The Ottumwa Courier

February 3, 2011

Southeast Iowa digs out

Good neighbors are cold neighbors when it comes to clearing walkways

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — At least one resident found it strange. Almost no one was outside in the below-freezing weather, yet many of Ottumwa’s sidewalks are clear.

“But I’m surprised by the number of people who had their sidewalks shoveled,” said Tom Rodgers, the city’s public information officer.

Between passing out snow advisories and gathering information from official sources, Rodgers was taking a walking tour of downtown. An hour after he got back to City Hall, it became clear how some of those foot paths were taken care of.

Dale Essick was outside near Fourth Street, looking cold but pushing a snowblower up and down a hilly side street. Many of the people who live along his street are elderly, he told the Courier, and can’t get out to shovel their sidewalk. That’s why he was also cleaning out a few driveways.

But it was deep. In fact, at one point, Essick had to push snow out of the way with his hand just to clear a path for the snowblower.  

When asked, he said he didn’t get paid to spend hours in the freezing weather. Neither do several other good neighbors around Ottumwa.

The “Habitat for Humanity House” recently built on Lincoln Avenue has its own volunteer living just up the street.

“I told them I’d take care of the sidewalk this winter,” said John Hunolt, who was breathing heavy after finishing his own driveway on East Court.

On his way to check on the Habitat home, he cut through a neighbor’s backyard. Within moments, he crashed through the frozen top snow and sank into the softer snow underneath.

“It’s almost 3-foot deep in places,” said Hunolt. “I wasn’t sure I was going to get my leg out.”

In many places, even a snowblower was having trouble, he said.

“The wind really packed it down. There’s places where it’s [only] 20 inches deep, but it’s packed so hard.”

Pat Kaake said he could see his neighborhood Good Samaritan out his window Wednesday afternoon.

“Bill Sowden is there bailing everybody out with his snowblower and shovel. I see him at the neighbor next door to me; he’s out there now. He deserves some credit.”

He said Sowden doesn’t charge to go around on his John Deere lawn tractor with the winter attachments. He clears sidewalks and driveways in the 700 block of Lee Avenue.

“He does everybody’s. He does that every time it snows.”

When told about helpful neighbors like Essick and Hunolt, Kaake said those people, like Sowden, deserve some credit

“We need a lot more people like that,” he said.