Marge Bates shakes her head as she eyes a weed along the edge of the lawn just outside the Tukwila Community Center.
“I don’t think anyone should have to walk over a weed,” Bates said as she bends over to pull out a noxious plant on a recent cloudy morning. “I like things to look nice.”
Bates, 85, has volunteered to help keep things looking nice at the community-center grounds since it opened 13 years ago above the banks of the Duwamish River. She lives just a couple of blocks from the center. She walks over two to three days a week to pull weeds, cut branches and pick up trash at the parking lot, lawns and flower beds.
“I’m doing something worthwhile,” Bates said about her motivation to keep the center grounds clean and trimmed. “I’m not a card player. And it’s silly to pay to exercise and that bores me.”
The chores allow Bates to bring along her dog Lucky, an old terrier she estimates to be about 20 years old who no longer can hear.
“I can do this when I want and bring my dog,” said Bates as she picked up a candy wrapper from the grass. “I have time, I’m retired. I have the energy and the interest.”
Bates said her efforts are to help the city parks maintenance crews.
“The fellows do a great job, but they do not have the time to spend a whole day here,” she said. “This doesn’t cost me anything. I’m on a limited income and this is something I can do.”
Bates was born in Tacoma but moved to Tukwila with her family in the seventh grade in 1937. She graduated in 1941 from Foster High School, got married and raised three sons and a daughter who all graduated from Foster. She worked in the mail order room for Sears for more than 30 years.
She remembers when the land where the community center sits served as a radish and onion patch. In fact, farmland used to dominate Tukwila as farmers would truck their goods to the Pike Place Market in Seattle.
“I worked in the fields to earn my school clothes,” Bates said. “This was farm country. I picked peas and beans.”
As Bates, a widow for the past 10 years, walks the community center grounds she points to the blackberry bushes starting to take over along the banks of the river.
“I tried so hard,” Bates said. “I wanted the riverbank without blackberries. I spent hours and hours but I couldn’t win against the blackberries. I gave up.”
Obviously, it was a fight Bates didn’t want to end.
“It was too dangerous and too close to the water,” she said. “I figured let the fishermen do it if they don’t want to stand or walk through berry vines.”
The proud grandmother of four grandchildren can find many other challenges on the grounds besides the blackberries by the river.
One recent day Bates noticed the children who play at the center’s water-spray park didn’t have any shady spots to hang out if they wanted a break from the play area. So Bates started to trim branches from several nearby trees in order to create room on the grass under the trees.
“I pull off stuff and leave it and they haul it away,” she said of parks maintenance workers. “I don’t know if they wanted it done or not, but I did it.”
Sheri McConnaughey, Tukwila recreation coordinator, has watched Bates for years show up a couple of days per week to the community center to keep the grounds looking good.
“I see her in the parking lot picking up litter and weeding; she’s special,” McConnaughey said. “And her own yard is meticulous.”
Bates loves to work in her yard and the much bigger yard at the community center.
“I don’t like to see the weeds,” she said.
And how much longer does Bates plan to keep on weeding for Tukwila?
“As long as I can,” she said.