Pride for her community leads Stenzel to pick up your litter

“When the wind blows and everybody’s recyclables are out, oh there’s so much,” she said.

LeeAnn Stenzel
LeeAnn Stenzel
Julie Buntjer/The Globe

WORTHINGTON — Every community has its movers and shakers — people who seem to know what needs to be done and just do it. They may be heads of businesses, leaders of local groups, or, in the case of LeeAnn Stenzel, a retiree who saw a growing problem and decided to take matters into her own hands, literally.

Food vendors open daily at 11 a.m. Friday through Sunday.
Food vendors to open at 11 a.m. Friday at Worthington's Sailboard Beach.
“Just come down and bring the kids, and we’ll have some fun activities planned,” Holinka said.

That problem is garbage. Garbage that litters the streets, sidewalks, boulevards and parking lots along Stenzel’s daily walking loop from her Homewood Hills neighborhood to Diagonal Road, Industrial Lane, Rowe Avenue, Stower Drive and a short stretch of Oxford Street.

“I walk the same path every day through the neighborhood, and somebody was deliberately putting trash by our stop sign — old toys, old notepads they stacked in a circle around the stop sign,” Stenzel said. “As I’d walk, I’d see beer bottles, pop cans — I was tired of seeing all of this trash so I started picking it up.”

That was a few years ago.

“The first year, I didn’t keep track of how many bags I filled right away,” Stenzel said. She uses plastic grocery bags instead of the larger garbage bags, stuffing one bag full of empty bags before leaving on her walk.


Between April and November 2021, she filled 262 grocery bags with litter, plus a 27-square-foot box she found in a ditch and a five-gallon bucket, also found alongside the road.

In 2022, she filled 224 grocery bags.

The garbage wasn’t just from her daily walking route on the city’s northwest side. She also began picking up litter near her daughter’s home just down the street from Sailboard Beach. Oftentimes on those walks, her granddaughter, Stella, was along.

“She’d say, ‘Grandma, people don’t care about the Earth,’” Stenzel recalled.

“It’s very rewarding. I get to see the lightbulb click when kids really understand something,” Harrington said of his students. “I just felt I wanted to make some kind of difference in their lives.”
“I love health care because it really comes down to helping others.”
“The whole community came together, and we were able to contribute thousands of dollars and so much food and love and support, just off one social media post. And everyone is better for it.”
“I don’t consider myself to be very knowledgeable about Scripture. But I’m a Christian and I think I have good morals and a fair amount of common sense."
“The whole community of Worthington helped raise me,” said Kyaw, who moved to Nobles County with his mother in 2011 when she began working at JBS.
“I love being able to be there for someone when it might not be the best hour of their life," said Kane, "and being a friendly face, someone they know, can help calm them down, make things easier.”
“When the wind blows and everybody’s recyclables are out, oh there’s so much,” she said.
What started out as a screen printing business some 30 years ago has grown to include three embroidery machines, a laser engraver, and whatever else Jarett Hanten decides to try his hand at next.
“Give it a try. It’s an opportunity to meet people from different towns in a network outside of your hometown. You’ll meet a lot of wonderful people and it’s just a great thing to be a part of.”

It was Stella’s mom, Jenalee Mahoney, who nominated Stenzel for The Globe’s special Community Pride edition.

“She was on a mission — a mission to clean up our community,” Mahoney wrote of her mother. “We need more people like LeeAnn in our community. Take pride in our beautiful city and keep it clean!

“Thank you LeeAnn (Mom)! You are community pride!” Mahoney said.

Not only did Mahoney nominate her mom, but she gave her a rather unusual Mother’s Day gift in 2021 — a garbage picker-upper that Stenzel could use without having to bend over so frequently, or put someone else’s garbage in her gloved hands.


The dirty, the disgusting and money

Stenzel realizes that not all of the garbage she picks up was tossed from a car window. Southwest Minnesota’s winds, after all, can blow an empty pop bottle or fast food container down the street for blocks. And if residents don’t put all of their garbage inside garbage bags before rolling their bins to the curb, litter from the bins can be carried away by the wind as well.

“When the wind blows and everybody’s recyclables are out, oh there’s so much,” she said.

“... Why didn’t we table the discussion on something that they came forward with and said at the very beginning, ‘we’ve never done this in Nobles County before,’" Carol added.
“It’s a great school, it’s almost like a family. I really connect with these kids here. I just have a lot of love in my heart for these kids.”
“I’ve not had one person talk to me and say ‘Boy, that’s a huge safety concern. We need to spend a bunch of county funds to improve that.’”

Along her walking loop, Stenzel has picked up “tons of pieces of bread ties” and “a thousand little plastic tags for bags.”

She’s cleaned up untold numbers of alcohol bottles, floss picks, pop bottles, dirty diapers, even underwear.

“I stopped picking up cigarette butts because I’d never get done,” she said.

Stenzel said it just blows her mind, some of the things she finds. The most disgusting and unusual pieces of garbage she’s picked up? A dirty feminine product, a full box of condoms, two pounds of butter and an entire, unopened box of donuts.

