His routes take him 30 or 40 miles a week. Even at 30 miles a week, that’s enough to travel from New York to Los Angeles and back nearly nine times, and he’s done it in a city that is just 7.3 square miles in size.
He takes his job with the City of Rockingham in stride and with a smile, but after February, he may hang up his orange garbage bag and yellow vest and retire.
“Each day the route has a new challenge,” Gibson said. “Each morning, before I start my route, I pray the Lord will keep me safe. I see the things that go on.”
When he started working for the city, there were 20 people working in the Beatification Department, including two people picking up trash. Now it’s only Gibson.
The 49-year-old was hired in 1979 through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. The program offered work to those with low incomes and long-term unemployed as well as summer jobs to low income high school students. The city took over the full cost of his salary when the program ended.
His route is mainly on major roads, not residential areas. He walks five different routes each week and a pair of shoes lasts him about two months.
Larry Harrelson, buildings and grounds superintendent for the city, said Gibson’s dedication to his job brings in around 100 bags of trash a month, sometimes more. He’s been keeping track of Gibson’s work since 1999. That amount of trash would collect in gutters and on the sides of the road if it weren’t collected by Gibson.
Harrelson said the street maintenance department collects garbage too, but not as frequently.
Harrelson said Gibson finds peculiar things on his collection routes; among them are cell phones and money, once as much as $600 at one time. He said he turns items over to the police that are questionable, or appear to be lost, such as wallets. If Gibson finds items that have no apparent owner, he says they are free game to keep.
“If he does retire, I hope we can find a replacement that does half as good a job,” said Steve Morris of Helms Jewelers on East Washington Street. Morris is also on the city council. He’s seen Gibson since he started with the city.
“He is always happy to see you, and calls you by your name,” Morris said.
Morris acknowledges, as a businessman, that Gibson does high quality work. He said Gibson never walks by a piece of paper without picking it up.
“It’s nice to know he has a pride in what he does. He never complains,” said Morris.
Mayor Gene McLaurin appreciates the importance of what Gibson does.
“Through the years I’ve been here I’ve received many compliments from visitors about how clean Rockingham is, and Kenny deserves a lot of the credit,” McLaurin said. He said not many cities have a full time employee on foot patrol; a person the majority of citizens recognize because he’s out doing his job five days a week, regardless of the elements.
“He’s a very dedicated employee who enjoys his job with the city and he takes great pride in keeping Rockingham clean,” McLaurin said.
Not only is Gibson well-recognized, he’s well-liked by the citizens of Rockingham. Some stop by the Public Works office around Christmas and bring him presents.
“Folks hunt him down and give him all sorts of gifts; socks, shirts, scarves, jackets, you name it,” Harrelson said.
Gibson said the people he sees on his routes are usually very friendly, and sometimes bring him hot cups of coffee during cold weather. Gibson mentioned that he’d been shot at once, and remarked that he knows he can’t please everyone, but tries to each day.
“I wish folks wouldn’t throw their garbage out the car window, but Gibson’s got a job, and he does a good job of keeping the city clean,” said City Manager Monty Crump.
Staff Writer Dawn Kurry can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 997-3111 ext. 15.