A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

People of NKY: Sheila Fields made history in Nevada, now devotes her talents to Cov’s waste management

By Ginger Dawson
NKyTribune reporter

Sheila Fields

Let’s start this off right at the very beginning.
It was 12:02 a.m., January first, 1970. Like every hospital in the world waiting for its newest arrival in the delivery room, the one in Boulder City, Nevada (right outside of Las Vegas) looked forward to the publicity that would result from their fortune in winning the distinction of delivering the first-born baby — not only of the year, but of the entire decade for the state of Nevada.

It was a big moment and everybody was waiting. Sally, the lucky baby’s mother, had been toying with the idea of naming the new baby Strawberry. The family surname was Fields. Hence, the little girl would be named after a Beatles song, “Strawberry Fields.” It was a fun idea, and clearly in keeping with the times.

The news media, of course, wanted the story of this annual event, and all of the attention and hoopla surrounding the birth made Sally a little uncomfortable with her name choice. She ultimately decided on Sheila, after her sister. Any possible issues with a name so particularly linked with such a notable era would not end up being a sticking point, whatever it might be,  to the little girl.

There are plenty of people walking around who have names that would indicate that they are the children of hippies. Moon Unit Zappa comes to mind. Not that that’s a bad thing, but how would that work in a corporate board room? You just never know how the future is going to play out, or what the kid is going to end up doing in life.

So, Sheila Fields was the first new person to join the state of Nevada that year.

A favorite selfie. Old school.

Nevada, even though Sheila was born there, was a relatively temporary location for her. 

Her family had deep roots in Northern Kentucky. The trip to Nevada was a result of Sheila’s paternal grandfather’s vocation. He had been in the gambling business back in the day when Newport was “Sin City”, with its casinos and “gentlemen’s” clubs.  

When Newport’s infamous run ended, the casino business moved to Las Vegas. Sheila’s grandfather went there to follow the money, and her father followed it, too.  

After a short time, Sally, Sheila, and brother Bobby returned to Northern Kentucky. It was time to come home and leave difficulties behind. They settled in Park Hills.

Shortly thereafter, luck revisited. Sally met Stuart Hochman in 1973. It was kismet and they have been together ever since. Sally, Stuart, Sheila and Bobby became a family.

In 1975, they moved to Morning View, Kentucky. Sally had found them a dream home. It was a cabin situated on a finger of land on a lake.

Sheila and her crew at a River Sweep event with Keep Covington Beautiful. (Photo courtesy of KCB)

For Sheila, it was the best possible kind of childhood. There was plenty of area to explore and the solitary connection with nature was a powerful thing to her. Sheila has fond memories of laying in bed at night falling asleep to a serenade of frogs and crickets.  

Sheila grew up out there in the country, and like many rural kids, she developed a very independent, self-sufficient streak.  

Sheila Fields can take care of herself.  

After graduating from Simon Kenton High School in Independence, she went off to college. Her first year was spent at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. She came back home the next year and continued on at Northern Kentucky University, where she divided her time between school and work.  

Sheila has always worked. Babysitting when she was a kid was just the beginning.  

Another job that she really liked was working for her Aunt Sheila, her namesake, who owned Wasser’s Florist, a long-running business in Covington’s Mainstrasse Village. Sheila loved working with all of the flowers. She thought it was the best possible kind of job.

She worked there from the time she was 12 to 21 years of age. When Aunt Sheila was ready to hang up her pruning shears, she offered to give Niece Sheila the business.

Yep, that’s Sheila. She’s ALL IN. (Photo by Caitlin Sparks)

Being only 21 years old at the time, Sheila didn’t think she was ready to commit to a particular direction just yet (she was in college by this time), so she turned it down.

Sheila continued to work a catering job, among others, and continued on with school. 

By age 29, she graduated from NKU with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and a minor in Business Administration. She had paid for all of it.

In 2003, after a couple of jobs in line with her degrees, Sheila accepted a position as a case manager at Kenton County Child Support. She found that she really enjoyed helping people find parity, legally and financially, in their very emotional difficulties with irresponsible parenting situations.

On that front, Sheila liked the work.  However, the long hours, emotional commitment and low pay pushed her to look elsewhere.  She never forgot how much she really enjoyed helping people and how it made her feel when she accomplished a good solution.

