President John F. Kennedy once said, "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try."
Alpena resident William Bates seems to have taken those words to heart. On any given day, motorists driving along Ripley Boulevard might catch sight of Bates as he works to make his community more beautiful by picking up litter.
His efforts at making a difference are all the more impressive because Bates isn't your average citizen. The victim of a long ago swimming accident, today he is wheelchair-bound.
News Photo by Diane Speer
Alpena resident William Bates uses his pick-up tool to gather garbage along Ripley Boulevard. He’s made it his mission to keep several of the sidewalks in town litter free ever since he acquired a motorized scooter.
"It's just something that I do," said the unassuming Bates. "Litter is an eyesore."
Getting out and about hasn't always been easy for him, but when he obtained a motorized scooter earlier this year, he immediately began putting it to good use.
"I had been housebound," Bates said. "It's good to be able to get out now. I figured I might as well do something useful."
Bates has his routine down pat. It frequently includes motoring from his residence at Lake and Grant Streets to Gen-Ar's Restaurant on Ripley. There he always indulges in the same oatmeal breakfast, while passing the time doing Sadoku puzzles in the newspaper.
Once fortified, he then embarks on his litter gathering forays. Three days a week he has therapy at Alpena Regional Medical Center for a pulmonary condition brought on by his 1976 accident that broke his neck and left him partially paralyzed.
To get to the hospital, Bates takes 9th Avenue to Chisholm, picking up litter all along the way.
"That's the hard part because of gas stations and businesses and restaurants," he said of the increased amount of litter he encounters on his way to the hospital. On his return trip from therapy, he continues to look for litter in case he missed any during the first pass through.
The staff at Gen-Ar's has a soft spot for Bates.
"He's been a customer for as long as I've worked here," said Lisa Dziesinski. "He's not doing it for the recognition. It's the coolest thing I've ever seen him do."
Dziesinski and her co-workers at first worried about Bates because he leaned over so much in his scooter while picking up garbage. They feared he would fall out and not be able to get back up.
Dziesinski said they encouraged him to use a seatbelt. He also purchased a nifty pick-up tool that currently enables him to gather cast-off pieces of paper and other garbage without having to bend over at all.
He rides with a paper bag that he uses as a his receptacle for the litter he collects. Sometimes, on his way to ARMC, Bathes has to empty the paper bag in a garbage can because he has collected so much litter.
He was pleased recently when Alpena Mayor Matt Waligora sent someone from the city to give him a pat on the back for his efforts. Bates is now giving some consideration to trying to convince the VA facility in Alpena to institute an "Adopt a Sidewalk" program much like the successful "Adopt a Highway" program.
"If people knew how good you feel to be out doing stuff like this," he said. "I'm glad it's attracting a little attention."
In his own simple and inspiring way, Bates is proving the Kennedy-inspired philosophy that one person can make a difference.