Dawn Fisher walked across Spain in 41 days as part of the Camino, a pilgrimage to northwest Spain where some say the apostle James is buried.
“What an experience, climbing up those mountains, walking them,” she says, but what’s extraordinary about her 500 mile journey wasn’t that she made it, but that she made it without picking up any trash.
If you’re not familiar with Dawn, you may know how hard that was for her. Ever since she first visited Gulfport in the 1980s, she’s walked her streets with a mission: to pick up trash.
As long as she's lived in Gulfport – since the 1990s – she's woken up almost every morning and picked up her city. She leaves no stone unturned, pulling her trash cart behind her, picking garbage from streets, curbs and lawns with a pick stick.
She has picked up cigarette butts, dog poop, and wrappers from every fast food store in the area.
“I guess I've been kind of a neat freak all my life,” she says. She ferrets out trash in every nook and cranny of the city.
She's picked up by the drug houses on 49th Street.
“I remember picking up one morning and I kept hearing shots. I talked to Curt (Willocks, Gulfport’s former chief of police) later and he said, ‘the FBI and the federal agent were over there and they were having a shootout’,” she says. It did not stop her from going back and picking up litter along 49th Street.
There isn’t much she won’t pick up.
“If I see weeds in the walk, I pull weeds. I pick up all the dog poop – There's some guy with a big dog who lets him poop on the corner up there on 28th and Beach. I have stepped in it I don't know how many times,” she says.
Every morning she picks up garbage. She used to stay out longer but, she says, “I’m getting older now.” She goes out early in the morning and finishes by noon. It’s about a five-hour day for her most days.
She is 78.
Outside Barnes and Noble, she spies litter. She had planned to run in and get a book, but now she can’t. She goes back to her car, grabs her pick stick, and gets to work.
“It doesn’t matter where I am,” she explains. “I've picked up trash in Alaska – got off a train and picked up dirty and discarded socks.” When she and Cathy visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula every summer, she picks up litter there.
Dawn admits what she calls her obsession with garbage sometimes gets to Cathy.
“She says, ‘can't we just go for a walk without picking up litter just one time’?" Dawn says. She agrees, and they go for a walk. Once they get home, though, Dawn grabs her gloves and heads back out to pick up the litter she saw.
“I have to laugh at myself,” she says, but adds that she sees her “obsession” as a way of giving back to her community, much like serving on city council.
She did that, too, serving two years on city council. While on the dais, she made her stance on litter well known, going so far as to offer to buy anyone a pick stick who wanted it.
It would be nice, she says, if others would follow her lead.
“When I go up north to the upper peninsula of Michigan in the summer, I know it (garbage) gets out of hand sometimes. I just figure maybe somebody will notice it and pick it up,” she says. She has inspired others, but so far no one person has matched Dawn’s drive.
Doug Hudson organizes group litter cleanups through Gulfport Neighbors. He calls Dawn “inspiring.”
“Seeing Dawn pull her cart up and down the streets and alleys, block after block, is what gave Leonardo and I the motivation to always carry a trash bag with us on our nightly walks around town,” he says. “This city would have a different look if we only had a couple more Dawn Fishers patrolling the streets.”
And people do see her as patrol of sorts. She hasn’t served on council for several years, but people still pull her aside on the street and bring problems to her attention.
Instead of telling them who to call or what to do, Dawn makes the call herself. She gets in touch with city manager Jim O’Reilly, public works director Don Sopak, or Parks Supervisor Bob Williams – whoever she knows can help.
"They get the job done," she says. Then, she’s back to her litter. It’s always there, waiting for her. She knows that it’s an endless job.
“It only lasts about five or ten minutes, then somebody comes along and throws out a McDonald's bag,” she says, but she still keeps at it.
“I get a lot of satisfaction when I drive down 58th Street. When I get done I feel good about this city,” she says.
Do you know someone who enriches our community? Tell us about them at News@theGabber.com.