We arrived in Eskridge, Kansas on the Maisie DeVore Highway. It said so right on the big green road sign outside of town.
We were on a tour of rural Kansas with friends from Topeka and were prepared to roll right through Eskridge without stopping. It wouldn’t have taken long; the town’s population is about 500. But the decision was made that we should see “Maisie’s Pool,” a few blocks off the main drag.
It would be easy to miss the amazing story here. The facility looks like any other community pool, but the forty year effort behind it is unique and inspiring.
90-year-old Maisie answered the door when we knocked at her house across the street from the pool. She told us how, in the 1970s, she was disappointed that her young children had few options for summer recreation in Eskridge. The town’s baseball league didn’t interest her daughter and the closest swimming pool at the time was in Topeka, more than an hour’s drive away.
Maisie decided Eskridge should have its own pool, though neither she nor the town had the money to build one. That didn’t stop her. She set about raising funds by walking the local highways each evening collecting aluminum cans. The first pound of cans she sold earned her a nickel. Some might have been discouraged. Maisie was five cents closer to her goal, and just getting started.
For decades, Maisie kept walking, kept collecting, crushing and selling cans. She became a local celebrity and generations of the town’s children joined her cause, walking the highways, picking up cans. But the savings account grew slowly and the pool existed only in her aspirations as Maisie watched her children — and her grandchildren — grow up.
Nearly thirty years after she started, Maisie had raised $73,000. Still not nearly enough to build a pool, but her cause had become a phenomenon. The state of Kansas wrote a matching check that doubled the savings account, and private donors, including actress Glenn Close, added thousands more. In July of 2001, when Maisie was 83, the pool opened. A dream inspired by her children was realized just in time to be enjoyed by her great-grandchildren.
When we knocked on her door, Maisie’s pool was in its eighth summer, the local highway had just been renamed in her honor, she was soon to turn 91, and she was still collecting cans. Now, the proceeds fund the pool’s upkeep. Dreams realized have a way of demanding just as much work as it took to make them come true.
Maisie doesn’t walk the roads as much anymore. Supporters save cans for her at their homes. Once a month she makes her rounds behind the wheel of her Buick, filling her trunk and seats so full of cans that she often has to make two trips to get them all.
In this video story, Maisie explains how she did it. But her secret may lie not in what she says, but how she says it. Always with a smile, a laugh and the seemingly boundless optimism that did the impossible, one aluminum can at a time.