“Why would someone spend that kind of money and then throw it out?” she asked, then said, “I bet people think I’m loony (for picking it up).”

Community Pride logo.jpg

Then again, she’s had people stop and thank her for doing it. Or they will honk their horn as if to say “Thanks!”


In 2021, a couple of neighbors gave her a huge mum as a thank you gift, saying, “We see you out there cleaning up the neighborhood and we appreciate it.”

“I don’t know why people think the Earth is just a giant garbage can,” Stenzel said. “I grew up here and this town has never looked so horrible.”

Along her route, Stenzel uses business dumpsters to dispose of the trash — especially if her hands are full. She’s received permission to do so.

After community events, Stenzel can be found picking up the litter.

“I bet I picked up 500 of those flavored Tootsie Roll wrappers and a few hundred Mr. Freeze wrappers — and tons of candy wrappers — after King Turkey Day,” she said.

After the races at the Nobles County Fairgrounds, she’s out there picking up water bottles, beer bottles and cans.

Occasionally, Stenzel has had a stroke of luck while picking up litter. She’s found three $20 bills, a couple of $5 bills, some $1 bills and “a bunch of quarters.”

Another time she found what looked like a brand new Yeti mug.


Stenzel once made a sign to post at a habitual litter spot at a stop sign, noting there is a fine for littering. It didn’t deter people.

Her next sign said, “You might think it’s funny to throw out your trash, but your mother would be ashamed of you.” That sign disappeared.

Now, she has an idea for another sign — one shared with her by a friend. It says: Why are you littering, with boxes to check from the following options: I am a jerk; I don’t care about natural areas; Mommy still cleans up after me; and All of the above.

“I’m going to make that sign,” Stenzel said. “I get frustrated when I find things day after day in the same area. A lot of times it’s in front of the same homes.”

Home and family

Stenzel is a lifelong resident of Worthington. She raised her three children — Chad and twins Jennifer and Jenalee — here and retired from early childhood special education, a job she loved, when Jenalee couldn’t find daycare.

“I took care of Stella and now she’s in the first grade,” Stenzel said. “I don’t regret retiring early to take care of her — it was so much joy.”

Anglers can fish without a license that weekend while teaching children to fish
Members Only
“Kids are still kids. They still want hugs, they still giggle, they still get their feelings hurt. They still tattle, they still want friends.”
Annual festival included a Saturday morning parade, expo at the courthouse square, quilt show and numerous other activities.

Stenzel’s husband, Krayton, continues to teach business and economics at Minnesota West Community & Technical College. It’s where the two met. They married in September 1989.

At the time, she was working at Campbell Soup Co.


“I started at Campbell’s Soup a day after my 16th birthday, boning chickens,” Stenzel said. “I believe I was there for 14 years. I got into labeling and then moved into quality control.”

She left Campbell’s Soup about six months after she was married and began working in the classified advertising department at the Worthington Daily Globe. Then, three years later, she accepted a job as a substitute paraprofessional in District 518. That job ultimately led to her work in early childhood special education.

In retirement, and aside from picking up garbage, Stenzel keeps busy. She loves to read, go camping, ride bicycle and bake. During the winter, she’d walk 4.5 miles per day on her treadmill. A fall last November, however, has put an end to her walking.

Stenzel recently learned she has a chronic torn ligament and tendinitis in her foot. At this point, she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to return to her walking route anytime soon.

And so, Stenzel has a request for this community she calls home.

“Even if everyone would go out and pick up just in front of their property, this town would look so much nicer,” she said. “Even businesses. You go by (businesses and parking lots) and there’s a lot of trash.”

Who knows, you might just find some money — or something you can’t believe was tossed from a car window.

Read more from Julie Buntjer:
“The focus of the course was on oral storytelling and the rich tradition oral storytelling has, specifically in Ireland,” instructor Kent Dahlman shared.
WORTHINGTON — After hearing numerous times from individuals concerned about their inability to pay for a loved one’s care at the Sunset Hospice Cottage in Worthington, the board of directors worked tirelessly to establish an endowment. It became a reality four years ago, and now, anyone in need of end-of-life care can become a resident of the cottage, regardless of financial ability.
“I think it would be wise for all of our local governments to come up with a moratorium until we have more information from OCM,” Sanow added.
Members Only
“I thought this would be one of the best opportunities to help the city, whether in supporting our members or bringing in new members and somehow attracting new business to town,” Salinas said.
In October 1872, the family bought oxen, a covered wagon and all of the supplies to fill it and headed west with a group of Danes.
“Laura and I pretty much grew up on the farm,” shared Sarah. “Grandma was our day care. Grandpa helped more with Laura, but he had a stroke before I was born.”
The news of a match came last week, mere months after more than a dozen Nobles County residents formed the Worthington Welcome Corps sponsor group.
89 Minnesota farms are being recognized as Century Farms in 2023, while 43 families are being honored as Sesquicentennial Farm owners.
Members Only
Lodge traffic, timing of dust control draw ire from Paul Langseth's brother and his family.
Wieneke sought to construct a machine shed closer to a county road, while Middagh asked to construct a home addition closer to a county road.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
What To Read Next
Get Local