UNSUNG HERO: Henk Denis

Thanks to Henk Denis, most vandalism in Belmont comes with a built-in apology.

The Coal Point resident, 81, has spent several years removing graffiti in his area.

News of his dedication has also reached the authors of the work he removes, who often accompany their scrawls with a small note saying ‘‘sorry’’.

‘‘The first time I saw it I laughed,’’ Mr Denis said.

‘‘It shows they have some feeling of guilt.’’ 

 Mr Denis usually keeps a tally of the graffiti he has seen in his head.

Every second Saturday afternoon, the retiree and carer packs up the paints and gets to work removing as much as possible.

Mr Denis said Saturday afternoon was a good time for his work – it was easier to find a park, and he could  ‘‘take it easy’’ as he headed back to the familiar hotspots.

He said his work was motivated by a pride of place as well as a genuine distaste for most of what is painted. 

He said profanity, particularly in public areas frequented by families and children, was one thing that often spurred him into his work.

‘‘I just like to keep the town looking beautiful,’’ Mr Denis said.

‘‘I don’t mind if they’re artistic but the rubbish, I hate it...every time Isee it, it annoys me.’’

While the Toronto Rotary Club helps cover the costs of Mr Denis’s materials, he said it was a payment of less than $2 that stuck in his mind.

‘‘I was cleaning around the library at Toronto and a little girl, about 12, came along and said ‘Iadmire what you are doing’,’’ hesaid.

‘‘She asked if I take money.

‘‘I jokingly said I always take money.

‘‘She came out again, opened her little purse and gave me $1.65.’’

Mr Denis said he was so impressed by the girl’s generosity he made a point of honouring her.

He said the story was just one of dozens from people who spoke to him as he worked, but it remained one of his proudest moments doing his work.

‘‘That was nice, for a 12-year-old [to support what I’m doing],’’ MrDenis said.

While he often receives the help of volunteers from groups, including schools, Mr Denis said he still hoped to get through to the vandals and find a better outlet for them.

‘‘I’d like to talk to them and see what they are after, what they want,’’ he said.

‘‘But they’re young kids, and they respond to me.’'

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