Jim Cotter, 81, rolls cream-colored paint onto the front of a modest one-story house on Main Street in Glouster, Ohio (pop. 1,791), applying a fresh coat of confidence to his once disheartened hometown.
“The trick is to use plenty of paint,” says Cotter, a retired sign painter and advertising agency owner. “You want to get nice, even coverage.”
When Cotter’s wife, Marjorie, died last year, he sought to take his mind off his grief and to focus his energies on a positive pursuit. So Cotter, who lives in Kettering, Ohio, returned to his hometown of Glouster where he and his sister, Jody Moore, 83, began sprucing up the dilapidated coal mining community.
“I’d been thinking of doing something like this for a long time,” Cotter says. “This was just the right time to do it.”
Cotter started by painting the town’s fire hydrants, and as he and Moore washed windows, picked up trash and scraped peeling paint from vacant buildings, passersby who saw them working joined in. Before long they had the help of more than 40 volunteers—and a steady stream of donated money and painting supplies.
Since their work began earlier this year, the Glouster Volunteers, as Cotter’s crew calls itself, have painted 45 homes and businesses, and they’ve also installed fencing, cleared weeds, leveled and seeded vacant lots, and painted and installed windows in the Trimble High School stadium.
“It’s amazing to see the buildings looking so nice now,” says volunteer June Bingman, 78, a Glouster resident. “It gives people a sense of pride in their community.”
The Glouster Volunteers gave a facelift to a vacant photography studio, renovated a former gas station and applied a fresh coat of bright blue paint to an empty downtown store. Within weeks, the vacant building had a new tenant—an antiques store.
“I’ve been waiting for a mission in my life, and Mr. Cotter came in and jumpstarted all of us,” says volunteer Eric Faires, 42, a stay-at-home dad and Glouster native. “A lot of folks in town wanted to do something but didn’t know where to start.”
Through the 1970s, Glouster was a hub of activity, with restaurants and stores lining its streets. As coal mining and related industries declined, the community fell on hard times. Cotter and the other volunteers hope their beautification project sparks the town’s economic and spiritual renewal.
“I hope the people here can maintain the same feeling and want things to be better,” Cotter says.
Back on Main Street, resident Jean Jewell expresses gratitude for the selfless work of the volunteers, watching as they apply sage-colored paint to the side of her home.
“This color is beautiful, isn’t it?” Jewell asks. “This is a nice little town, and it made me sick to see it go downhill. When Mr. Cotter came back to town, it was like God sent him to pick the town back up.”
Out in front of Jewell’s house, Jack Nagucki, 61, a retired teacher, stands high on a ladder, prepping the eaves with a paint scraper he brought from home.
“I knew if I brought it, they’d put me to work scraping,” he says. “But I don’t mind. I love doing this.”