Community Builders

Up at day break on a crisp fall morning, Marie Handley takes the wind in stride – actually a 3-mile stride around her northwest Detroit neighborhood. It's a walk she's taken regularly for going on 30 years, waving to neighbors on her way.

"Walking isn't just exercise, it's a step toward community building," says Handley, 66. For the past five years, she's added litter clean-up duties to her walking, averaging three bags full of trash, about a bag per mile in her neighborhood of 1,000 homes.

Handley, a retired teacher and mother of four grown children, isn't on anyone's clock or payroll. Yet she is one of the legions of city dwellers who step forward with dependability to do what needs to be done for the Motor City.

Among others, you find Dan Shottenfels, a longtime resident of Rosedale Park, part of a 200-member network that maintains the Grandmont-Rosedale Little League Baseball for about 40 teams and 700 kids. Another is Irving Berg, who, at 84, leads thrice weekly tours around the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Detroit, according to Handley, Schottenfels and Berg, is far more fun for those who get involved in worthy causes. They are a small part of legions of salty, serving, city dwellers who dig in their heels to perform  unpaid, seldom-acknowledged tasks.

The one-woman clean-up crew

When Marie and Bob Handley moved to a red brick colonial in Green Acres in 1964, she was too busy changing diapers and cooking for four children to walk outdoors. The impetus came from her oldest son who had a Detroit Free Press route. She helped pull the red wagon and found herself enchanted by the people and architecture about her.

The kids grew up. She ditched the wagon, quickened her pace and added more blocks to her daily walk. Every walk brought new pleasures and a twinge of frustration. She started with bringing one bag along to whisk away trash, soon stopping for more bags to combat litter. Why so much litter? 

Traveling by car, according to John Staudemier, a professor who teaches the history of technology and philosophy at the University of Detroit, is more like occupying a container that passes through a pipe. The houses, sidewalks and streets just fly by as we pass between point A and B. Motorists aren't attached in any philosophical way to their temporary surroundings.

"Walking is a wordless vote of affection for a neighborhood," Staudemier says. "You take responsibility as a citizen – not a passer through."

Neighbors notice and are grateful, but Handley is humble about the impact of her daily routine. "It's nothing special," she says. "I like getting outdoors. Every day I discover something new."

The baseball coach

Sundays finds Dan Schottenfels and his wife Anita Regalado jogging past Stoepel Park with their nearly grown children, Hannah and Ben. The Grandmont-Rosdale Little League Baseball season has ended, but Schottenfels still looks over the chain link fence to see whether any kids are tossing balls around.

Wait until spring. Crews of Rosedale and Grandmont residents will clear the four baseball diamonds of litter and plant new grass for the 700 kids who play on 50 teams, from T-ball to senior tournaments for kids up to age 18. Schottenfels has his eye on the ball.

"Having a baseball league here in Rosedale Park separates us from neighborhoods that don't," says Schottenfels, 52, co-owner of CompuPacific, a Plymouth data-processing company. The 20-plus year city dweller is a former ball coach for his children's leagues and current umpire coordinator for all the leagues.

"Kids ride their bikes past me and yell, 'hey coach,' and that's a good feeling," he said.

Over 200 northwest Detroiters step up to the plate and help the Grandmont-Rosedale league, according to Frank Lanzilote, the commissioner. "We're the biggest sanctioned little league within the city limits. Without the contribution from people like Danny, others who sell hot dogs at fundraisers and the two or three coaches on each league, we couldn't help all the kids that we do."

Schottenfels spends the winter recruiting umpires from the ranks of college students and young professionals who graduated from the Grandmont- Rosedale league.

"People want to help, but they are so busy they can't take on the whole thing, but they find their niche. Dan doesn't want to organize the whole league but he does one thing that needs to be done," says Tom Goddeeris, executive director of the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corp.

To be sure, Grandmont-Rosedale was named a "Cool Cities Neighborhood in Progress" in 2006 thanks to the enormous leagues of volunteers who help plant trees, renovate sagging houses and staff a farmer's market in four neighborhoods including Grandmont, Grandmont #1, Rosedale Park and North Rosedale Park, according to Goddeeris.

Yet baseball is what unifies parents and kids, one generation after another, and the neighborhood. It is music to Schottenfels ears. "People take care of the ballpark. It is a point of pride."

The constant art teacher

For 21 years Irving Berg served as director of the Cass Tech High School art department, teaching fine and commercial art to students, many of whom have gone on to colleges and design studios across America. Now he introduces art and sculpture to school children as a docent for the Detroit Institute of Arts.

"Every tour is different. I like to get the kids to look and think," says Berg, 84. He lives with Harriet, his wife of 60 years, in a condominium in the Park Shelton, a quick walk to his thrice weekly volunteer assignment, wandering amid Rembrandt, Degas, Picasso and Jacob Lawrence.

He is one of about 665 volunteers whose hours represent a $882,787 annual donation to the art institute. Together they log about 48,935 hours of annual service. Berg will join more docents and schedule more tours when the DIA celebrates its grand reopening in November 2007.

Berg likes to engage the children in the museum experience. "You ask the children what they see, what they think, what makes them say what they do," Berg says. "When they are excited, when they get into it, you can feel the whole museum light up."

Berg has devoted his life to arts and culture. He met Harriet at Wayne State University in 1943, enchanted with how she read Shakespeare aloud. Their first date was a concert at Masonic Temple. Harriet at age 82, a longtime dance instructor at Marygrove College, continues to coordinate the Madame Cadillac Dance Theatre and the Detroit Renaissance Dance Company, which perform all over Detroit, paying homage to the city's rich history of music and dance.

Leading tours at the art museum fulfills a lifetime passion for Berg. As a docent he is a walking time capsule of information about the DIA's collections present and past. Children inspire him to continue, even on days when he walks with a cane.

"Children never cease to amaze me, pointing out things I haven't seen before. Hearing their interpretation changes my interpretation," he says. "It is a great relationship."

Looking for a volunteer opportunity in the city? Contact United Way of Southeast Michigan via its free 2-1-1 phone service. Just dial 2-1-1, and they can match you with organizations that could use your help.


Irving and Harriet Berg

Marie Handley

Marie Handley walking in her Neighborhood of Greenacres

A Little League Game in Detroit

Irving and Harriet Berg in front of the DIA

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

Photographer's Note: Irving Berg was one of Dave's Art Teachers at Cass Tech

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