Morningtime. Grand Chute, Wisconsin. It’s cold in America’s Dairyland. Last night it got down to negative 4 degrees. Tomorrow night it’s supposed to drop into the negative double digits.
The streets in Outagamie County look like iced-over freezer shelves, and the Starbucks has resorted to serving coffee on a stick.
Grand Chute is a smallish town about half an hour south of Green Bay. The place is chock-full of nice people, good food, an Old Navy, and a shipload of Lutheran churches—in a six-mile radius there are over 30 Lutheran congregations. That’s a lot of hotdish.
Our story today, however, takes us to one of Grand Chute’s residential areas, on Stewart Avenue. A two-mile street lined with modest split-levels, ranches, and dated brick homes.
It’s nothing fancy. It’s your all-American neighborhood. Think: blue-collars and working-class Packers fans who bleed green and Schlitz.
Visit the street in the early morning and you won’t see much activity. Maybe a schoolbus, a couple Fords idling, mailboxes topped with snow, and a scant few plastic-wrapped “Post-Crescent” newspapers in the driveways of those who still care about the printed word.
But if you pay close enough attention, you will see the trademark of suburbia itself lining the curbs.
The green garbage bin.
The waste-management bins are everywhere. It was garbage pickup yesterday. The multitudes of plastic bins parked by the road this morning are empty. Which means someone has to walk them back to the house. Uphill. Through the snow. In sub-zero temperatures.
Enter Dick Pontzloff.
Dick is your quintessential old guy. He’s 75 years old and he dresses the part. He wears saggy sweatpants, oversized parka, stocking cap, and even though it’s barely above zero, he doesn’t wear snow boots. Instead he wears lace-up Merrell boat shoes á la Jimmy Buffet.
Each morning at 8 a.m., the bootless old man comes pedaling down Stewart Avenue, whistling a happy tune. He dismounts, unfolds his kickstand, then totters to the curb. He grasps the handles of the empty garage can, then wheels the receptacle back from whence it came.
Immediately, the morning air is filled with the unmistakable rumbling noise of a mobile plastic bin.
Then, when Bootless Dick finishes returning the bin to its owner’s stoop, he shuffles back to his 10-speed, hops on the saddle, pedals to the next house and does this all over again.
“When I retired, I got sick of doing nothing,” Dick told WFRV Local Five. “So I started going around and picking up garbage cans. Not just certain ones, everyone’s.”
For months now, nobody in the neighborhood has known who was returning their trash cans. It was as though Stewart Avenue had been visited by the Trash Can Fairy.
“It was so strange,” says Melody Luettenegger. “All of a sudden our garbage cans were just showing up. We have such a long driveway, and I’m like, ‘Maybe the garbage company is bringing back our garbage cans?’ I asked my husband, and he’s like, ‘No, I’m not bringing the garbage cans up.’”
And so it was, early one frigid morning, Melody decided to take matters into her own mittens.
She staked out her own driveway, accompanied by her sidekick, internationally famous sleuth and master of deduction, her 9-month-old son Mason. It was like an episode of “Starsky and Hutch,” only with a stroller.
Melody and Mason waited in the biting cold until they saw Dick wheeling up on his bike.
Dick pumped his brakes. They locked eyes. She smiled at him. He smiled back.
Then, Melody presented a small gift to Dick; her way of saying thank you. Little Mason also contributed his thanks by sincerely drooling on himself and trying to eat his own foot.
Dick claimed his act of goodwill was no big deal, but Melody begs to differ.
“He doesn’t even realize how nice of a gesture it is, and how much we appreciate it.”
Dick is from Wisconsin, and he claims he enjoys the negative-degree weather. He says he enjoys returning all these garbage cans to their owners. He says he likes doing it for the exercise.
I mean no disrespect, but I’m calling flag on the field. If a guy wants exercise, he buys a treadmill and eats a CLIF bar. There is something more going on here.
And sure enough, when he’s pressed, Dick gladly comes clean and shares with the world his straightforward philosophy in life.
“Just be nice to all people. It’s just what you gotta do.”
