Editor, I lost a friend last week. I lost a longtime coworker. I lost an Army comrade, though we never served together nor did we share “war stories.” And Liberty County lost someone who was a loyal, extremely dedicated and tireless worker until his “untriumphant” retirement last year.
My friend’s death — like his retirement and his 32 years of county service — was as he wished: unceremonious. Well, unceremonious to most people probably because of the nature of our work. In my latter years of county employment, I became his boss — he allowed that! Together, we operated the “dump” and the Dumpster sites. (I despise those terms.) Before that, he operated the open dumping sites, which later were converted to Dumpster sites. He started as a heavy-equipment operator working at county dumps on Airport Road, Wells Road, JV Road and Limerick Road. When his boss, Vince Williams, retired, my friend was promoted to landfill operator.
He then opened the Limerick Road Sanitary and Dry Trash landfills. He later closed all of those landfills. His new job made him responsible for collection and disposal of residential and commercial waste in Liberty County and for operating the landfills in accordance with the new environmental laws propagated and enforced by the Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division. He and I became members of the newly created professional organization, GRCDA — Georgia Refuse Collection and Disposal Association. It’s now known as SWANA — Georgia – Solid Waste association of North America – Georgia Chapter. Through the group’s training, approved by the EPD, we became the 61st and 90th certified landfill operators in Georgia. There are several thousand now.
Together, we built the first open-air transfer station in Liberty County. It was on Limerick Road because closure plans were being finalized for that landfill. We established the current transfer station and the much-maligned convenience centers with their “supposed” hours of operation. The centers were modified to improve function and landscaped to improve appearance and boost customer and civic pride.
My friend oversaw routine and non-routine maintenance. He was the “repair man.” We turned wrenches together. We formed and poured concrete together. We watered plants, painted Dumpsters, repaired fences, you name it — all to reduce solid-waste operating costs. We learned to trouble shoot computer-operated compactors, to change “motherboards,” to replace burst hydraulic hoses and clean concrete that had been contaminated with spilled oil. We repaired and replaced compactor blades while working in solid-waste products – razor blades, dirty diapers, rancid food, personal-hygiene products, etc. And, through it all, my friend maintained a smile as he cleaned the improperly discarded residential waste at the seven convenience centers.
Liberty County Solid Waste programs became a model for others across the state. My friend’s unwavering work ethic was partly what led to Liberty County’s recognition by the Department of Natural Resources, EPD as a leader in collecting, disposing of and recycling solid waste.
LeRoy I. Helbing passed unceremoniously from this earth on Aug. 6, 2014. He now lives with his Lord and savior. His legacy lives on. I will miss my friend. Rest in peace, LeRoy.
— David C. Sapp
retired Liberty County employee