By Kevin Redding
Along Crooked Hill Road in Commack, garbage bags are piled up and filled with everything from fast-food wrappers to plastic cups and glass bottles. Tires, hubcaps, license plates and various construction materials are leaned up against a wooden post.
Only an hour or two prior, all these items were littered over the roads, sidewalks and grass. However, thanks to 73-year-old retired Commack resident Ed Mikell, the founder of the Seven Cents Club of Commack — a volunteer group of young people and retirees alike — the community can enjoy something scarcely seen when traveling through any town: cleanliness.
For all of his work cleaning up Commack, Mikell was named a 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.
It all started when Mikell was cleaning a bus stop, where he discovered seven cents on the ground.
“My father [is] super energetic,” said Ed’s daughter and cleanup volunteer Jennifer Mikell. “He’s been retired for eight years and in his retirement he’s really done a lot to help others, whether it’s helping people balance their finances and figure out their own retirement, or helping out a local charity group that he works at a couple days a week.”
She explained that her father was frustrated that so many areas in his town had become so uncared for and unclean for so long.
“He wants to make the difference that nobody else is making.”
On Sept. 21, 2014, Mikell first took it upon himself to clean up an “unofficial” bus stop on Crooked Hill Road simply because he didn’t want people to have to stand in garbage. He went home, equipped himself with pails and some tools and went to work.
Using an abandoned shopping cart that had been turned sideways so people at the bus stop could sit down, Mikell filled up his pail four times, threw the garbage in the shopping cart, and wheeled it across the street to toss in a dumpster.
After making the bus stop pristine, Mikell reached out to the supervisor of Smithtown along with other Suffolk County representatives for some help, as he had become driven to clean up his neighborhood. A year later, Mikell has rallied together a small group of determined volunteers and has partnered with Suffolk County’s Adopt-A-Highway Program to secure cleanups on Crooked Hill Road up to its intersection with Commack Road.
The unofficial bus stop now has a white bench and a brown garbage can marked “7 Cents Club of Commack” placed alongside it.
“This is something that I thought would be a nice thing to do for the community,” Mikell said. “I’m just doing my part, [and] doing what I can as opposed to not doing something. I’m not marching and championing causes and all that stuff, but this is something I could put my hands around, and maybe make a difference. Abraham Lincoln once said ‘I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives …’ and that’s on the letterhead for the Seven Cents Club.”
The place in which Mikell lives has not ignored his efforts. Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), who was among those first contacted by Mikell, sees him as “the epitome of a good citizen.”
“He takes a bad situation and makes it better,” Kennedy said. “Instead of sitting around doing nothing in retirement, this man created something. He called the county to get the garbage picked up, he dealt with the town and he did everything that was needed. Who wants to live in ‘pigginess?’ I don’t think he had any other reason for doing it, other than to make something better. We’ll never stop people from littering, [but] truthfully, the difference between last week and the end of what was done this week is noticeable. Really noticeable.”
With volunteers from Dix Hills, Centereach and Hauppauge, there are hopes that this group will inspire more towns to have their own Ed Mikell and Seven Cents Club, but it won’t be easy.
“That’s a big undertaking,” said Ed Feinberg, a Commack resident and club volunteer. “That would require a lot of time and effort. If I’ve walked away from this with one piece of knowledge it’s that it’s not easy, working your way through the red tape of county government and getting corroboration and information, but Ed’s done it. He’s done it very well.”