'Silent hero': Senior in wheelchair cleans up litter in Lacombe
'I just can't stand garbage. It gives me something to do and gets me out of the house'
Almost every morning, 76-year-old Don Fifield leaves a seniors' residence in his motorized wheelchair with a bucket and plastic claw at the ready.
The Lacombe, Alta. senior, who lost his right leg after a 1989 workplace accident, cruises around the central Alberta city with the sole purpose of cleaning up litter.
"I just can't stand garbage," Fifield said in an interview. "It gives me something to do and gets me out of the house."
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If a sidewalk is too icy or rough, he's confident enough to use the side of the road instead.
"I'm disabled, but I don't like feeling disabled," he said. "That's why I do stuff."
'He's always out there'
He does it for free and doesn't ask for anything in return. But his efforts have been noticed by community members, and he gets plenty of offers of free food and coffee.
It's a gesture he appreciates. "For a long time nobody seemed to care," Fifield said.
Carina Moran, owner of Sweet Capone's Italian Bakery and Cannoli Shop in Lacombe's historic downtown, tracked down Fifield in the summer. She offered him free food and coffee to show her appreciation for his selflessness.
"He's not a guy to be really keen on accepting handouts, but that's our little way of saying, 'Thank you for what you're doing,' " Moran said.
I just don't know if he realizes just how appreciated he actually is.- Carina Moran
"Whether it's –30 or 30 above, he's always out there with his little picker."
She said she's glad to hear that more people are recognizing Fifield for his dedication to ridding the city of litter.
"He's like this silent hero in our community that I know everybody sees," Moran said. "Everybody must pass him, because how can you not see him up and down the sidewalks?
"But I just don't know if he realizes just how appreciated he actually is."
Once paid by city
Fifield has been picking up trash in Lacombe for the past 15 years, but started doing it more regularly 2½ years ago, when he moved from nearby Tees, Alta. into the city of 13,000.
Fifield used to be paid for his efforts by the City of Lacombe, spokesperson Deven Kumar confirmed in an emailed statement.
"The City of Lacombe paid Don Fifield a stipend based on an informal agreement from February 2003 until the end of April 2012," Kumar said. "We were unable to continue the payments due to workplace safety concerns, and compliance with City of Lacombe employment regulations and standards."
Fifield lives with his wife of 55 years, Carol, and has been her caregiver since she suffered a stroke. They both use electric wheelchairs. Sometimes on nicer days, Carol joins her husband on his clean-up missions.
"I go home and take care of her and I go back picking garbage as long as she's all right," Fifield said.
His right leg was amputated above the knee in 1989 after a load of logs rolled over him. His left leg now has an artificial knee.
"I've had about 25 leg operations and four spinal fusions. I just keep going," Fifield said.
"Every time I have to lie around for a week or so, it just about drives me nuts."
The only thing that might slow Fifield down some days is the task of replacing the plastic claw he uses to pick up garbage.
He goes though one of the tools each week, and makes sure he always keeps an extra on hand.