85-year-old keeps trash on its toes

October 01, 2012|By JANET HEIM |
  • Doris Ellis crosses Wilson Boulevard with a load of trash from the median. She spends hours each day walking and picking up trash near her Brinker Drive home.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Doris Ellis has a message for the community.

“You get up, have some breakfast. Do not turn on the TV, do not turn on the computer. Get your shoes on, grab a jacket and bag, and get out there.”

Ellis, who turned 85 on Sept. 26, started walking daily after retiring in 1987. She said retirement changed her routine, and when she found herself still in her pajamas later in the morning, she realized she needed to make a change.

She started walking with other women from her Woodcrest Village neighborhood off Wilson Boulevard. Ellis wanted her walk to have purpose, so she carried a plastic grocery bag along with her and picked up trash.

“They call me the ‘bag lady,’” said Ellis, referring to people who live in the neighborhood.

Ellis eventually started walking on her own because her pace was different from those who were just walking. Her walk has evolved with time.

She originally stayed within her neighborhood, but then added Wilson Boulevard to her route, walking until she fills up a grocery bag.

“Bending keeps me healthy. I absolutely have no back pains and no leg pains,” Ellis said. 

She also credits her daily ritual for improving her blood pressure and cholesterol level.

The morning walk might take up to three hours, and on a nice day, Ellis goes out again, for up to two hours.

“I hardly ever miss a day, even in the winter. I’ve gone from a size 14 to a 10 petite,” Ellis said.

She doesn’t like to walk in the wind, and when there’s ice, she gets her exercise by walking up and down her complex’s stairwells instead.

Ellis also credits her family’s tradition of doing the Bay Bridge Walk for 11 years as inspiration to get out and walk more.

“That was really a thrill. That was my incentive to walk,” Ellis said.

She now sports a safety vest to make her more visible to motorists. The first was given to her by a City of Hagerstown employee.

In warmer weather, she wears a lighter weight vest given to her by a tow truck driver who used to live in her neighborhood.

In a year’s time, Ellis goes through three pairs of white Reeboks. A pair of brown cotton gloves, purchased from a dollar store, lasts about a week.

“I’m not sure of the mileage. I don’t even bother with that. I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m a hard-headed old woman,” Ellis said.

Ellis said business owners along her route have bought her trash-grabbing tongs, but she said they’re more work to use than just bending down and using her hands.

She picks up soda cans and fast-food bags, pine cones and fruit from sweet gum trees to prevent people from falling. The majority of her haul is plastic water bottles and Ellis recycles what she can.

“If I had 10 cents for every water bottle I picked up in the last year, I could fly down to Florida to see my daughter,” Ellis said.

Ellis was also recognized in 2004 with the Woodcrest Village Community Service Award for her efforts.

Born and raised in Halfway, Ellis graduated from Hagerstown High School in 1944. She and her late husband had a son and a daughter. The family has four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Ellis admits her children were worried about her safety when they learned she was picking up litter along Wilson Boulevard. They’ve gotten used to the idea with time.

“I love it. I’m not an inside person to begin with. My goal is to keep it clean. I can’t stand to leave it lay. Get out and get moving,” Ellis said.

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