Tisbury DPW employee Barbara Flanders hits the road

Barbara Flanders will be boarding the boat and heading south. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

For the past four years, Barbara Flanders brought her dazzling smile, can-do attitude, and seemingly boundless energy to her job as a Tisbury department of public works (DPW) employee. This week the DPW bids a fond — and reluctant — farewell to Ms. Flanders, who is moving to Florida.

Given her many roles in service to Tisbury, most town residents have probably crossed her path at some time. Since 2009 Ms. Flanders has helped keep Tisbury’s landfill operating at top efficiency, delivering gentle reminders about the rules with a smile to town customers as they drive up with vehicles laden with trash and recyclables. On weekends when she works the booth with a co-worker, if there is down time she takes on the added task of picking up trash along State Road and in West Chop, wheeling along a stroller to carry it.

When not at the landfill, Ms. Flanders might be flagging traffic at a road construction site, plowing snow, or hauling or picking something up in a town truck. She also puts up and takes down the American flags at Owen Park, Veterans Memorial Park, and Oak Grove cemetery on the weekends.

Although Ms. Flanders is usually on the move, she stopped by The Times office for an interview while off work on Labor Day last week. When asked what inspires her to take on extra duties, such as picking up roadside trash, and her strong work ethic, she said simply, “I care about the town.”

“I’m getting paid to be a town worker, and I’m not one to just sit down,” she added. “I like to see it look nice. It’s my environment, and I try to make it the best I can.”

“She does set the standards pretty high,” DPW director Fred LaPiana said of Ms. Flanders in a recent phone conversation with The Times. “We’re going to miss Barbara tremendously. She’s been a very strong member of our DPW team. It will be very difficult to replace her. But we understand that Florida has much better weather than we do.”

Town service in many roles

Many people may recall Ms. Flanders from her days as a Tisbury summer traffic officer in 2009. She earned the respect of visitors and Islanders alike by her ability to keep smiling and skillfully direct crazed motorists while standing in the middle of Five Corners.

“You never know what the day is going to bring you,” Ms. Flanders said, when asked how she kept her cheerful attitude. “And more often than not, if you smile, someone’s going to smile back at you.”

When her seasonal job ended, Mr. LaPiana hired Ms. Flanders as a full-time, part-time laborer. About six months later, she took a full-time laborer’s position that became available.

In 2010 Tisbury voters agreed to amend the town bylaws to allow civilian road flaggers from the DPW in place of police details on town construction projects. Ms. Flanders paid to take a state flagging course on her own, and when certified, asked Mr. LaPiana to assign her to some flagging jobs. She said she did remind him about her experience in handling Five Corners and boat traffic.

In order to do other jobs for the DPW, Ms. Flanders also sought a commercial driver’s license (CDL). She applied to work part-time a few nights a week as a driver for the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA), where she received training and obtained her license. Unfortunately, subsequent health problems and surgeries derailed her plans to work for the VTA.

Once she recovered, however, Ms. Flanders put her CDL to use driving town trucks, starting with snow-plowing. “It’s all in the mirrors,” she said with a shrug.

As the result of her additional skills, Ms. Flanders was the first to fill a new position Mr. LaPiana created, Laborer 2/CDL driver. On Mondays, she transports sludge from the town’s wastewater treatment facility off-Island in a town truck and oftentimes picks up materials the DPW needs on the return trip.

When asked what she liked best about working for DPW, Ms. Flanders said it was the variety of jobs that Mr. LaPiana let her do, and that she is grateful he gave her the opportunity.

Time to move on

In talking with Ms. Flanders, the saying, “Bloom where you’re planted,” comes to mind. She said some people question how she can tolerate working at the landfill, which isn’t exactly the town’s prettiest — or best smelling — place.

“Do you know how much beauty you can see at the landfill?” Ms. Flanders said is her response. “Believe it or not, there is so much nature to look at. Even when it gets dead and awful in the winter, I see hawks and tons of birds.”

Ms. Flanders also is someone who plants where she blooms. Last year in the fall she placed tulip bulbs around the landfill’s entrance to enjoy when they came up in the spring.

Although she has loved living on Martha’s Vineyard for the last 28 years, Ms. Flanders said she feels it is time for her to move on to seek other opportunities and meet new people. Her decision to move to Florida was inspired by a visit with an old friend from grade school last month, who lives in Osprey. Ms. Flanders liked the area, so she decided to check into places to rent. She found one in the nearby town of Sarasota. She said she plans to look for a job that involves customer relations and being outdoors after she arrives there mid-month.

Ms. Flanders said it will be very difficult to leave her sons, Josh, 24, and David, 22, as well as her many friends on the Island, but she looks forward to having them visit her in Florida.

“These last few years working for the town of Tisbury have given me many opportunities to meet so many wonderful people I never would have known,” Ms. Flanders said. “I’ve been blessed.”

In addition to Mr. LaPiana and her fellow DPW employees, she added, “I’m thankful to everyone at the landfill, all the customers that come up. You never know who you’re going to meet. I’ve met so many neat people, and they have so many stories. I’ll miss them.”