Jean Quinlan sees picking up trash as civic pride
Jean Quinlan said he found himself in need of something else to do when the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of school buildings in March and a shift to distance learning.
Quinlan, a 79-year-old substitute teacher and retired pharmaceutical sales representative, decided to start walking near his Apple Valley neighborhood since he could also no longer go to the gym for workouts.
He started with two-mile walks but increased the distance to four miles after about a week. During his outings he became more aware of the amount of trash on the roadside.
“I wanted to do something that was beneficial and help to beautify the city streets,” he said.
After more than six months, Quinlan’s daily walks have become routine. Each day he carries a garbage bag and his PikStik trash picker to clean up the refuse he finds. He’s come across everything from disposable masks, gloves and broken glass to car parts, screws and coffee cups.
His neighbors and others have taken notice of Quinlan’s activities. Resident Ryan Murray is one of those people.
Murray said Quinlan is a great neighbor and he was initially surprised to see someone pick up other people’s trash during the pandemic.
“At the time, I was cautious about getting takeout. Day after day, he’s still at it, and it’s great to see someone out there on their own free-will picking up the waste of others,” he said. “While so many people are complaining about each other for one reason or another, Jean is out there cleaning up the city for everyone.”
Quinlan and his wife have lived in their Apple Valley home on Fairlawn Court since 1976. They have two adult sons who are graduates of Apple Valley High School.
After he retired from working in pharmaceutical sales in 2003, he worked at Valleywood Golf Course for a few years and also began substitute teaching. He first worked at Greenleaf Elementary and later went to Falcon Ridge Middle School. He’s spent the majority of his substitute teaching career at Falcon Ridge and has occasionally worked at Scott Highlands Middle School.
After Quinlan became a fixture at Falcon Ridge, the students there started calling him “Papa Q.” The nickname stuck.
“I just absolutely love working with those kids,” he said.
He substitutes in just about every subject, except for math. However, Quinlan said he has not been back to substitute teach since March because of the pandemic.
Quinlan does not take the same walking route each day. He has three different routes he rotates among to give himself some variety. He can be seen walking on Galaxie Avenue, McAndrews Road or Johnny Cake Ridge Road at different times of the week.
He said he’s learned where all of the public trash receptacles are on his routes. When his garbage bag gets full, he empties it in one of the receptacles.
“I have to gauge myself. So, I know where the trash barrel is to empty the bag,” he said.
Quinlan said he takes precautions while cleaning like wearing gloves and not touching anything with his hands.
Now that fall is transitioning to winter weather, Quinlan believes his trash cleanup will slow down because of the snow covering the ground. He still hopes to get out for regular walks but that will be dependent on trail conditions and the weather, he said.
Quinlan said he hopes his actions will help motivate others to do what they can to beautify and make their neighborhood better.
“I talk to kids about what it means to have civic pride; you just take care of the area around you. It’s a simple thing, like picking up scrap paper or anything on the floor near you, wherever you are. It’s not yours it’s not mine. Ownership has nothing to do with it. It’s a matter of it’s the right thing to do; just pick up and everything looks nice afterward and so I would do that with the kids,” he said.
“Well, you know, they just kind of look at me and accept what I was saying. But this is my way of exemplifying civic pride. I hope somebody else picks up on it. I’m not asking anybody to do it. But, you know, if somebody came outdoors, and they’re going to go for a walk, take a plastic bag with you and pick something up. Everything helps.”
Patty Dexter can be reached at email@example.com.