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May 14, 2014

MOSS: Sodrels keep Trash Force going into their 80s

— Mary Ann and Don Sodrel seemed stumped by my curiosity.  Do they ever say no to being helpful?

Have they ever?

He responded at first with nothing beyond a sustained “uh.” She said she couldn’t recall, then followed with “not lately.”

“I did,” Don Sodrel said, jumping back into our conversation in the couple’s living room in New Albany. “Several years ago — my plate was too full.”

Both have reached their 80s. Both indeed have done way more than their parts as good people. Yet both go on and on, constantly busy, at the moment devotedly tying up loose ends for the Save Our Earth Festival this Saturday on the New Albany riverfront. Trash Force leads this effort and the Sodrels lead that group.

He is president, she is treasurer and hotline answerer and both, more than anyone, keep Trash Force as much of a force as possible. If it struggles to matter enough to many others, the group continues to matter mightily to the Sodrels.

“I can’t say anything more than that — I love it,” she said. “I still believe in its mission.”

“There still is a need for education,” he said.

Into its third decade, Trash Force urges recycling and all-in-all nice treatment of Mother Earth. The groups counts but 50 or so dues-paying members, though it mails 500 seasonal newsletters. Impressive momentum the group claimed — before county government provided recycling — is long gone. It fails to fill all its board slots. There’s no strife, just little consistent spark. If the Sodrels conclude it time Trash Force become history, who could argue?

Who would argue?

Who is eager to take it over? How many of us commit to citizenship like have the Sodrels?

“They’re missing a big part of their lives,” Don Sodrel said of those who do customarily say no.

“You get to know a lot of people,” Mary Ann Sodrel said.

The Sodrels are New Albany natives who have known each other almost all their lives. They married 56 years ago, spent decades away while he served as an officer in the U.S. Navy. When they returned home from California in 1980, they started their streak of stepping up.  

He joined the boards of the former Hospice of Southern Indiana and Interfaith Community Council plus took on whatever Rotary asked of him, including being its district governor. For Rotary, Don Sodrel traveled more than he had in the Navy and he enjoyed every mile.

“My philosophy is not to sit around and do nothing,” he said.

When a Boys and Girls Club opened in New Albany, he sat on its board as well and stayed for 25 years. He chairs a memorial fund on behalf of New Albany High alums.   

Mary Ann Sodrel opted for membership in a community-education group that surveyed the public and founds lots of love for recycling. Trash Force spun out of that response. A drop-off recycling site prospered, tons diverted from the landfill. Trash Force turned trash to cash.

“It got so busy we had to hire employees,” she said.

Mary Ann Sodrel agreed to care for the funds, a job she earnestly continues about a quarter-century later.

Both helped Lifespan Resources establish its heartwarmingly popular Senior Games are sit on a Lifespan advocacy committee for seniors.

Both also remain choir members and all around pillars in their church, St. Paul’s Episcopal, in New Albany, He is senior warden, the top-level lay leader. She represents her church manage an Episcopalian fund for worthy not-for-profit organizations.

“We gave $30,000 last year,” Mary Ann Sodrel said. “I want it to be more.”

Not everything the Sodrels have done for everybody is listed here. But though Don Sodrel battles back from a broken hip, he figures his duty is not done. His wife likewise likes feeling useful as much as ever.

They choose not to point fingers at those who do not rush to their sides for Trash Force or for much of anything. The Sodrel made their choice and will keep saying yes.

“We have an obligation to help those who need help,” Don Sodrel said.

“You get more out of volunteerism than you put into it,” Mary Ann Sodrel said.

— Send column ideas to dale.moss@twc.com

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