With his small pushcart and his well-worn bristle-challenged broom, Oakdale resident Amos Cantrell sweeps leaves and other rubbish away from a grate atop a drain gutter on South Oak Avenue.
Although he’s retired, Cantrell certainly doesn’t rest on his laurels. When he and his wife Jerry moved back to Oakdale several months ago, they moved into a senior complex near the Oak Valley Care Center. An area that concerned him greatly was the corner on Oak and H streets that holds a metal box belonging to the city near the OVCC sign, which was covered with leaves and debris.
“I bellyached and I griped and groaned, ‘why doesn’t the city do something about this?’” Cantrell recalled.
He said that he wants the area to look good because it’s right by the hospital and wants the care center area to look good when people come to visit their loved ones. His granddaughter also works at the care center and he wants it to look good for her, too, he noted.
“I got the message from above… I said, ‘Why doesn’t somebody clean this up?’ I felt like the Lord said, ‘Clean it up yourself,’” he said.
The Cantrells reported that they worked together initially to clean up the corner area, filling 16 bags with leaves. However, he now cleans around the area, even around the block, almost daily.
“We just appreciated him making the care center look so pretty,” said OVCC Activities Director Patti Taylor. “It’s awfully nice. He takes his time, he doesn’t want any remuneration… It looks really spotless and makes it a pleasure to walk on the campus.”
She added that no one asked him to do the cleaning; he just showed up one day and began doing it.
“It’s nice when somebody does something because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s good to do something for someone else,” Taylor said. “…It’s a little corner of his world that he can make beautiful.”
Cantrell said he usually does the cleaning work whenever the weather is nice.
“If something looks like it needs to be done, I’ll do it…like (pick up) those prickly balls that fall off the trees,” he said.
He and his wife often walk around their block and Cantrell takes a “picker upper” and a bucket to pick up any debris, including fallen pinecones, and especially cigarette butts, that he sees on the ground or in the gutters.
“I like to keep things looking nice,” he said.
“He hates cigarette butts. And cigarettes,” Mrs. Cantrell added.
There’s a story behind that dislike of cigarettes that reaches back to Cantrell’s childhood. He recalled a time when he was six or seven years old and living in Oklahoma. He wasn’t wearing any shoes when a man had thrown a cigarette on the sidewalk and the young Cantrell stepped on it in his bare feet. It burned him and that moment made an impression that has stayed with him all these years.
“If (only) people were more sensitive to the needs of other people as a whole,” he said. “…People ought to be more sensitive about where they live.”
He added that he feels if more people would get together in small groups to do cleanup in areas around town, it would get done a lot quicker.
Cantrell said that he started doing this type of cleanup after he retired. He first began doing litter cleanups when he lived in a small town in Arkansas that was about three blocks long, he said, and he thought it looked unkempt. He noted that he lived near the mayor’s office, so he walked across the street to the office to talk to the mayor about cleaning up the trash. He said the mayor was happy to have him do it and gave him a brightly colored, reflective safety vest to wear while he did it. He still wears the vest today when doing work.
“You like something to be nice for the people to come into and not be ashamed of,” he said. “...Do something good so people can be proud of it.”
It seems that making areas look nicer is just part of Cantrell’s makeup, he shared a story of when he was in Kansas once and a nice park was across the street from where he was staying, so he went over to the park and picked up around there, too.
“I like things to look good,” Cantrell acknowledged. “On top of that, I’m a Christian and I’m on my way to heaven…”
For over 20 years, he and his wife managed mobile home parks and apartments out of state and around California, including Oakdale.
“I have a manager’s heart,” he said. “I try to make it look good so people like to live there.”
He said that occasionally people make positive comments about the work he’s doing, but most people, he said, don’t speak to him, as everyone is in such a big hurry. He’d likely appreciate the friendly conversation, but it’s clear that he’s not doing the cleanup for accolades. He sees it as a higher calling.
“Not too many people would like my job,” he said. “If you’re not working for money, you’re working for the Lord… The only way I know how to make it look good, is you get out there and do it… If you like people, you try to take care of people. God didn’t put us here to consume everything… If today was my last day, I’m grateful.”