Battle Creek

Sitting out the golden years is not an option for those in Battle Creek who would rather help others

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series. This story is written by Community Correspondent J.R. Reynolds.

Battle Creek is rich with older residents who go above and beyond when it comes to giving back to their community. Many of their contributions often fly below the radar because of the person’s modest, retiring nature, no pun intended. Yet these Golden Years locals are positively impacting their neighborhoods in ways that satisfy important needs.  

Street Corner Welcome Wagon

As the new school year approaches, crossing guard Lamount Horton wonders where he’ll be assigned. Last year it was on Battle Creek’s east end, at the corner of Main Street and Newark Avenue in front of Post Franklin Elementary School.

Horton goes above and beyond in his duties of ensuring the safety of students crossing a very busy intersection before and after school. His sublime approach to the work helps brighten the day of every student, parent, and commuter who traverses that busy thoroughfare. 

“Being on that corner, meeting and greeting the people, is the best thing,” says the 61-year-old who spent more than 40 years at the Department of Veteran Affairs before retiring. “This is my corner and I wanted to make it my own.”

Horton’s secret? He’s neighborly. 

When he’s out there each day ushering children to and from school, he provides service with a welcoming smile. He also waves – to every car, truck, and pedestrian who passes his intersection. It’s not over the top--just warm, friendly greetings, coming and going. Sometimes the best gift you can offer a person is your smile. That’s precisely what Horton does. Every day. 

“Sometimes mornings can be stressful,” says Horton, who also referees middle school sports. “Maybe things aren’t going well, you’re running late or you didn’t have breakfast. Maybe you have a stressful day ahead or whatever. How much does it cost to toss a wave and offer a smile? Sometimes it’s a gamechanger.”

Horton’s level of service on that corner has not gone unnoticed. On numerous occasions, people have expressed appreciation at seeing a kind, familiar face. “I’ve had people stop and offer me donuts or coffee,” he says. “That’s especially helpful on cold winter days.”

The scope of Horton’s work spans more than a friendly attitude. His presence and level of engagement with passersby add an extra layer of security. “Over time you get familiar with the kids who walk to school or who picks them up and drops them off – and what vehicle belongs to which kid. It’s helpful to the school and community to have an extra pair of eyes helping keep everyone safe.”

The crossing guard is eager to learn whether he’ll be assigned to the same corner. “That would be nice,” he says. “But no matter where I’m sent, there are so many great people here in Battle Creek.” And Horton is one of them.

Buzzing About the Neighborhood

Louis McNutt is another resident who takes “being a good neighbor” seriously, though he probably wouldn’t define himself as such. Rather, this 79-year-old would more likely consider himself a “busy bee.” 

For years during the summer, he tended the lawns of three fellow residents (plus his own) on the street of his aging northside neighborhood, just up the hill from Kellogg Community College. In winter, he cleared their driveways. “I just can’t sit still,” he says, slowly waving a hose to water a row of green flowering plants.

Each neighbor had a different reason for needing help with their yards. One was raising a young boy and wanted her son to focus on school and sports. Another was a retired school teacher who was herself very active in the community. The third had just lost her husband.

“You never know what folks are going through and since I like to stay busy, I just started doing their yard work,” says McNutt, who worked construction for 30 years, doing mainly mason setup work.

McNutt sets a high standard for maintaining beautiful lawns along his street, though he refers to it as merely “piddling around.” For him, hard work was what he did as a lad growing up in Arkansas. There, he picked cotton and did other fieldwork. It was not necessarily his first choice of method to earn money. 

“Back then they didn’t want (people of color) working behind a counter,” says McNutt, who married at 17.  He and his late wife moved to Battle Creek in 1966 after his brother convinced him to relocate.

Although each of the neighbors he helped has moved or passed on, McNutt stays as busy as ever. “I help my brother and others with various jobs,” he says. “I have to keep moving. It’s just in me, I guess.”

Read more articles by J.R. Reynolds.

 J.R. Reynolds is a writer living in Battle Creek.
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