Making a splash


Maisie DeVore collected more than six million cans to recycle, which helped pay for a community pool in Eskridge, Kan. 

CBS News

It was the biggest day of Maisie DeVore's life. The high school band, and her little hometown of Eskridge, Kansas, was honoring this 82-year-old's one-woman crusade. And even those who once called her "Crazy Maisie" were there to open the town's new swimming pool. It was DeVore's 30-year-long dream.

During the ceremony, a representative spoke to the crowd. "Maisie hasn't seen this sign, so we'd like to show it to her right now," she said. "It says Maisie's community swimming pool, made possible by Maisie DeVore. Dedicated today."

Thirty years may seem a long time to wait for construction of a pool but DeVore said she knew it could be done. "It just took a lot longer," she laughed.

It was the kids in Eskridge who inspired devotee's drive.

"This is all they got, is a ball program. That's the only thing they got for kids," explained DeVore. "And every kid isn't ball minded. They don't want to play ball. But there are not that many that don't like to swim."

And so it began. The day Maisie DeVore discovered there was cash in aluminum cans, she launched her mission to start saving for a pool. If she wasn't combing the town streets for cans, she and her rickety old pickup were scouring every back road in the county — rain or shine. Every trash bin was on her radar. And farmers, like Peggy Miller, gave her cans.

"You can't keep her down. She's always doing something," said Miller. "She's a woman that's well … she's raised four kids and been through two husbands."

Miller explained with pride that DeVore is a determined hard-working countrywoman. But the harder DeVore worked over the years, the more her daughter Marilyn worried.

"It just kept on and on and some days she'll come here for lunch," said Marilyn. "And she's so exhausted she can hardly eat and then, 'No I gotta go, and we gotta mush more cans.'"

DeVore's children tried to discourage her from picking up cans. She said that Marilyn told her that she was never going to get the swimming pool and she should quit. And when they celebrated her 80th birthday, Marilyn insisted that her mom quit.

For some people, it was sad seeing a woman chasing what they saw as a hopeless dream.

"They always made fun of me in Eskridge, but I don't care," recalls DeVore.

Ladeen Allen married DeVore's grandson and was as skeptical as everybody else.

"I can remember when Rod and I first started dating, that was probably about 10 or 11 years ago, and he told me about his grandma," said Allen. "I never came right out and told her I thought she was nuts, but I said 'You know Maisie, are you gonna be okay with this if it doesn't happen?'"

Her grandmother-in-law's only reply was that it would happen.

"I'm not a person that gets downbeat very often. You can let anything get you down if you want to," said DeVore. "I think it's just your own attitude. You think you can do it, usually one way or another you can get it done, and if you can't do it, you won't do it."

DeVore describes herself as stubborn, an attitude that enabled her to reach her dream. She said she never had things easy when she was a child. She learned her hard work helped her achieve her goals.

The bank account of DeVore's gives an idea of how can-by-can, the nickels, dimes and dollars added up. The total was more than six million cans collected — 90 tons' worth. That added up to $83,000 in the bank.

And on the days she wasn't collecting or shipping another load to the recycling center, DeVore crocheted afghans to raffle off. She collected and sold scrap metal. The inventive woman even poked through bushes and picked wild berries to sell as homemade jams and jellies. All these helped the pool fund to grow bigger. "Every hundred dollars helps," she said. 

After raising a total of $100,000 and the state of Kansas added a $73,000 grant, the pool's construction finally began before DeVore's eyes. It was built across the street from her own home. 

Her dream came to life.

"I just really couldn't comprehend that it actually was gonna come to pass," said DeVore. "Even though you thought it was, it still gives you a funny feeling."

Back at the ceremony for the opening of the pool and with nothing more to say, Maisie wanted to swim so that everybody else could join in.

"I'm glad that everybody did finally come around and support her," said Ladeen. "But, I think when we get over to that pool and get her in that pool, that's gonna be a big thing for her family and the rest of us."

But DeVore's most satisfying moments will come when she watches the kids swim and have fun.  "They said the noise will bother you," she said. "The noise won't bother me one bit. I don't care how much they holler."