Even though Gary Dangel has been retired for 12 years, he is busier than ever. As a resident of Cincinnati’s Walnut Hills for the past 30 years, he saw things that needed to be done in his neighborhood and got to work. He hasn’t stopped since.
“[Walnut Hills] is a neighborhood that’s on the rise,” said Dangel. “It’s a neighborhood that’s had its difficulties but is coming back. The saying goes, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’ and I thought that was pretty good advice.”
He started small, volunteering with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful’s Vacant Lots Occupied program in 2014. The project was focused around taking vacant lots, cleaning them up, and “activating them.”
Dangel liked this project because he had been mapping the numerous vacant lots in his neighborhood and wondered how he could “take something that was a negative and make it positive.” And that’s what he’s been doing since.
Dangel, who co-founded Elevate Walnut Hills, a community engagement group made up of residents and businesses vigilantly dedicated to making their community stronger and better, has been intimately involved in the planning and execution of two significant Keep America Beautiful/Lowe’s Community Partners Grant Program initiatives.
More than 100 Lowe’s Heroes and other community volunteers worked with Dangel to transform a blighted vacant lot into a thriving community garden for Frederick Douglass School and the Walnut Hills’ community.
The blighted property was barren for years until Dangel was able to secure ownership of the property. The final project plan included raised vegetable beds surrounded by monarch butterfly-friendly shrubs, an art area for neighborhood afterschool enrichment programs, a sensory garden, and a walking meditation pathway meandering through the garden.
Dangel has also participated with Lowe’s Heroes, The Davey Tree Expert Co., and other KCB volunteers in the rehabilitation of the McMicken Play Area in the Over-the-Rhine, a vibrant public space integrating art and nature.
Before he retired, Dangel was a graphic designer. He still considers himself a graphic designer: “Just not a graphic designer for pay.” He now uses his seasoned communication skills to improve the public’s perception of his neighborhood.
In addition to co-founding Elevate Walnut Hills, he has volunteered his design skills to create the promotional material for KCB’s first public service announcement, The Philanthrop. The design reflects a classic movie poster featuring iconic philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and promotes the two-minute short film that highlights what KCB does – which, as a dedicated volunteer, Dangel is quite familiar with.
NOMINATE a volunteer that makes an impact in your community! Keep America Beautiful is thankful for our dedicated volunteers and to celebrate them, we encourage entries for the “Volunteer Spotlight” feature on kab.org. (The volunteers can be nominated by an affiliate, State Leader or sponsor. Affiliate staff and/or State Leader staff are not eligible.)