CWEA’s Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers: Some History, a Few Traditions, and a Little Folklore

By Dr. Nicholas Pinhey and Joe Haworth, pH7 (Retired)

The CWEA History Committee produces articles about the people, programs and plants that are significant to the history of our Association. In this edition of Clean Water, we will highlight one of CWEA’s most popular and visible awards – the California Chapter of the Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers (CWEA 5-S).

The Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers (5-S) – A Little History

The recent adoption of the new California’s “5-S Bear Shovel” prompted a look at the history of CWEA’s 5-S program, and the key questions of how and when did CWEA’s Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers start? But before answering the questions about the CWEA’s 5-S program, a quick review of the origins of the 5-S is in order.

According to the Water Environment Federation (WEF), there is disagreement as to exactly to where and when the 5-S was created. Depending on what source you use, either the Pennsylvania Sewage Works Association started the 5-S in 1937, or the Arizona Water and Sewer Association (AW&SA) started the 5-S in October 1940.

When the Pennsylvania Sewage Works Association (PSWA) started its “High Hat Society” in 1937, it used the words “Sludge Shovelers Society” in its initiation ceremony. The High Hat Society later became known as the “Ted Moses Sludge Shovelers Society.” During the initiation ceremony, candidates were required to recite the words “Sludge Shovelers Society” three times and were given a silver tie-bar shovel with the words ‘Ted Moses Sludge Shovelers Society” on it. This award was presented to PSWA members to recognize “outstanding service in the sewerage profession.”

The Arizona Association documents its 5-S history from October, 1940, when the idea was conceived by A.W. (Dusty) Miller and F. Carlyle Roberts, Jr. “to recognize the fact that many members do not receive the coveted Bedell Award, the Fuller Award (of AWWA) or become an Arizona Association president, but nevertheless contribute in some outstanding measure”.
Per Art Vondrick, the Arizona Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers was originated to encourage member involvement and recognize “outstanding meritorious service above and beyond the call of duty” to the AW&SA. The Arizona 5-S originated the basic initiation ceremony, 5-S certificate and golden shovel tie-clasp familiar to all CWEA members.

Founding of California 5-S CSIWA Annual Conference, Riverside, April 29 1995

Founding of the California Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers

The California 5-S chapter was founded on April 29, 1955 at the California Sewage and Industrial Wastes Association (CSIWA) Annual Conference in Riverside California. Interestingly none of the CSIWA newsletters or the 1955 Annual Conference programs mention the 5-S installation. The first mention of the founding of the California 5-S was in the June 1955 CSIWA Newsletter and it tells us that A.W. “Dusty” Miller came over from Arizona to inaugurate the California 5-S and induct its first members. Fortunately, CSIWA Board Member Rod Antrim (and assistant newsletter editor), reported on the 1958 5-S induction and gave us a little more information on the early years of the California 5-S. Rod Antrim alternated presiding 5-S “Chief Influent Integrator, pH7” duties with CSIWA Past President Alvin Appel during the first years of the California 5-S, thus Rod’s brief article on the 1958 5-S ceremony.

As is the case with many of our early Association journals and newsletters, photographs of Association events are scarce. The first photograph of a California 5-S induction was of the 1958 CSIWA event, published with Rod Antrim’s April 1958 article, and it shows the inductees holding large gold shovels during the induction. Subsequent photos from 1962 and 1963 give a glimpse of the first California Water Pollution Control Association (CWPCA) 5-S inductions with Rod Antrim and Past-President Appel presiding as Chief Influent Integrator pH7. And so the 5-S induction ceremonies continued with Bill Polanshek taking over as Chief Influent Integrator pH7 sometime in the late 1960’s.

April 1958 5-S Report

Earliest Photo of the California 5-S Installation
CISWA Annual Conference, Stockton, April 1958

California 5-S Initiation
CWPCA Annual Conference, Sacramento, April 1962

California 5-S Inductees, Including Future “Super Shoveler” Bill Polanshek
CWPCA Annual Conference, Santa Barbara, April 1963

 Bill Polanshek Presiding at the 1976 5-S Induction Ceremony (with Joe Haworth in the Line Up)

Past “Chief Influent Integrator pH7” Joe Haworth Reflects on the California 5-S

The 5-S leadership has always been full of character… and characters. Some of that comes from its being an honorary society founded and relying on the service and integrity of its members. But it also has to be fun, as in the wonderful quote from Tom Peters, management guru, “Don’t take yourself too seriously, or no one else will.”

