Arthur Whigham stays on fire about cleaning ditches, cutting limbs, removing trash and tackling other odd jobs to improve the look of his Rankin County hometown.
People often notice the 64-year-old Army veteran working hard as a volunteer in the downtown Richland vicinity off busy U.S. 49.
It’s all volunteer work, and Whigham goes it alone up to twelve hours a day. He’s out there even as July’s summer temperatures climb beyond the mid-90s; hot weather doesn’t bother him. Whigham tries to stay cool with a hat, a white T-shirt to go along with his Army fatigues, and a handy cloth to wipe off the sweat. A cross dangles from his neck as he works.
“It’s my passion,’’ Whigham says. “It’s who I am.’’ Whether he’s got a weedeater in hand or wearing a mask, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast resident finishes jobs with his own equipment.
People will never see Whigham working with another clean-up partner.
“If you want to do it right, do it yourself,” he said.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Whigham focuses on his clean-up mission to upgrade the appearance of portions of Richland. He moved to the Central Mississippi community several weeks ago from Biloxi and likes the quality of life.
“In Richland, Mississippi, the people are extremely nice and courteous,” Whigham says. “They are so appreciative and grateful for what you do.’’
His schedule from one day to the next varies: it could be working highway ditches one day and cutting tall grass in a neighbor’s yard on day two to keep snakes away.
“I play it by ear,” Whigham says. The scorching summer days roll by, and “I see something that needs to be done.”
It could mean seven-day work weeks, but it’s really a labor of love for the retired Mississippian.
Whigham says he enjoys working outdoors. He did it as an MDOT employee and as a laborer beautifying community college campuses. He can bush hog and take on projects most people would shy away from.
It’s just part of his DNA, he says.
“I’ve worked for charitable organizations all of my life,” including the Salvation Army.
Besides being passionate about upgrading the appearance of neighborhoods, Whigham stays in shape by pumping iron and working out. He’s been spotted at places like Planet Fitness in Pearl and at Fitness 1440 in Richland. The gym off U.S. 49 isn’t far from the ditches and roads where he volunteers. The outdoor work is a dependable way for the former body builder to keep in tip-top shape.
The Mississippian isn’t rich, and he didn’t turn down an offer recently to help him financially. Richland neighbors collected $180 as a way to say thanks for his hard work. Whigham notes he buys his own equipment, and that doesn’t come cheap.
Honorably discharged from the Army, Whigham comes from a military family. His dad served in the Coast Guard, and he has an uncle who was a Navy man. His deep sense of community service was passed off to his son, Arthur Harris, Jr., who works in law enforcement in the Dallas area.
Asked if he’s noticed any problems with the work he performs, Whigham noted motorists along U.S. 49 need to slow down.
“Cars go fast down through here.”
But that won’t stop him. One of his first jobs happened when he gazed at a neighbor’s yard and noticed the grass was getting out of hand. “It has issues,” he said.
People wanting to thank super volunteer Arthur Whigham can drive by to honk or wish him well. Typically, he’s laboring in the city near the Richland Public Library and local Kroger. Chances are, the Army veteran won’t pause very long to chat. There’s always more work to be done to benefit his new hometown of Richland.