Several people hope to name a alley after their late neighbor Michael "Mike" Green, once described as the "lovable, crotchety old grandpa of Yale Avenue."
The challenge: No one has ever attempted to name one of the city's alleys.
Now, city staff are exploring best practices in nearby St. Louis communities and working with City Council to decide how the process can move forward in a way that allows them to honor a beloved neighbor while guarding against candidates with questionable pasts.
Introducing Mike Green
Mike lived in the street's 1100 block. The U.S. military veteran raised three children with his wife, Barbara, and had grandchildren, said Kenneth Gurney, block captain for the area. He was a loving father and a great neighbor, Gurney said, and while he could be gruff and ruffle feathers, people congregated to him.
On nice days, he sat on his front porch to watch the world go by. Neighbors and their children would come by to chat, Gurney said, and soon a crowd had formed. Mike told stories and had a good time with those around him.
"Even when he was sick, he would bend over backwards to help you or to welcome you into his home," Gurney said.
An Aug. 3, 2010, certificate of recognition from the city—read at a National Night Out event in the neighborhood that year—honored Mike's more than 40 years of active citizenship. The document read:
"A certificate of recognition is bestowed upon Michael James Green on behalf of the mayor, City Council and the Yale Avenue neighbors of Richmond Heights, Missouri, and we do hereby thank him for his more than 40 years of active involvement in being a good neighbor, thereby making his neighborhood and community a more friendly, vibrant and safer place to live.
"It is with friendship and affection his neighbors consider Mr. Green to be the 'lovable, crotchety old Grandpa of Yale Avenue' and we wish him many more years of happy and productive years as a resident of Richmond Heights and Yale Avenue."
A council representative read the certificate, longtime Yale Avenue resident Paul April said. He recalls that the recognition surprised Mike and that Mike kept saying he didn't deserve it.
Lending a hand
April only learned of the effort to name the alley last week. But he supports the idea.
"I can't think of anyone who deserves this kind of recognition more," said April, who met Mike shortly after moving into the neighborhood 22 years ago.
April said Mike helped him find a way to transport his late mother-in-law over the three stairs at the front of his house: They brought a chair to her, and Mike led the way in carrying her up the stairs.
"It was awesome," April said.
At other times, as April drank coffee in the morning, he would see Mike going down the block while trimming residents' lawns with his edger. The neighborly gesture had a positive affect on April, who said he hires a yard service and is not "a lawn fanatic."
While Mike was, "on the surface, an Archie Bunker type," he had a heart of gold, April said. He helped everyone regardless of age, skin color or proximity to his house.
Mike died early last year.
"He's one of those people that you felt really lucky if you got the opportunity to get to know him," April said.
The naming of an alley
Around Halloween last year, a neighbor approached Gurney to ask how she get the alley that lies south of Oakland Avenue—between Yale Avenue and Blendon Place—named after Mike.
Gurney discussed the idea with Barbara Green, who he said thought it was a great idea. He sent an email to District 3 Councilwoman Gina Mitten asking for more information about how to proceed.
Last week, the .
Mayor James Beck asked council representatives to provide feedback on parameters they would like to see used in evaluating such nominations. While council members agreed Mike was a valued member of the community, several requested that candidates be vetted to prevent the recognition of people with questionable pasts.
City Manager Amy Hamilton indicated the city has never previously named alleys. She said Assistant City Manager would contact nearby cities to learn whether they have alley-naming parameters.
Fostering a sense of community
Gurney thinks naming the alley after Mike would bring the community together. When people have a personal connection to a piece of property—their house, for example—they tend to take care of it.
So if the alley bore Mike's name, residents who spot weeds or trash might be more inclined to clean it up.
"You try to take care of what is yours," Gurney said.