The trunk of her shiny, silver Lincoln Town Car is loaded with shovels, rakes, trimmers, lawn edgers, blowers, weed eaters, chemical fertilizers and herbicides. Until she turns 80 in April, Dolores Lanigan will continue making rounds on her landscaping customers.
Arthritis is slowing her down. Lanigan has reduced her lawn-care route from 15 to five clients, including the city of San Antonio, Fla., where she weeds flower beds and trims the hedge around City Hall.
Every Monday and Tuesday Lanigan keeps the flower beds clean at the Pioneer Florida Museum in Dade City. She beautified the museum grounds with native plants more than 10 years ago. Next on the task list: laying pavers.
"And the picnic tables need pressure washing and painting," Lanigan added.
She is constantly recruiting volunteers at the museum and acting as volunteer coordinator at the Pasco County Fairgrounds. Once the active summer months are over, she doesn't get a break.
"That's when I'm continuously busy getting the grounds and volunteers ready for the October Pioneer Days and November Bug Jam at the fair grounds. I'll clean the toilets when no one else will."
Born during the Depression in Spring Head, just south of Plant City, Lanigan was the eldest of three girls. They watched their father hang electrical high lines and deliver ice to railroad cars for 50 cents a day.
"I was sort of the boy in the family," Lanigan said. "I was always underfoot, following him around and helping in Mom's garden."
In 1942 the family moved to Dade City, where Lanigan graduated from Pasco High School 10 years later.
She spent 26 years researching property histories at Pasco Abstract and Title Co. before one of her Pasco High classmates, Ted Williams, was elected property appraiser.
He lured Lanigan to his office for another 15 years. Lanigan wore high heels, dresses and pantyhose in an office with no air conditioning while typing 125 words a minute over eight-hour days.
"My wardrobe was perfectly matched, from dress to purse to jewelry," Lanigan said. "I never had a hair out of place."
"Dolores was older than me," Williams said with a laugh. "I'm only 78 1/2."
"Anyway, she'd be in my office to conduct research for a title company. I'd always say, 'When ya gonna work for me'. One day she returned an hour later and asked if I really meant it. 'When can you start?' I asked. She was there the next morning.
"She could conduct proper research very quickly. She was an excellent employee who adapted very well to the conversion to computers."
She married Fred Lanigan in 1971 at their Dade City house (later purchased by the family of champion tennis player Jim Courier). Together they operated their business, which included three local, independent water systems; a beer tavern on Clinton Avenue; and more than 30 rental homes, all while she reported full time to government work.
After Fred died in 1992, she started cleaning all the fence rows in her neighborhood and became a full-time landscaper after retiring from the appraiser's office in 1999.
Word of mouth spread about the cheerful old lady in the Lincoln Town Car.
Dade City Commissioner Jim Shive remembers meeting Lanigan at a McDonald's breakfast club in Dade City.
"I mentioned a huge old azalea bush in my front yard that was dying out. When I got home, there was Dolores, and she already had half of them removed," he said. "Even with two wasp stings to her mouth, she did what three men would have done. We're not talking light work either. Everybody calls her 'the landscaper with the Lincoln.' "
Dressed in shorts, sneakers, sunglasses and a wide-brim hat, Lanigan loads all her equipment, scales ladders, trims foliage and crawls under razor-sharp pampas grass and bushes to pull stink weed.
She has never suffered a broken bone or sprain. She never encountered snakes and only once was stung by wasps.
Her dermatologist conducts regular mole patrols to find sun damage and her primary physician keeps tabs on her blood pressure.
Lanigan blames years of typing — not lawn labors — for her bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. She anticipates needing treatment for both hands, but that's it for her medical care needs.
"I sweat like crazy and survive on lots of water mixed with Gatorade," she said. "My health is pretty good."