Volunteers are the source of Downtown BG's extra manpower PDF Print E-mail
Written by HAROLD BROWN Sentinel City Editor   
Saturday, 26 October 2013 08:43
Karen and Hobie Johnson (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Bowling Green has developed a solid "volunteer ethic" over the past couple of decades.
Sometimes a handful of people, other times hundreds, who lend a hand for a day or a weekend, help stage and clean up after an event, and then go on about their lives.
A small, but growing number take part in the big events and quietly keep finding ways to help show the city in a good light.
"The truth of the matter is the whole of our organization amounts to about two and one-half full-time employees," Downtown BG Director Barb Ruland said. "With the volunteer spirit of Bowling Green we in effect get another one and one-half to two full-time employees."
The average full-time employee works 2,080 hours a year, meaning volunteers account for conservatively 3,500 hours, Ruland estimated. "These folks double our capacity to serve the community."
As an example, Ruland offers Hobie and Karen Johnson, who are among those who keep finding ways to help out.
"We're both very much fans of the town. We do things quietly and behind the scenes and throw suggestions out for discussion. It's our way of contributing," Hobie Johnson said.
"We feel if we live in a community and have the opportunity to participate and pay it forward for a future generation, those who follow who will take care of the community when we're no longer here," Karen Johnson said.
She moved to BG as a seventh-grader when her father (Robert McCracken) became superintendent of schools. Her husband came to BG twice, the first time to work on a master's degree at Bowling Green State University, then returning seven years ago after retiring.
"We got started and then saw more that we could do, It's been kind of like a snowball rolling down a hillside," he said.
Among other things, Ruland said the couple has become an unofficial graffiti patrol.
While an elected official in another community, Hobie Johnson said he learned a lesson when he tried to control graffiti by putting up a wall dedicated to that purpose. He said it didn't take long for the wall to fill up and the graffiti to spread to adjacent areas.  "The only real way to control it that I found was to keep covering it up and eventually the problem goes away."
Several years ago the couple grew tired of looking at a dingy plywood wall that covered a former billiards parlor on North Main Street. It bothered them that people coming into town for events would also see it. The "plywood canvas" also attracted graffiti. "We painted it black with the owner's OK. It looked better. Later the high school art class painted a mural there," he said.  
With the gardening interest group of the University Women of BGSU, Karen Johnson leads that group in its effort to plant the large flower pots and planters downtown and also helps Downtown BG plan the effort. She said her husband was the lone male to get involved with the their planting.
Both said it has been interesting to see how the downtown has changed over the years and make it a point to support local businesses.  "We have seen an improvement in the general environment downtown. I know there are critics of the alcohol and evening activities but overall, when you look at the downtown and the plantings, you see businesses taking care of their buildings to a greater degree," he said.
"There are a lot of people like us who drive by and see something and wish it was better. Then we go home and get involved in daily life and don't do anything about.
"You can make a difference," he said.  "Make a call. Ask if you can do something. We never would have painted that wall or worked on the graffiti if we had not called first. There is a lot of support." He said some businesses have provided supplies to help the cause.
"We take a lot of walks," Hobie said. "If we see weeds, we pull them, if we see trash we pick it up, if we see city trash barrels that need emptying we make a call. We're not obnoxious about it. We just try to preserve the image."
Karen Johnson said Bowling Green needs "to toot its own horn more, promote itself better." She said the community has shown it can handle big events like the visit by the motorhome association a few years ago and the NCAA women's basketball tournament at the Stroh Center in 2012.  "Get the word out on what a great place Bowling Green is," she said.
"The number of volunteers we have varies from year to year," Ruland said. "They put in a lot of time and good  will. There is a lot of selflessness."

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