GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) — The lifeblood of Grand Island is the thousands of volunteers who give their time and talents to help Grand Island to grow and progress.

One of those volunteers is Patsy Steenson of Grand Island. A former teacher at Gates Elementary School, she is now an active volunteer and a member of the board of the Grand Island Area Clean Community System.

Denise McGovern-Gallagher, executive director of Clean Community System, said Steenson is an "invaluable" resource.

"Whenever we need her, she is there in a moment's notice," McGovern-Gallagher said. "Not too many people are that giving who drop what they have to do for Clean Community System."

She said Steenson helps as a volunteer with summer parks programming and in the Grand Island schools.

The Grand Island Independent reports that Steenson is a Columbus native. She taught fourth grade at Gates for nine years. Before teaching at Gates, Steenson taught in Germany at Kitzingen for the U.S. Department of Defense. Both she and her husband taught in Germany for 24 years.

She received her teaching degree from Kearney State College and taught in Newman Grove and Clarks before teaching in Germany.

Steenson retired three years ago after more than 35 years of teaching. She immediately became an active volunteer and board member of Clean Community System because of her lifelong passion for the environment and recycling.

"I always had a passion for recycling since I was in college," she said.

Her motivation was the celebration of the first Earth Day in 1970.

"I've always been interested in the environment and being outside," Steenson said.

Her interest in recycling grew while teaching in Germany.

"I was working with other American teachers and German teachers and we would have a yearly German/American Earth Day celebration," Steenson said. "I also started a 'Kids for Saving Earth Club' in 1992 and I kept that up with third- and fifth-graders until 2006 when the school closed."

She said it is the law in Germany to recycle.

"Believe me, they recycle everything," Steenson said.

Germans' high recycling rate, which now hovers around 65 percent of all waste discarded, combined with a declining population, has meant that the country's waste-to-electricity incineration plants have been millions of tons of garbage short each year and they import waste from other countries to fill the waste-to-electricity needs.

"In Germany they have it down to a fine art, a real science," Steenson said. "They recycle everything."

What impressed her about the German model of recycling was that it was a way of making less garbage and keeping it out of landfills.

According to Earth Counts, every year humans dump 2.12 billion tons of waste, with 99 percent of that waste purchased within six months before.

"If everybody would recycle, there would be very little garbage left," Steenson said.

When she retired from teaching, she turned her energy full time to her other lifelong passion, recycling.

It was when Steenson started a Kids for Saving Earth Club for children in the third and fifth grades that she heard about Betty Curtis, who was director of Clean Community System at the time.

"They were having an open house in 2008 and I went to their open house," she said. "At that point, Betty and I talked a lot and she asked me to join their board, which I did."

It turned out to be a good partnership, Steenson said, as Curtis helped out with her Kids for Saving Earth Club.

When she retired from teaching in 2015 she was still on the Clean Community System board and she got more enthusiastic about protecting the environment and recycling. She's still teaching kids about the importance of recycling and making craft projects using recycled materials.

"That way I can still work with kids, but not have all the other stuff to do," Steenson said.

She is an active volunteer for recycling programs, such as the teachers recycling program she started where they collect and re-purpose items that retired teachers donate, such as bulletin boards, books, pencils and more.

Steenson is one of the 1,500 volunteers who are taking part in the citywide cleanup this month throughout Grand Island.

She is also an active volunteer with Grand Island Groundwater Guardians, which conducts many environmental projects, such as the Children's Groundwater Festival and the Outdoor Learning Center at the Nebraska State Fair.

"She is very passionate about both the environment and education," said Marcia Lee of the Central Platte Natural Resources District, who is a member of the Groundwater Guardians.

Lee said Steenson has been active volunteering in many of the activities the Groundwater Guardians perform around the community each year.

"She helps a lot at our Outdoor Learning Area with maintenance," she said.

Next week Groundwater Guardians will be getting the Outdoor Living Area ready for the upcoming State Fair, Aug. 24 to Sept. 3.

"She is just so passionate about what she does and the kids just love being around her," Lee said.

Another volunteer activity for Steenson is sewing blankets for the Ronald McDonald House that the company makes available for families who have a long-term stay when a loved one is hospitalized.

That was an activity with which her mother, who is also a sewing enthusiast, got her involved.

"I take all of her sewing scraps and I make more blankets and send them to her to give to the Ronald McDonald House program," Steenson said.

It is another form of recycling she is passionate about.


Information from: The Grand Island Independent,