Seven or eight years as a paralegal for Rosenfeld and Associates, a Cincinnati law firm, paid better, but it wasn’t the answer either.

She was behind a computer screen all day. The sedentary posture was hard on her physically and she sought to counter the affects by exercise.  

Walking, running, strength training and Pilates helped with the physical toll, but there was still something else missing. 

With the luckiest toad in Covington about to find his new home.

She remembered what a great feeling helping people at Kenton County Child Support gave her, so she decided to venture out into volunteer work. 

Noticing the amount of trash and garbage that seemed to always be on the sidewalk outside of her apartment building, she did a little research and discovered the Adopt-A-Spot program implemented by the organization, Keep Covington Beautiful.   

She wandered into the Center for Great Neighborhoods (a Covington civic organization) to find out about it. Adopt-A-Spot is a program that lets an individual sign up to keep a specific area clean. You can commit to a particular block, parking lot or whatever area you like.  

There happened to be a meeting of KCB going on at the time Sheila was there, so she joined it.

She was hooked. The more she found out about it, the more engaged she became.

She showed up for every event that Keep Covington Beautiful held and got to know a lot of people. 

One, in particular, was John Coulter, the Solid Waste Coordinator for the City of Covington.  

John, one day, announced that he was moving on career-wise.  

Sheila, having decided that she was dedicated to cleaning up Covington, seized the opportunity and told John that she was applying for his job.  

He thought this was an excellent idea and wrote Sheila a glowing recommendation.

In 2013, Sheila became the Solid Waste Coordinator for the City of Covington. As you might imagine, she has transformed that position.  

Her dedication to her job is absolute. And, she is a division of one. Yep, that’s right, Sheila takes care of the entire city by herself with two seasonal employees and their supervisor.

Proof. She can blow the biggest bubble you’ve ever seen. I dare you to try.

When faced with a challenge, this is Sheila’s first response — “Don’t tell me this can’t be done!”

Have you noticed that every garbage can in Covington is numbered?  Sheila gave every single one an account number and compiled a database of them and the addresses they belong to. She knows where every single one is.  

Because she is willing to do whatever it takes, grunt work as well as paperwork, she inspires the people around her. As a result, she can depend on the volunteers of Keep Covington Beautiful as a dependable, second-tier workforce.

I can attest, personally, that if you have a trash issue, Sheila Fields will take care of it. It just takes a phone call.

It’s not always all about work, however.

When I asked Sheila if she had any unusual talents, she reported that she can blow a bubble gum bubble bigger than just about anybody. This is a skill that she learned from her mother and she did not divulge the secret. I tried.

One favorite memory was when she rescued a toad from a tree stump in downtown Covington at the corner of Third and Greenup. How on earth that little critter got there without being squashed is one of nature’s mysteries.  

First Sheila was going to just take it down to the river but decided on Xanadu instead. The toad went on a journey to Sheila’s parent’s house and was delivered to a beautiful stone pool and fountain in a wooded setting.

It took Sheila back to her childhood on the lake in Morning View. Her toad deserved as much.

The City of Covington is very fortunate to have a public servant like Sheila Fields. Her old-school dedication and enthusiasm is something to learn from.

Now, here’s a question — How would it be to have a Solid Waste Coordinator by the name of Strawberry Fields?  It’s hard to say. I think Sally made a good decision.

Ginger Dawson writes about the People of NKY — the neighbors you need to know and people you need to meet and understand. The feature appears periodically at the NKyTribune. If you have ideas for subjects please share them with Ginger at ginger@fuse.net.

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  1. Sally Hochman says:

    Ginger, I’m so grateful that you took notice of Sheila and all her hard work and dedication. I loved your article it made me smile with pride. Keep writing you are great at it.

  2. ruth bamberger says:

    I was so fortunate to work with Sheila to get recycling started in Ludlow. Never have I seen someone as passionate as she about trash and where it goes! It took a team of us 8 years to get curbside recycling service for everyone in town, and Sheila played a big part of that effort. I was sorry to lose her to Covington, but proud that she is leading the effort there to educate and advocate for residents and businesses to reduce and recycle solid waste at a time when trash has become an overwhelming challenge in our throwaway culture.

    • Ginger says:

      There was so much to write about! Sheila did say that she was very proud of this accomplishment and her work with you. I’m sorry I ran out of room to put it in the article.

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