plus years


When Sharon Root sat at her display table at the Lyon County Fair last summer, she recognized more than one young person as someone she has watched grow up over the years from annual visits to Lyon County classrooms as a recycling educator. She told one girl, who is now in her early 20s, that this is her last summer giving away promotional pens and pencils at the fair. The young woman, Eden Deutz, said, “Don’t retire, the planet needs you!”

Root was touched, but kept making plans to retire.

“It’s time,” she said.

Root started working at the Lyon County Public Works department in February of 1991. Before that, she had worked at a series of jobs around Marshall including at Club 59 and County Market. She wanted something more — a job where she could contribute. Her neighbor, Val Nuy, told her that there was a position advertised in the paper for recycling educator.

She thought, “I don’t have the skills for that,” but applied anyway. As a cashier, she was already aware of recycling; she often commented about the amount of packaging certain items had and thought, “good thing it can be recycled.” She had received a recycling brochure in the mail and it had piqued her interest.

When Paul Henriksen, the then Lyon County environmental administrator, hired her as the recycling educator it was supposed to be a part-time position for one year. It’s still been part-time, but has turned into 26 years of service. As a recycling educator, she would visit kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms.

“She taught those kids the 3Rs — reduce, re-use and recycle — with enthusiasm,” said Bill Swope, the former elementary principal for Marshall Public Schools.

Root would tell the children, sure it was her job to educate about the environment, but it was something she truly believed in.

“I told them, ‘if you eat, drink and breathe, you should care about your environment,'” she said.

Her first school visit was at Holy Redeemer in 1991 and her last school visit was last spring — at Holy Redeemer.

“I could have gone in some classes this fall, but I thought it was fitting that, since I began at Holy Redeemer, I should end there as well,” she said.

For kindergartners, she would dress up as Roxie the Recycling Clown. She would apply the whiteface makeup, oversized bright red lips, yellow wig, red clown suit and broad-brimmed hat and get in a Lyon County Public Works vehicle and drive to a school in Lyon County. At stop lights she would get looks from the drivers in cars around her.

“Yes, your tax dollars at work,” she would think.

She would get thank-you notes from the kids saying they liked Roxie.

“I still have the letters,” Root said.

For first graders she brought an inflatable kids pool and filled it with garbage. She brought two “fishing poles” made out of dowels, strings and magnets and students would “catch garbage,” she said. “Then they would decide which box it should go in — re-use, recycle or trash.”

She would send them home with a flyer with “basic information for their parents” and tell the children, “you guys are my helpers.”

For other grades, her husband, Ray, made a “Wheel of Jeopardy” which kids would spin and then answer questions about recycling.

Root not only has kept the thank-you letters from students, but many other items given to her or ones she has purchased over the years such as a toy airplane made from diet Coke cans or a dish made from recycled bottles. From browsing recycling sites, she has bought other items to show kids such as a purse made from film strips or paper made from elephant dung. When the kids hear what the paper is made from, she tells them, “it’s cleaner than you are. Have you been boiled for five hours?”

Highlights of her job over the years has been writing copy for the Recycling Ranger public service ads on the radio. The disc jockeys would voice the Ranger and other characters such as Lightfingered Louie, but she would write the words based on a theme such as “Mission: Impossible” or “Scrooge.”

She also has written a monthly recycling column for the Independent since “’92 or ’93,” she said.

Root said she hasn’t thought about what is next for her, perhaps she will attend and/or teach classes at Southwest Minnesota State University’s GOLD college.