Doing his part…

Visitors to Hillsboro’s Memorial Park may have seen Bob Cordts riding in his motorized wheelchair and collecting litter and trash as his makes daily rounds at the park.

“As far as this park goes, it’s the little things that count,” 71-year-old Cordts said after he stopped his wheelchair under a shady tree in the park.

“If I didn’t pick (up the litter), all of sudden, there’d be a lot of paper here.”

Fourth of July will mark three months since Cordts moved to Hillsboro from Clearwater, Fla., where he had lived for the past 22 years.

After selling his house in Florida, he moved here to be close to his sister, Leona Friesen, and family.

“Fifty years away from my sister is a long time,” he said. “Every time she called me, she’d ask, ‘When are you coming home?'”

After Cordts agreed to move to Hillsboro, Friesen helped make arrangements for him to live in a Parkside Homes apartment on South Ash Street.

“When I came down here, I knew about the park that is right across the street from where I live,” he said.

“I saw all this trash laying around here-small stuff, not big stuff, unless it blows out of the garbage can.

“I said, ‘Well I can go ahead and go completely around the park and get my exercise, and yet I can enjoy the beauty of the park.”

Cordts said he spends an hour in the morning and in the afternoon collecting litter in the park.

He uses a wooden rod with a nail on the end to pick up pieces of trash that he usually puts in a plastic bag .

“A lot of times I’ll pick up paper because I need to keep bending because it gives me exercise,” he said. “Sometimes I have to quit because my back starts to hurt and then I use (the rod).”

Cordts said his niece Kimberly Friesen of Hillsboro crafted the 3-foot tool from a tree branch and wrote his name and phone number on the side, just in case he leaves it in the park.

“She calls me her favorite uncle,” he said. “She’s a real sweetheart.”

Chronic back pain has confined him to his motorized wheelchair for the past two years. Prior to that he used a walker and cane.

“I’m doing pretty good in the wheelchair,” Cordts said. “I can’t walk that far.”

Over the years, he has had four spinal surgeries.

Cordts, who has a degenerative disc disease, initially injured his back in his mid-20s in a farm accident near Inman.

He had came to Kansas from a children’s home in Illinois and lived with foster parents Menno and Hulda Prieb of rural Inman.

After the accident, his severe back pain persisted.

Cordts said he eventually resorted to surgery after he moved to Chicago where he found work as a bookkeeper and social worker.

He later lived in West Virginia where he was pastor of a church.

After relocating to Florida, near St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, he opened his home to homeless people and counseled them.

“I’m not bragging,” he said. “That was the job God gave me in Florida.”

While in Florida, Cordts also worked as a restaurant dishwasher until he retired.

“I had a job after I got hurt and had to retire,” he said. “I volunteered for the Pinellas County Transit Authority.”

He handed out transit information at different shopping malls. As part of his compensation, he received a free bus pass and traveled from stop to stop.

“At these bus stops, there were a lot of people leaving their trash, so I would it pick up. A garbage can is sitting right next to it.”

He asked for some additional receptacles to accommodate the trash he collected.

Upon reflecting about his move to Hillsboro, Cordts said: “I have one thing left before the Lord takes me home. That is to put a tombstone on my two babies’ graves. I lost them both. That was hard.”

The children, a son and a daughter, died as infants when he was living in Inman in the ’50s.

Although hard times and grief have weathered Cordts, he’s managed to come to terms about the difficulties he’s experienced.

“When you find peace with God, you can find peace with others,” Cordts said.

One way Cordts shares that peace is by making his daily rounds picking up litter in Memorial Park.

With his regular visits to the park, he has observed both positive and negative aspects about its upkeep.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen (city workers) pick up some of the tables that needed repair,” he said. “And, as far as mowing goes, they’re right out here. “

But pointing to a nearby warped bench, Cordts said, “Somebody could hurt themselves on that.

“If the city would take care of the little things-the little damages-it won’t cost them much. But if they wait until the park is rundown and things are broken, it’s going to cost them a fortune.”

Cordts, though, rates the city’s Memorial Park above others he’s seen.

“The parks I’ve visited in Florida, they weren’t as pretty as this park,” he said. “We need to take pride in our park.”

His enthusiasm for maintaining the park may be contagious.

“A little boy noticed I forgot a little piece (of paper) and came running and put it in my little bag,” Cordts said about his young helper.

Joyce Hanneman is one Hillsboro resident who has observed Cordts riding his wheelchair along South Ash Street from his apartment en route to park.

Hanneman commends his efforts.

“He’s one of the guys we want around town.

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