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City Sanitary is “All in the family” by Gail Deboer/ Pilot Independent

Quick quiz: name a local business that’s essential to the health and well-being of the community but also can be easily taken for granted.

While many businesses might come to mind, one that everyone would agree on is the local garbage collection service.

Admit it, folks. If the trash doesn’t get collected, life gets a lot messier — and smellier!


In the Leech Lake area, that vital function has been provided for the past 37 years by City Sanitary Service (CSS), owned by the Ihrke family.

In 1984, Ken and Kathy Ihrke, parents of current owner, Dan, moved with their family to  Walker and purchased City Sanitary,  which then served homes and businesses in the Walker, Hackensack, Akeley and Laporte areas.

At age 20 Dan started working the garbage trucks, as did brother Chad at the tender age of 9, when he was just old enough and strong enough to lift the tops off garbage cans.

In 2001 Dan and his wife Michele purchased the business from Ken and Kathy, and Chad continued to work with his brother. In 2006 the Ihrkes purchased another garbage service from Larry and Deb LaVallee of Longville.

City Sanitary has now expanded its service routes into  the Guthrie, Lake George and Longville areas. If you’re one of their route customers, you probably recognize some of the seven employees who stop at your home or business.

Dan and Chad  Ihrke and Jason Perkins  have commercial driver’s licenses, so they drive the big rear-loading garbage trucks. Taylor Ihrke and Christy Ihrke drive the smaller satellite trucks, leaving Leah Haugen and Michele Ihrke as office staff. And yes, six of the seven employees are family members.

“We’re very fortunate with our employees,” Michele declares. “They endure the coldest days in winter and the hottest days in summer! Our employees are out there, giving it their all to provide the best service we can.”

Despite the weather, City Sanitary’s drivers navigate their trucks down unplowed back roads in the winter; through sweltering heat in the summer; and in downpours of rain year-round. Sometimes customers are miles apart from each other, requiring as much as a three-mile one way trip to provide service at just one stop.

In addition to truck pick-up, City Sanitary provides residential curbside trash collection, along with commercial service to many area businesses.

The “red bag” system is not unique to City Sanitary; many garbage services use similar systems, Michele says. But it is popular with households that don’t need weekly service because folks don’t live here full-time. Or maybe a household just doesn’t generate enough trash to justify weekly collection.

The first step is to call City Sanitary Service, provide your address, find out the collection day for your area and the nearest businesses that sell the huge pre-paid red bags.

Then early on the designated service day, bring the stuffed-full red bag out to the curb or roadside and  — voila! — a  CSS truck will arrive shortly to collect it.

One of CSS’ points of pride is that they know more than half of their customers personally.

“It means a great deal to us to have a connection with our communities,” says Michele, who refers to herself as “the Garbage Lady.”

City Sanitary donates service to many community-supported events such as July 4 celebrations, Laporte Days, Akeley’s Paul Bunyan Days, Walker Bay Day and Ethnic Fest, to name a few.  It also donates garbage service to the Walker Area community Center.

To contact City Sanitary Service, call 547-3633 Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.



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