The "Trash Ladies" of Carolina Bay
By Debbie Lagestee
Carolina Bay is a beautiful community thoughtfully planned with walking trails, green spaces, and parks. Chances are you have seen a few ladies walking throughout the neighborhood, helping to maintain its beauty and cleanliness. These ladies are affectionately known as the “Trash Ladies.”
In 2014, Cindy and Tom O’Connor and Carol and Henry Opiekun celebrated New Year’s Eve together. The ladies made a resolution to start walking together in 2015. On the day of their first walking date, Carol showed up to walk with a picker-upper tool and a trash bag. Cindy was slightly confused, as she just thought they were out to walk for exercise. Carol explained that in her old community in Rhode Island, she also used her walking time to pick up trash. Carol never asked Cindy to pick up trash. Still, by the power of quiet persuasion, Cindy purchased her own picker-upper within a week. Soon after, Kathy Santerre and Lynn Daneberg joined their efforts.
Carol was enthusiastic about keeping the community free of trash, and that enthusiasm rubbed off on the other ladies. Over the years, the 4 ladies walked as a group, in couples or singularly. They have picked up everything from fast-food wrappers and water bottles to beer cans and empty cigarette packs on their daily walks. The “Trash Ladies” walk miles at a time, often reaching as far as US-17 or Glenn McConnell Parkway filling their bags. Many people stop their cars to give thanks for keeping the neighborhood clean. Although they don’t do it for the glory, the gesture certainly makes them feel appreciated. In addition to filling their trash bags, their hearts became full as their friendships blossomed in their endeavor to keep the neighborhood beautiful.
Carol continued to pick up trash for 3.5 years after her stage 4 diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, she lost her battle with cancer in July 2021. In her professional life as a nurse, Carol poured her heart and soul into her work. According to her husband, Henry, “She was a low-key person who didn’t want to bring the spotlight on herself.” Carol quietly went about her business without realizing the influence she had on others. Carol had no intention of starting a trash pick-up group, yet that is what she did. In the process, she made a significant impact on the community. A little boy in the neighborhood once stopped them to ask about the picker-uppers. He was always so excited to see the ladies each time they walked by. The “Trash Ladies” agreed to know her was to love her.
Cindy, Kathy, and Lynn honor their friend Carol by carrying on her legacy of keeping Carolina Bay clean and beautiful. Henry enjoys walking with the ladies as a tribute to Carol as his work schedule allows. They all feel a sense of closeness to Carol as they walk and scour the neighborhood for unsightly trash. Although their walks will never be the same without Carol by their side, they know she is smiling down at them. We offer the “Trash Ladies” our deepest gratitude for their selflessness in this month of Thanksgiving.
If you are inspired by these ladies and would like to join them to walk and pick up trash in remembrance of Carol, they, along with Carol’s husband Henry, will be meeting at Carolina Bay Park on November 7th at 9:00 am. Everyone and all walking levels are welcome, men, women, and kids.