“I knew some of the old guard and they all had wisdom and humor”. Guys like Gordon “Gordy” Magnuson, Harry Tow, Elmer Ross, Paul Hennessey, Dave Jenkins and P. H. McGauhey (and he was a poet, to boot)”, notes Joe Haworth (5-S class of ’75).

The 5-S “Chief Influent Integrator pH7”, or leader, presiding into the 1970’s was Bill Polanshek (5-S class of ’63) who was a character with a very dry sense of humor, but he was good at playing, well… Bill Polanshek. And he always did it with “Dignity”, a Shoveller’s byword. Bill was very clever at getting the new Shovellers-to-be to the installation banquet unaware of their pending inauguration. Very tricky, that Bill. He was the first of only two to ever be awarded the “Super Shoveller” moniker. You guessed it – the award was a full-sized gold shovel with a beautiful gold plaque.

His successor in the late ’70’s was the unforgettable Bob Barletta (5-S class of ‘56) who ran the show until 1996 and boy, what a show! His persona as he led the installations evolved over the years as he morphed into his alter-ego, a small friar-like figure (Bob was the first to tell you he was “vertically challenged”). His adopted name was “Father Guido Sludgio”. It was sort of modeled after humorist Don Novello’s Father Guido Sarducci of late-night TV talk show fame. Barletta’s outfit was a genuine friar’s brown cowl and robes with a classic flat wide-brimmed hat; think Friar Tuck. He also wore and impish grin, like he knew this affair was bound to go wrong.

Bob Barletta and Co-Conspirator (Past President) Bill “Soapy” Clark
(Bill is holding a sign reading “Old Age and Treachery Will Overcome Youth & Skill)

Bob, er Guido, would begin by making some cogent, albeit nonsensical, remarks while his post-dinner Banquet audience calmed down. Good California wine always seems to have oiled their humor. Father Guido would then call upon his “acolytes” (Fran Forkas, Bill “Soapy” Clarke, Kirt Brooks, et al) to sally forth and assist in the “Solemn Proceedings”. The venerable friar would begin to call the names of the Shovellers-to-be (called “neophytes”), often with comments. With great pomp and circumstance, the acolytes would assist the surprised neophytes to their places in a “chorus line”. With over-inflated dignity, Father G. would begin the “secret” Shoveller installation ceremony. In his words, the neophytes “were to be elevated on the official shovel to the highest ridge of the sludge beds” and, through this ancient and venerable ritual, they were imbued with “all the honor, atmosphere, perquisites and dignity appertaining thereunto”. As the certificates of membership, the golden shovel pins, children’s sandbox shovels and buckets were handed out, the neophytes inability to handle all this clutter became clear as stuff began to hit the floor. The good friar, unruffled, would instruct all Shovellers on stage and in the audience to stand and demonstrate, on command, the use of the toy shovels to empty the sand buckets of “imaginary” sludge and toss it over their left/right shoulders. The chorus line obeyed and more stuff hit the floor. The patient friar repeated the ritual toss instructions until perfection was achieved. He then petitioned all present to “Welcome your new Shovellers!” Midst tears and joy, the trapped audience went crazy with applause, the end was in sight.

Cardboard Figure of Bob Barletta in his “Father Guido” Attire

What do all these Shovellers do, you ask? Well, look at the list of Shovellers online (https://cweaawards.secure-platform.com/a/page/5S-Past). You will see that they are at the heart of the CWEA and the 17 local sections. They do a lot of the heavy lifting for the conferences, training, local section and CWEA leadership. They are line maintenance people, operators, supervisors, and managers.

