The 63-year-old retired casket maker has lived in Hobson City all his life and witnessed many changes to his home town — not all of them good.
“This used to be a nice little town,” Gilbert said. “But now it seems like it’s dead.”
Local business is almost nonexistent, and many homes are run down and vacant. There’s little tax revenue to keep the municipality up and running.
Hobson City does not have much, but it does seem to have in abundance residents like Gilbert who are willing to lend a hand to improve their community.
Gilbert recently volunteered his time to mow the overgrown grass on a few of Hobson City’s main streets, including Church Street and Martin Luther King Drive. Gilbert could be seen Wednesday walking up and down Church Street with a weed trimmer.
“He volunteered to help clean up Hobson City … he’s using his own tools and his own gasoline,” said Mayor Alberta McCrory. “We’re at a time where we can’t afford to pay people to do all this. We need people to help get things done.”
Gilbert said he first volunteered his time in late April by mowing the sides of MLK Drive.
“I did the whole thing by myself … a mile and a half I did … both sides,” Gilbert said.
Shortly thereafter, Gilbert received a letter the town had sent to residents asking for volunteers to keep the town clean. He then decided to go ahead and trim the grass on other town streets.
“I don’t do anything, I’m retired,” Gilbert said. “And I needed the exercise. And when I start doing something, I like to finish.”
Gilbert, who celebrated his 45th wedding anniversary in Hobson City a week ago, said he’s aware times are tough for the town and is glad to lend a hand.
“The city does need a little help,” Gilbert said.
Eric Stringer is also aware of the town’s plight and has done what he can to help out. Stringer, son of a former Hobson City mayor, is president of the Hobson City Community and Economic Development Corporation, a group of volunteers who have worked to improve the town for years.
The organization was formed about three years ago when the town was so indebted to Alabama Power that the electricity was shut off at the Town Hall. The group raised money and paid the town’s bills.
“We put Hobson City back in business,” Stringer said.
The group currently has its sights set on the town’s aging park. The first phase of the group’s plan involves constructing a new playground there this summer. Stringer said the organization has raised $50,000 and expects the project to be completed by late July or early August.
“Our plan is to have the community people come into the park and install this equipment,” Stringer said. “Our hope is to instill a sense of pride in the community.”
The next phase of the group’s renovation plan is to tear down the town’s old town hall, which is located at the park. Stringer said the Hobson City Town Council supports the idea and the group is trying to raise money for the demolition.
“It would cost more to renovate it than to remove it,” Stringer said. “We hope at some point to build a new community center there.”
Stringer said the main point of the park project is to inspire the rest of the community.
“We hope the park project will show the local community that we have a group of people who are dedicated and want to develop the town from an economic standpoint.”
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.