This columnist, for one, agrees, and sincerely hopes that someone is nice enough to buy Dick a pair of snow boots.
Carol Anne Keene - January 24, 2022 8:40 am
Great story Sean, thank you
Cynthia - January 24, 2022 10:04 am
When my girls were little I got divorced. My next door neighbor was an elderly man. He brought up my garbage can every week thereafter. It was a little thing that meant a lot to an exhausted mom. I made cabbage rolls every couple of months and a container to him. We looked out for one another.
Meredith Smith - January 24, 2022 10:47 am
This girl from Wisconsin whose Mantra is Be Kind thinks you got this story Spot On!!
Warren Larry Evans - January 24, 2022 12:23 pm
Thanks for this story, Sean. Contrary to what passes as “.NEWS” in the media today there are thousands if not millions of decent, caring people in this world. They are rarely in the headlines though.
Zapper - January 24, 2022 12:35 pm
Well Sean, you peddled up to my computer this morning and returned my empty can. Thanks for being nice to everyone too!
Paul McCutchen - January 24, 2022 1:46 pm
In the epic words of John Dalton while talking to his “troops” in the movie “Road House” “Be nice”.
Cathy M - January 24, 2022 1:59 pm
I love positive stories esp. when we are surrounded by so much negativity. He does need some boots. That temp. Is foreign to this Southern girl. Keep it up, Sean
Catherine - January 24, 2022 2:02 pm
And once again, a reminder of another beautiful Angel Among Us…
Bonnie Vandercook - January 24, 2022 2:04 pm
Sometimes the fun in doing for others is doing it undercover. It’s sorta like being a Santa 🧑🎄. Hope someone really does get him those boots.
Shelton A. - January 24, 2022 3:03 pm
God bless a man like that…he surely does deserve a pair of snow boots. Kindness and just being nice to people is not as rare as people think. It just takes writers like yourself to discover those who act on their kind nature and bring their stories to readers like us. Here’s another you’ve uncovered and now we all know. Dick, congratulations on carrying on the tradition of the Golden Rule. Please, someone, splurge and get the man some snow boots. Frostbite isn’t funny! Love to all, especially Sean, Jamie, and the hat munching hounds.
Debbie Hall - January 24, 2022 3:05 pm
Love this story!
Donna from Iowa - January 24, 2022 3:09 pm
There is not a better way to start a new week than a heartwarming good tale of kind deeds
Gayle Wilson - January 24, 2022 3:21 pm
Okay Sean. You put it out there. If you know Dick’s boot size, I would like to buy this guy a pair of boots. Of course, if he is from Wisconsin, he probably won’t wear them when he gets them. But, I would like to buy this guy a pair of boots, just because as Dick said, you just need to be nice to people. This is a pay it forward.
Gwen - January 24, 2022 3:27 pm
We need a lot more Jims.
Lois hager - January 24, 2022 4:01 pm
Sean, you are full of a few things, but mostly GOODNESS.
Keloth Anne - January 24, 2022 4:05 pm
I loved this one 🥰🥰
I have a wonderful neighbor that delivers my garbage can back to my yard—every week!! Small gestures mean a lot 😊😊
Thank you for noticing small —yet important things ♥️
Stacey Wallace - January 24, 2022 5:46 pm
Dick, you rock! I hope someone gets you some hot coffee. This Alabama girl couldn’t take the cold.
KC - January 24, 2022 6:09 pm
Great story, Sean!! We need more people in this country like Dick that’s for sure…on another note, I bet there’s alot of nightmares in that neck of the woods about blocked footballs…..
karlheeter - January 24, 2022 7:18 pm
First time I have responded to your articles. I agree this guy is an angel. My wife and I live in a 55+ neighborhood, where most residents are more like 70+, myself. The units are configured with 4 facing and sharing a driveway. Each week there seems to be a competition to see who can recover all 4 cans before anyone notices. It’s kinda fun to have it on your to do list and when you go out, someone has beat you to it. We love our neighbors and find that acts of kindness happen without fanfare all the time. thank for writing every day, I look forward to reading them. Rarely disappointed.
