The Hippo


May 26, 2020








Helaine Hughes. Courtesy Photo.

 What are you into right now?

Lately I’ve been growing dahlias. I’ve got a couple of dinnerplate dahlias, and they’re just so huge and beautiful. And I love the fact you can dig them up and put them in a bag in the basement for the winter and they won’t die.

Helaine Hughes
Poison Ivy Remover


 Can you explain what your current job is?

Our job is to remove poison ivy. We take out the roots and the plant material, put it in a bag and take it away. The dead plant material [in the soil] can still give you a rash for three to five years. I’d rather take the whole plant away. We go all over the place. … We have a huge area, and where we go each week really depends. For example, last week, we were in Eliot, Maine; Amherst, Stratham, Brentwood, Mont Vernon and Bedford [New Hampshire]; and Concord, Wilmington and Lexington, Mass.

How long have you worked there?
I’ve been doing this for about 16 years and started the company in 2003 with my mom. 
How did you get interested in this field?
My family and I always watched out for poison ivy and knew how to remove it. My dad once brought home pheasants, and we cleaned out poison ivy behind our shed so we could build them a cage. … In 2003, I was working as a housekeeper for a family in Mass., and I cleared out poison ivy they had on a stone wall at their house. The owner said, “You should get paid to do that,” and she became my first customer.
What kind of education or training did you need for this job?
I worked in a clean room environment at BASF Corporation in Bedford, Mass. They made floppy disks, and to avoid contamination, we had to wear white cotton gloves and go through a wind tunnel and cleaning room. … I also worked as a housekeeper in the intensive care unit at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. If someone had an infectious disease, we had to be really careful about cleaning the rooms. … This helped me learn how careful you have to be. With poison ivy, you can’t see it or smell it or feel it. … If you touch it and touch something else, someone else could get the rash and not know where it came from. 
How did you find your current job?
Once I left BASF, I decided to move up to New Hampshire from Mass. to get further away from all the people. I initially lived in Wilton and then bought a house in Greenfield. It’s just a nice little town, and I’m glad I’m here. 
What’s the best piece of work-related advice anyone’s ever given you?
I can’t think of anything. I kind of made it all up on my own. I really started the company from the ground up, and each year I learn better ways of doing things, and my employees come up with great ideas too. 
What do you wish you’d known at the beginning of your career?
I wish I’d known a little bit more about how to move a small business to a medium-sized business, because that’s where we’re going right now. The biggest thing I battled when I started is no one knew there was someone out there that did this job. I drove around with signs on my vehicle and always stopped to talk with people and answer their questions.
What is your typical at-work uniform?
We wear hazmat suits and gloves. We tape the gloves around the wrists so that the hazmat suit doesn’t come up and gloves don’t go down. 
What was the first job you ever had?
I worked in a doughnut shop in West Concord, Mass.
 — Scott Murphy 

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