In 1996, Bob Barletta retires to great fanfare and is presented with a “Super Shoveller” gold shovel with gold plaque. He “anoints” Joe Haworth as his successor. Joe bravely claims he has a simple plan: more Shovellers and more women. CWEA has seventeen sections and most of the early period 5-S classes numbered five to ten new Shovellers annually. Some sections weren’t nominating anyone. Joe wanted to change that. He encouraged the sections to have nomination coordinators. They did. Joe created a process that had a 5-S Selection Committee of three members from the North and three from the South. Each member ranked their nominees in order from one to whatever. That is a tough job! Don’t try that at home! The rankings were combined mathematically, and a final ranking came out. Joe set it up but chose not to have a vote. Amazingly, there was always an obvious “break point” – a numerical gap that showed up around #15 to #18. Voila! The Shovellers classes got larger, naturally.

Joe also emphasized the nomination of the “worker bees” at all levels. Women were pouring into the professions and joining the local sections and working their way up in section and Association leadership. Voila! More women. There were some real champs, too, who were to later become CWEA officers and Presidents! Q.E.D.
Joe always warned people he was as goofy as Barletta. It took him a couple of years, but his alter-ego finally surfaced. General Colin Ectomy arrived on the scene in field camouflage attire (a la General Colin Powell). He was different than Powell, though. His personality was modeled after Foghorn Leghorn, a giant cartoon rooster right out of Looney Tunes. Ectomy was noisy, bombastic and a little threatening. He also had “a couple of loose wires.” As reported in the CWEA Bulletin, General Colin Ectomy “held the (CWEA) banqueteers hostage while he ranted and raved about poop perplexing the public.” After lecturing the attendees on his observations about Freud, mothers, babies, diapers, and the public’s perception of poop, the General calmed down and ”took on all the appearances of Joe Haworth, whom he mimicked quite precisely all the way through the Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers induction ceremony.”

Joe Haworth as General Ectomy Presiding at the 2001 5-S Ceremony

Haworth says he never had so much fun in his life “except maybe getting to be the announcer at the Operations Challenge”. His dad, Joe Haworth, was an actor (see imdb.com) and Joe Jr. never met a microphone he didn’t like. He retired in 2006, naming Mike Hogan and Chuck Weir as his successors.

Now admit it. “Hogan and Weir” sounds like a sports talk radio show. They knew how to do silly stuff, too. As a starter, Chuck is a little fixated on SpongeBob SquarePants. They added a great new wrinkle to the 5-S installation. PowerPoint! They would describe a neophyte’s background/bio with CWEA emphasis before announcing the name. Great Theater! What a wonderful salute to these people’s work and it built in a little suspense. The actual Induction was from the familiar script, toy buckets, shovels, and all. The event had been moved to the Annual Conference’s Opening Luncheon (and in later years to the Conference Ice Breaker) so the new Shovellers would have the rest of the conference to parade around in their new shovels. Their regime held sway for nearly four years. Mike and Chuck bequeathed their “Shoveller-ship” to co-chairs Maura Bonnarens and Steve Agor in 2009 and this started the rotation of the “Presiding Shovellers” to succeeding CWEA Past-Presidents.

So, there is the Official History of our Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovellers and their quaint ceremony. Salute them when you see them (the General would be proud). Their gold shovels or that new Bear pin are clamped to that area just above their heart. They have served you well.

And, oh yes, keep those 5-S nominations coming in!


iHistory of the Water Pollution Control Federation 1928-1977, Water Pollution Control Federation, Washington D.C., 1977, p. 277.
iiHistory of the Water Pollution Control Federation 1928-1977, Water Pollution Control Federation, Washington D.C., 1977, p. 276.
iiiHistory of the Water Pollution Control Federation 1928-1977, Water Pollution Control Federation, Washington D.C., 1977, p. 278.
ivNote: Chief Influent Integrator pH7 Joe prefers to use two l’s for “Shoveller” to elevate the title to its highest ridge on the sludge bed.
vBanquet Terrorized by Renegade General, CWEA Bulletin, Summer 2001, p. 68.


Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers  (5S Society) recognizes individuals active in protecting the water environment through participation in Local, State, and/or Federal sponsored activities. Nominations are being accepted through Feb. 1, 2020. Please consider nominating your peers who have or are contributing to the advancement of the wastewater profession.  This is not a self-nominating award.  Your peers count on you to recognize their achievements and nominate them. Nominate your peers today.

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