I never met Hans Ostergard of Easton. But the man is my hero.
Let me explain. I was exploring Tuesday evening in The Bee’s morgue (where we keep bound volumes of past editions) when I came across a remarkable story written by Louie Galvan.
The date: May 21, 1968. The headline: “Nearly Blind Hiker Wages Rubbish War.”
Louie’s lead goes like this: “Walking 12 to 15 miles a day is nothing unusual for Hans Ostergard, 64, of 5453 S. Elm Ave., Easton. He has been doing just that for the last seven years and in recent weeks performing a public service as well.”
Ostergard was blind in one eye, the result of a long career as a welder. He had limited vision in the other eye. He was a diabetic who was following doctor’s orders to stay active so the arteries in his legs wouldn’t harden.
In the spring, Ostergard told Louie, “I stumbled over a beer can and almost fell. That same day I bought this little red wagon at the Cherry Auction, got me some sacks and began picking up cans and bottles.”
Ostergard developed a routine. He worked six days a week, taking a break only on Sunday. He started before 8 in the morning, returned home for lunch, then hit the roads again until late afternoon. His favorite haunt was Jefferson Avenue between Elm and East avenues.
A typical daily haul was six to eight sacks of rubbish. He called county officials when he had a good-sized load. They sent out a truck to haul away the rubbish.
Ostergard’s original wagon was heavy even when empty. A neighbor noticed. He built Ostergard a light two-wheel cart. “Caution” was printed on the wagon’s back. “Hans Ostergard” was printed on each side.
Ostergard hauled the cart with one hand. In the other, Louie wrote, “he carries the familiar blind man’s red and white cane.”
Dogs, Ostergard told Louie, “don’t bother me anymore. I pet and talk to them and we’ve become friends.”
Ostergard said he would keep at the job for as long as possible.
After all, he told Louie, “litterbugs create their own kind of evil.”
I read the story and thought: Where have you gone, Hans Ostergard? Our community needs more like you.