North Texas Daily

Denton man kicks butts off Square

Denton man kicks butts off Square

Denton man kicks butts off Square
August 06
13:07 2013

Renee Hansen / Senior Staff Writer

His faded yellow, wide-rimmed glasses reflect the early morning sun as he walks in to Jupiter House. The curves of a smile gently peer out from a long, wispy, white beard as he walks straight to the back and through the gate behind the counter, nodding to the workers.

But Jim Matheson isn’t a worker at the coffeehouse. He’s just a Denton resident who has a love for the town and a determination to keep it clean.

Matheson makes the three-block journey from his independent-living home to the Denton Square daily, stopping at Jupiter House before beginning his self-driven mission that he’s been doing for the past five years—ridding downtown Denton of cigarette butts.

Never mind the fact that Matheson is approaching his 70th birthday and dodging arthritis, he grabs his broom and dustpan and goes to work, cleaning the nooks and crannies of the Square. Ironically, he usually starts the mission with a trip to the back of the coffee shop to light himself up.

While he admitted that he’s flicked cigarettes before, he wants to encourage others to be careful about it, even if it seems like a lost cause.

“You can’t stop people from being people and throwing trash,” Matheson said.

A resident of Denton since 1974, Matheson has become a staple of the Square even before he began his undertaking of keeping it beautiful.

Mayor Mark Burroughs, a fellow frequent visitor to Jupiter House each morning, said of Matheson, “He is a constant, a part of the fabric of our downtown.”

A writer at heart and a previous shop-owner on Fry Street, Matheson remembers the city in a different way and longs for it to be like that again. He described the place between what is now Voertman’s and Big Mike’s Coffee as a once peaceful stretch of street that allowed little kids to freely roam about as their parents watched without a worry on nearby park benches.

But today, Matheson said that space is gone, replaced by beer bottles, trash and the always apparent cigarette butts.

“When they started drinking, it became the walking outhouse, the broken glass factory,” he said.

While Fry Street would love Matheson’s attention, he can’t be everywhere all the time, so he focuses on the Square during his daily route, but even that plan has slowed because of his age, he said.

He does these things because he loves Denton, while posing a question to others, making a twist on a famous quote: “Ask not what the City of Denton can do for you, but what can you do for the City of Denton?”

While Matheson doesn’t ask for anything in return, he’s received plenty of things from the community of Denton as he passes by them with his broom and pan.

One of the co-owners of J&J’s Pizza on the Square, Joe Vulpitta, 76, said he has known Matheson for 10 years, just by observing the younger man sweeping outside Joe’s shop-front.

“I never did question it,” Vulpitta said. “He just likes to be active. He’s not hurting anybody.”

Vulpitta shows his appreciation by offering Matheson a slice of pizza and a drink whenever he comes into the store, free of charge.

“He swept my floor,” Vulpitta said.  “One good act deserves another.”

Many people may not know Matheson by name, but his face is one recognized and remembered by those who come in contact with him. His frequency at Jupiter House has made him a regular among the locals, including the mayor.

“He’s one of those characters who stands out for all the right reasons,” Burroughs said. “He’s not only an interesting character, he’s a figure that harkens back to history.”

Julie Glover, Denton’s Economic Development Program Administrator, also knows of Matheson and his drive to clean the Square.

“He does it just because he loves downtown,” Glover said.

She herself has a heart for her city and has worked towards revitalizing Denton since 1996.

She explained that cleaner streets not only promote a healthy lifestyle but also make Denton an attractive city for visitors. She said that Matheson’s upkeep of the streets is ultimately helping out tourism to the city.

Along with Matheson, there are currently workers from the city of Denton that get paid to take care of the streets as well, but Matheson said each does their own thing, while leaving the other alone.

John Schubert, superintendent of parks and recreation, didn’t know about Matheson but said that his guys simply empty the trash receptacles on the corners and care for the plants.

“It sounds like he’s doing good and there’s no harm,” Schubert said.

But even if a rift between Matheson and the waste company did occur, the Mayor would have something to say.

“There’s plenty of room for more than one person to be looking out for the cleanliness of our city,” he said.

As for Matheson, he has no plans of stopping.

“I’ll do it as long as I can,” he said.

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