Linda Moon - January 24, 2022 7:47 pm
Well, I never heard of Grand Chute, Wisconsin ’til just now. I love cold weather, but not if it’s in the negative temperature readings. I like Lutherans, too….got a few in the family and, believe it or not, one’s name was Dick who shoveled lots of snow in Ohio. Dick from Wisconsin is a Super-Hero, and I hope he gets some snow boots soon!
MAM - January 24, 2022 8:59 pm
We have a neighbor like that. He pulls out our garbage can and/or returns it to its spot in the yard, if I don’t beat him to it. His name’s Jim. He and I and their dog walk together every morning. My husband fills the garbage can and appreciates it if it’s up in its place when he drives his truck up with the sacks. He didn’t enjoy it as much when his truck was in the shop and he had to pull the garbage can down to the house and back up and it’s a good uphill. But you do what you gotta do! I love these happy stories!
Becky+Souders - January 24, 2022 9:39 pm
A great lesson, Sean. An aside: When referencing Lutherans, one must not only mention hot dishes, but also singing in harmony!
Cheryl E Crawford - January 24, 2022 11:28 pm
This reminds me of my Daddy. Daddy was perhaps the oldest guy on the street. He was an early riser. So when he went to get his newspaper from his driveway every morning he would also put his neighbors’ papers at their door.
Julie P, RN - January 25, 2022 12:03 am
Sean, thanks for spreading the good news of “NICE-ness!” It is heartwarming to know that Dick is simply nice to all people because “it’s what he’s gotta’ do”…how refreshing is THAT?!?! I want to echo Gayle…she’s right…”you put it out there!” So, give us Dick’s boot size, and let us split the cost of a SUPER NICE pair of boots!! I won’t be able to rest until I know his feet are dry and warm when he’s making his rounds.
Suellen - January 25, 2022 12:11 am
We had a neighbor where we used to live that just one day started mowing our grass. He had a riding lawn mower and after he was finished cutting his he rode down the street and cut about 4 other lawns. I don’t know why he cut some lawns and skipped others. I don’t know how we got to be one of the chosen ones. Maybe it was because my husband is a Pastor. He called me the Parson’s Wife. But he cut our grass for years for free. He also was standing out in his driveway every morning around 7 am to wave at me while I was headed out to work. He abruptly stopped with no explanation and I later found out he had Cancer of the Spine and sadly didn’t live long.
Julie P, RN - January 25, 2022 12:31 am
I want to echo what Gayle said…”You put it out there. If you know Dick’s boot size, I would like to buy this guy a pair of boots”…. Thank you, Sean, for bringing Dick’s kindness to light, but more importantly, I want his feet to be dry and warm while he’s being so nice!! Can you please help us do OUR good deed?
Melanie - January 25, 2022 4:26 am
I bet you any money he won’t part with those boat shoes. 😉
Kim Morris Ladoczky - January 25, 2022 3:38 pm
I am inclined to agree with you. 💖
Pieter Voorhees - January 25, 2022 1:54 pm
Did you ever ride a bike wearig snow boots?
Diane Ewing - January 25, 2022 10:26 pm
I have done many a biathlon run-bike but never in snow boots !!!!
Kim Morris Ladoczky - January 25, 2022 3:41 pm
I believe in my soul that there is more good in this world than evil. Thank You for sharing this & providing proof. I have stopped watching the News. I just can’t handle all the negative.
Terese Gresham - January 28, 2022 6:01 am
That’s what we do in Wisconsin!! Just good down home folks!! Come visit on the summer. You will love it. Bring a sweatshirt though. Just to be sure.
Cathy - January 29, 2022 2:06 am
My neighbor across the street put ours up for years! He was 87 and full of life….he got Covid and died two weeks ago! He had been my friend and neighbor for 36 years! He is missed, but is with his precious wife and my precious husband in Heaven❤️. Thanks for this post!
John DePuy - February 9, 2022 9:31 pm
So enjoyed this! Thanks.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 24, 2022 1:26 am