Monday, July 6, 2009

The Unsung Heroes

As with most things in life, often there is more than what meets the eye. Upon closer inspection, we find interesting details, sad realities, and unsung heroes just doing their job.

I enjoy spending time outdoors. As often as I'm able I'll be on the prowl looking to take in the sights, the sounds, and whenever humanly possible... the sunshine. To me, there is no greater joy and peace than enjoying the outside. It's has become what everything is about. The reason I work, the reason I save, it is the reason why. Perhaps it sounds like I'm destined for country living, but ironically I think the city suits me nicely. There is gratification in being walking distance from just about everything, and an ease of life when you already are, where you want to go.

Fortunately for me, I have quite a lot of opportunity to roam the streets of downtown Indianapolis. I love it there. The only thing better than walking everywhere you want to go, would be going as the crow flies... and I think it will be awhile until I have that one figured out. On foot, and not infringed by one-way streets, or traffic, I'm am free, and I never have to take the same path twice.

Well I am impressed with the infrastructure that keeps the downtown area not just clean, but in many areas beautiful. But sadly, as much as I am impressed, I am disappointed about the lack of care that others exhibit. Trash just mindlessly left, abandoned and waiting.... waiting for what I'm not quite sure. I'm not sure why people think it is ok. Or maybe it's as simple, as they don't care.

The other morning, as I approached Monument Circle, I saw half dozen or so empty cups just left on the steps of the memorial, presumably from the night before. The memorial. Can you imagine leaving trash on a war memorial - it is like desecrating a grave?

This has been bothering me for some time now. I don't really know what to do about it, except start picking up the trash myself, and teaching my kids to do the same. Interesting, because I never realized how trained I am to just step over it. Often times, I do exactly that, I walk by it first, and then run back to pick it up. And despite almost getting hit by the car the other day, my one woman garbage patrol has been going ok.

But for all the trash that I step over, or stop to pick up.... there are tons more just like it. Who picks up the rest of it? Who is keeping our city beautiful, and ensuring that the memorial created to honor our soldiers, will do just that, honor them?

Well yesterday morning, as I sat on the steps of Monument Circle enjoying the weather, the atmosphere, and of course my Dunkin Donut's coffee - I noticed a man.

Some call me curious, others just nosy and to be truthful I'm ok with either. I couldn't figure out what he was doing with pumps and hoses, so early on a Sunday morning, and before I knew it, we were having a chat.

Who I found was Don Hickey. Working for the State of Indiana, Don's job was to make sure that the monument was holding it's own against the elements, and throngs of people who visit everyday. Turns out, Don was draining one side of the fountain, because someone had poured dye in the water, and turned it brown.

Now, it takes Don a day and half to drain the fountain, and another day and half to fill it back up. What a shame that he is working with such a limited budget to start with, and has to waste all that time and money cleaning up a prank.

With an official work schedule of 7:00 am to 3:00 pm, Don, instead, is pretty much available whenever our treasures need him.

I asked Don if he enjoyed what he did, and without missing a beat he said absolutely, and added "I get to walk around the parks and museums everyday.... and make sure they are taken care of.... it doesn't get much better than that". I asked what his frustrations were with his job, and he said, weeding, which is like painting the Golden Gate bridge and "trying to have and keep everything up to the standard fitting a memorial".

As a Naval veteran himself, Don gets it. With a purposeful and honored attitude, Don goes about his job with his heart invested. The care and condition of the memorials, a direct reflection on himself.

It's not so much what Don said that left me feeling admiration for this man. Don's unspoken pride in his work, and commitment to these treasures, and the people he works with, were just part of what made him Don.

Don is a state employee. Don is an employee who takes ownership, who talks in terms of "we" when discussing his job and the projects he is working on. We talked briefly about the state's budget issues, and what would happen if they didn't have a new budget to operate with. He was relieved that it was resolved, but that he and his buddies has already decided that they would come to work anyway, as the parks and memorials don't care for themselves, just because they're not getting a paycheck.

Don, here's to you, and all the other people who do what it takes so the rest of us can enjoy the parks, greenspaces, trails, canals, and museums! Don from now on, when I pick up garbage I will do it out of respect of you, and to honor your efforts and commitment that you have shown Indiana.

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  1. Cheers to Don, and this post. I too love the outdoors and love downtown Indy. It is always nice to know that there are other forward thinking people who care about the enviroment when so many people take for granted all the work that so few tirelessly work for.

  2. Email response that I received:


    Thank you so much for your article. We are responsible for 24 acres of downtown property that honor Hoosier Veterans. Don Hickey and his crew have a monumental, no pun intended, task in keeping the properties in the shape they do considering we have over 400 events here every year and as you stated not everyone shares our respect for this special place.

    My second reason for writing is to invite you and your family for a personal tour of the 30,000 square foot Indiana War Memorials Museum located at 431 North Meridian St. I would be honored to conduct the tour and I am sure Don would be pleased to see you again. Let me know when it is convenient for you and thank you again for bringing attention to the public the need to keep our precious monuments as clean as possible.

    J Stewart Goodwin
    J. Stewart Goodwin, Brigadier General, IN ANG
    Executive Director, Indiana War Memorials Commission