Meet a 5S Golden Shoveller: Paula Zeller

Paula Zeller
Senior Plant Operator, CWEA Past President
5S 1999

I got my shovel when we had mammoths and saber-toothed tigers in the treatment plant.

The ceremony was conducted by guys who worked with pterodactyls and spinosaurus.

I had done some behind-the-scenes stuff for SARBS, the biggest local section in CWPCA [now CWEA], like:

  • Writing articles under a pseudonym “Lil’ Graceful Amoeba” for the SARBS Newsletter known as “The Bottomline”
  • Helping when WPCF [now WEF] came to Anaheim for it’sAnnual Conference and Exhibition (Coordinated the spouses’ program)
  • Doing activities related to different positions on the SARBS board including Director, Secretary, Treasurer, Vice President and eventually President
  • Participating as a member of a couple state committees like the Operator Training and Super Group (covered supervision staff) and the Industrial and Hazardous Waste [now known as P3S]
  • Helped review and interview award nominees for Supervisor of the Year, Plant of the Year and even Safety Program.

The thing about the Secret Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovellers was the reference to “sludge.” There were even songs made using the term. It was cool to hear Joe Haworth carry on the tradition during the induction ceremony, like a grand poo-bah, with the flair of an evangelistic preacher. Bob “Father Guido” Barletta was no longer able to lead the services.

When I found out I was selected, I remember asking Yvonne Schwab (the first female SARBS President and the second female on the CWPCA board as Southern Regional Chair) what to expect. I was afraid I would mess up the emergency signal as I did not grow up with a toilet where the tank was suspended over one’s head.

However, I did get through the ceremony without falling off the stage and recognized for doing stuff other guys did without computers and automation {no protractors or slide-rulers needed}.

Later, I was concerned about accidentally forgetting my shovel and knowing certain people were watching [e.g. Mark Gingras and Jim Clark] –one used to have to pay the bar tab with whatever you had in your wallet.

Now-a-days, one must give to the Kirt Brooks Scholarship Fund if you forget any of your special pins or shovel.

John Morris used to have a sash that he could fasten his pins to –I wonder if he had a sword and hat to go with it?

I liked getting my shovel and being recognized by other CWEA volunteers for the effort to make ours a noble, respectable profession.

Sometimes one must move a lot of “biosolids” in order to grow a lot of roses…

PS—the names in this story were not changed because these people are not innocent, but guilty of having shovels too.


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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