Retirement active for Chairman Max
Ted Morse was surprised last year to see Max Atwell policing up the overflow from the recycle bin the city placed in the parking lot of Morse's market.
The cleanup was an added bit of community service Atwell volunteered in addition to his commitment to manage the De Soto Rotary Club's newspaper recycling bin spotted by its side.
"He's the one that makes it work," Morse said of the recycling bin.
Attending to the Rotary newspaper dumpster Monday-- and cleaning up around the city's recycling bin next to it -- was all part of a busy day for the "retired" Atwell.
"Some people don't know what full is," he said of his attention to the recycling bin.
After that was finished, he went to De Soto Feed and Garden to pick up more of the mosquito repellent he would later spread at Miller Memorial Park in preparation for the De Soto Days Festival and then dropped by Laidlaw Transportations offices for assurances the buses that are to shuttle Saturday between De Soto High School parking lot and festival grounds at Miller Park will be there. As he went about his business, frequent calls on his cell phone interrupted his progress as callers attended to last-minute details for the three-day festival that starts Thursday.
The sudden crush of the festival is keeping him away from the other volunteer work that fills the 68-year-old Atwell's retirement. In addition to the newspaper bin and De Soto Days, Atwell helps with De Soto Rotary Club activities and those at the De Soto United Methodist Church. He regularly donates time to the De Soto Multi-Service Center with the Catch-A-Ride program, takes occasional turns as a driver for Meals on Wheels. And although Atwell will tell you he can afford to contribute all the volunteer hours because he is retired, his commitment to the community started long before he hung up his hat and boots 11 years ago as a fireman for the Consolidated Northeast Johnson County Fire District No. 2. He helped start and run the Pioneer Riders, a horse club that thrived in De Soto in the 1960s and 1970s, was a charter member of the now defunct De Soto Jaycees, served as a De Soto firefighter and fire chief, and did about a 20-year stint on the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education.
Atwell is, De Soto Multi-Service Center director Jodi Hitchcock said, one of those people who make the community work.
"He's always there," she said. "He's one of the first people to volunteer, and we've sent him on some doozies -- trust me. It's a rare week, he doesn't take someone someplace for Catch a Ride."
"He's busier as a retired person than some people are with full-time jobs."
This year, De Soto Festival Committee members honored one of their own with the selection of Atwell as grand marshal of the De Soto Days Festival Parade. It was an easy choice, said parade committee chair Kathy Ross, and one Atwell refused last year.
"I think the committee wanted to recognize for all the work and all the years and all the dedication he has given the De Soto Days Festival," Ross said. "Anything you need and everything you need he does, and he does it with a smile.
"This being a special year, we thought it would be a special way to honor Max as our leader."
Atwell said he didn't know the source of his commitment to volunteer service but that it was longstanding.
"From a young age, I always thought you owe back to the community," he said. "I've always helped when I could."
His duties with the De Soto Days festivities have become more pressing in the last month.
"It's not so bad until the last couple of weeks," he said. "There's 10 of us on the committee so things get spread out. I have really good help, so if we all do our jobs, it works out.
"I just think De Soto Days is a great way to get people together in the community to have a good time and celebrate our little community."
Once honored in the parade, Atwell and his wife, Star, will be in the middle of the action, selling lemonade at a stand on food vendor's row.
"Last year, we were so busy I didn't get a chance to see who was there," he said. "Star took the orders and told me to 'keep squeezing.'
"I like to visit when we have time."