All around in the community are people who are silent servants. They volunteer their time, working behind the scenes without accolades, and sometimes their selfless work is unnoticed or taken for granted.
Tony Preader is one such volunteer. Only a few people have known of his efforts, and while those few appreciate his work, many in the community probably don’t know that he takes care of Kerr Park, keeping it clean and welcoming for others to use.
Preader contacted the City of Oakdale’s Community Volunteer Coordinator Brea DeRespini in June of 2009 regarding the Adopt-A-Park program. She said that he was already going out to Kerr Park and so he became an official volunteer when he heard about the program.
“It’s a way to get out and not spend money,” Preader said. “…I like the outdoors, it’s a way for me to be outdoors.”
He said he’d read about the Adopt-A-Park program in the newspaper one day and he wanted to make sure he had permission to perform certain tasks at the park. He said that he had previously picked up and thrown away litter at the park but wanted to make sure he didn’t pull weeds that were actually sprouting flowers that were planted by city workers.
He added that he was raised in a house where you pick up litter and throw it away. He even does this when he’s out and about in the community and if he can’t find a trash receptacle, that’s not a problem because he says he always keeps a trash bucket in the back of his pickup.
Volunteering at the park allows him to get some light exercise, serves as a good mental outlet for him, and helps him to be out of the house, Preader said. When his arthritis and other health issues allow, he can do it when he feels okay to do it. Initially, he said he could only walk around Kerr’s parking lot about twice until he built up his stamina.
Now, he said that he’ll usually spend an hour or two a day at the park and sometimes his volunteer work at Kerr allows him to watch a little of the baseball and softball games and interact with people in the community as well.
“He’s a wonderful volunteer,” DeRespini said. “It’s hundreds of hours he’s put in out there.”
She added that records show it’s nearly 700 hours that Preader has logged since July of 2009. She reported that he weeds medians and around the backstops of the ball fields, has painted benches and over graffiti, has cleaned it up after parties, and picks up other trash and debris, generally caring for the park. And he does it almost daily.
“As I see a problem I try to take care of it,” Preader said.
With city crews spread thin, he added that he alerts the city to certain issues if city workers are needed to tend to a problem at the park.
DeRespini reported that groups of people — not just one — usually adopt parks and Kerr Park is a very large area for one person to cover alone.
“He’s really gone above and beyond and has done this park by himself,” she said.
Preader said he doesn’t mind being the only volunteer taking care of Kerr Park, though, because he enjoys the solitude. Since he lives nearby, during the summer he’ll sometimes go out to the park a couple different times during the day because the use of the park is heavier.
What gives Preader the biggest sense of pride about his service at the park is making sure others can enjoy it.
“Keeping it clean,” he said. “That way, the next people who use it come to a clean park… Keeping the picnic areas clean for when families come in.”
Preader said that sometimes people use the park for parties, and while they may pay a cleaning deposit, it’s sometimes left a mess afterward. He cleans it so that whoever wants to use it next has a clean place, and frequently the cleaning deposits are refunded because Preader has quietly cleared the trash that wasn’t thrown away.
While he does his best to maintain Kerr Park’s image, visitors should also take responsibility to do their own part to keep the park clean. The city has erected a small plaque near the picnic area recognizing Preader as the one who has “adopted” the park. Now, all who use Kerr Park can appreciate Preader’s efforts to make it a nice place to spend time.