On any given weekday, just after sunrise, a familiar figure in neon green t-shirt can be seen along Frederick Avenue in downtown Oelwein. Mike Ledesma is making his rounds, but not as an officer or watchman; rather, as a caretaker of the landscape.
Mike is the city’s seasonal employee responsible for keeping the hanging flower plants watered and the streetscape free of debris. He makes his first round of the downtown district operating a truck with water tank, stopping at each flowering basket and giving it a good soaking.
“The pots shed a lot of water that is not absorbed, so they need to be watered every day,” Mike explained.
Mike walks on his second round through the downtown, carrying a grabber and bucket, as he picks up debris that others carelessly toss in the bushes and plants along the sidewalk.
As the former owner of a landscape business, Mike is the right man for the job, since he knows and understands the necessity of upkeep and maintenance to have a healthy looking landscape.
He started the part-time job this spring after recovering from a major health setback and surgery that forced him to close up his business and retire a couple years ago. Doctors had told him heavy work would not be advisable, but after a while, Mike had enough of sitting around the house.
“I wasn’t getting any exercise and I knew I needed to be doing something. This job came along, and I figured it was something I could enjoy doing and get some exercise in the process,” he said. “When I first started, I couldn’t walk the whole route without stopping for breaks. I was pretty out of shape. But I kept pushing myself a little more each day before stopping. Now, it is no problem.”
Mike figures he probably walks a couple of miles or more each day. His route takes him from Fidelity Bank at the south end to near Veterans Park on the north, up one side of the street and down the other, as well as two blocks of East Charles, one block of West Charles, Plaza Park and Community Plaza planters. Sometimes he runs into other early morning walkers that stop and tell him how nice the downtown streetscape looks.
“I’ve had lots of good comments, which makes it worth the two hours every day to do the job,” he said.
Mike was born and raised in Oelwein and has always taken pride in the community. That was one of the main reasons he got into the landscaping business – the opportunity to help residents improve their properties and curb appeal. He puts that sense of community pride to work in his job every day.
“I like working outside and it makes me proud to know people take notice that the landscape is kept up and the flower pots are blooming and colorful,” he said, adding that maybe some of his efforts will rub off on others. “When I grew up pretty much everyone took pride in their community. I don’t think that’s an old-fashioned idea, either.”