MANSFIELD -- Kim Hildreth has always had an interest in making things better. That desire has connected her with a variety of efforts, including rape crisis intervention, domestic violence prevention, litter clean-up, and tree planting.
She grins when asked about the variety of her personal commitments.
“People just have to be willing to step up and support one another wherever possible,” she said.
Her employment has provided her with most of her opportunities to be helpful. But, it's pretty clear she goes beyond her job descriptions.
The Ashland native began her career with the Mansfield-based Center for Individual and Family Services. There, she supported the 24-hour Help Line emergency counseling service. She also participated in the agency’s rape crisis intervention program. This agency broadened over the years and is now known as Catalyst. Hildreth is a board member.
The experiences she had in her first job led her to become director of the three-county Domestic Violence shelter in 1994. She was prepared for this work with a 1985 psychology, religion, and philosophy degree from Ashland College.
“One big side benefit from the experience at the shelter was my exposure to great women like JoAnn Dutton in leadership positions,” Hildreth said.
Ten years into her career, she decided to make a shift. She took a job with the city of Mansfield in 1995, focusing on litter control and recycling. She was hired by then-mayor Lydia Reid, another woman she admires for her leadership skills.
Hildreth’s focus remained on working with people, but her target became the environment. She has been with the city for 24 years and has led numerous environmental efforts from preventing stormwater pollution to cleaning up litter to teaching students the benefits of planting trees.
“I learned the importance of dealing with people when I was a waitress at the Lyn-Way Restaurant in Ashland while attending Ashland College,” Hildreth said.
Perhaps her most significant achievement has been leading the effort to establish the county-wide Earth Stewardship Program, now in its 23rd year.
She said the Earth Stewardship celebration began when a committee decided the local Earth Day celebration should last longer than one day and should include all of Richland County. The new event included Arbor Day, Soil Stewardship Week as well as Earth Day. Residents were invited to identify projects, locations, and timeframes.
“They can do what they want, where they want and when they want,” Hildreth said, adding that participants were only required to register.
Over the years, the event has grown in length and now lasts nearly three months.
Litter clean-up has been the most successful project over the years by Earth Stewardship participants. Planting flowers and trees have also been popular. Hildreth said more unusual projects such as graffiti removal have also been completed.
Partners in the annual observance include Downtown Mansfield, Richland Solid Waste Authority, Richland Soil, and Water Conservation district and Richland Public Health. Last year, Mansfield in Bloom joined the list of supporters. Hildreth is a member of the MiB steering committee.
During the 2018 observance, 51 groups or individuals completed 63 projects. The event involved 775 volunteers who planted more than 7,000 flowers and picked up more than 600 bags of litter and trash.
Statistics from this year’s observance are not yet available.
Hildreth’s position is part of the city’s engineering department. She said her favorite tasks are still public speaking and education.
“I enjoy being around and working with people. I have been able to do that during my 24 years with the city,” Hildreth said, adding she particularly likes working with school students.
Another responsibility that came her way about 20 years ago was becoming the city’s staff liaison with the Mansfield Shade Tree Commission. In this role, she helped to establish Arbor Day activities, which focused on tree planting.
Replacing decayed or damaged trees in city right-of-ways is a big part of the city’s ongoing tree planting and maintenance programs. A significant number of new trees have been planted downtown in recent years, particularly along Main and Fourth Streets.
Hildreth said a major tree project underway now is the removal and replacement of ash trees killed by the emerald ash borer.
Her current role puts her in the field most days, working to prevent pollutants from reaching the city’s stormwater drainage system and, ultimately, our streams. Many of the contaminants that get into the stormwater system do so via grates along city streets. She said it could happen from simple activities like washing a car on the street.
Hildreth also conducts construction inspections to assure storm drainage will be properly handled. And, of course, she conducts training sessions with members of the public on how to avoid polluting.
She married John Hildreth in 1986. He recently retired after a long career directing the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District. The couple lives in the Butler area.
Hildreth’s hobbies include gardening, cooking and reading Stephen King novels. She said she hates shopping, except when it comes time to buy flowers for spring planting.
Other local organizations she has supported include United Way and the Clear Fork Foundation. Hildreth said her greatest frustration is that littering doesn’t stop despite her efforts and those of others. She said a neighborhood that appears to have a small amount of littering really has the same amount as others.
“The difference is that they just have more people picking it up,” Hildreth concluded.
Editor’s Note - Tom Brennan is the retired editor of the News Journal and chairman of the Mansfield in Bloom steering committee. If you are interested in volunteering for litter clean-up or tree maintenance/planting projects, please contact Roberta Perry at 419-755-7234 or Roberta@chooserichland.com.