By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — Bill Mauser might be a little more careful the next time he wants to get involved in a “small” community project.
Mauser had retired from a 34-year career with JC Penney and settled in Slidell in 2003 with his wife, so they could be close to their two daughters.
“When we first visited here, I told one of my daughters that I liked the area, but it sure had a lot of litter,” Mauser said. “She told me, ‘well dad, when you move here you should do something about it.’ I never imagined it would turn into this.”
Mauser, 62, got involved in the start of Slidell’s Clean City Committee, was appointed chairman of the group when they started in 2004, and slowly watched as his “community project” to pick up litter has turned into a full time job.
Mauser is now the executive director of Keep Slidell Beautiful—the organization that evolved from the Clean City group—and has become one of the most admired people in Slidell for the superb job he has done, leading Slidell to a much cleaner community.
While some public officials worry about criticism from residents about the job they are doing, Mauser is so popular that his name has been mentioned to run for mayor in the future, something he has gotten quite a laugh about.
Mauser admits his effort to find a volunteer project in Slidell to help bring about a cleaner city has turned into something he never envisioned in his wildest dreams.
“I never thought it would grow to this,” he said, now paid for 25 hours a week by the City of Slidell as a “part-time” worker, even though he probably works closer to 40 hours due to his dedication to the job.
In recent years, the small volunteer group Mauser headed has also evolved into something much bigger, since the city has partnered with Slidell City Court Judge Jim Lamz, who has directed hundreds of hours of community service sentences to Mauser.
“That is the thing that has enabled us to do so much more,” Mauser said. “But it definitely is a full-time job to handle all the workers we have, and coordinate their schedules.”
Slidell became affiliated with the Keep America Beautiful program in 2007, now with its own Keep Slidell Beautiful team. And not surprisingly, Mauser was immediately named executive director of that group.
The organization now coordinates two Citywide Cleanup days in Slidell each year, which has drawn approximately 600 volunteers for each event. Then, Mauser is coordinating approximately 100 individuals each year from the City Court, who must work off community service sentences. Last year, Mauser had 6,200 hours of work he was able to use in the city, not only improving the look of Slidell, but also saving money for the city.
One of the main ways Mauser has helped save city money is by utilizing volunteers for the annual Mardi Gras parade cleanup. Slidell has almost a dozen parades and the city streets need to be cleaned after each one.
When Mauser accepted the job of parade cleanup, he convinced the city to purchase 500 trash cans that city workers put out before each parade, then pick up. That is the only city time needed for the cleanup job, since Mauser uses volunteers to do all the other cleanup.
“The trash cans have been a great help for us, but especially because it sends a message to the public to not throw trash all over in the first place,” he said.
Mauser and the city have received numerous awards for some of their efforts, with Mauser recently named the top director in the state by the Keep Louisiana Beautiful organization, something he says “is one award I’m probably most proud of.”
Through it all, he not only has plenty of thankful words for volunteers and local groups that have helped in many ways, but had especially sincere words for his second in command, Slidell City Council Administrative Assistant Wanda Beelman.
“When I went to the first organizational meeting for the Clean City Committee, Wanda was one of about 13 people who showed up, along with myself,” he said. “When they asked me to be the director, I asked Wanda to be my secretary since I could tell she was the kind of person who would be great.
“Since then I have never let her resign,” he said with a laugh. “But honestly, she does so much work behind the scenes to help this all go. I could never have accomplished all these things if Wanda wasn’t doing so much work to help us.”
Beelman has teamed with Mauser to write many grants for the city, bringing in small amounts of money for beautification projects and more.
A few of the improvement projects the group has accomplished have been the Adopt-A-Street program (18 adopt groups), two bayou cleanups, Clean/Green Schools, cigarette litter prevention program and more.
One big project for the group right now is a $10,000 grant that is funding vegetable garden beds, herb beds and flower beds that will be set up outside the new Slidell Senior Center. An especially interesting aspect of the beds is that Mauser is having them built about 30 inches off the ground, so the elevated beds can be accessed easily by seniors without bending over, and even by those in wheelchairs.
Another project Mauser is very proud of is a massive overhaul and cleanup of Slidell’s historic Greenwood Cemetery, between Second Street and Carey Street. Mauser loves the area so much that he bought four plots, since the land is owned by the city and still has plots for sale.
“The cemetery was so overgrown when we started, but right from the start, we took out nine truck loads of bushes and brush,” he said. “We painted all 73 pauper crosses and many other tombs there. Opening it up has not only made it a beautiful place, but has minimized the mold that had been growing on the tombs.”
Mauser has a list of 14 beautification projects that have been finished in Slidell, such as the Heritage Park Iris Garden, Pearl Williams Memorial Garden at John Slidell Park and Front Street Mulch Project to name a few. Looking ahead he wants to address the city entrance signs.
Even though he had knee replacement surgery for both knees in 2010, Mauser said the greatly increased workload of directing Keep Slidell Beautiful is still something he enjoys doing.
“I am still happy doing this, and I especially love it when somebody I don’t even know thanks me for some of the work we have done,” he said. “That is really my pay.”