It is said no man is an island.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Take Great Bend native Kenny Penka.
Those who don’t know Penka most likely have seen him. He’s they guy pushing the lawnmower around and around the islands on Broadway Avenue.
"Once I get done, its about time for me to start over again," a sweaty Penka joked on a recent steamy morning. He cares for 16 of the 18 islands, mowing and trimming them each once a week during the spring, summer, and raking up the leaves in the fall.
From start to finish, it takes about eight hours. That includes trips back and forth to his pick-up to dump grass clippings.
Up until last July, Penka worked for Great Bend Packing. But, he was one of the 275-some employees let go when the plant closed.
Then, he was approached by the Great Bend Beautification Committee about tending to the mowing. "I just fell upon it," he said of the job.
The maintenance of the strips of grass has since been turned over to the City of Great Bend. City Administrator Howard Partington said local officials just picked up where the committee left off by contracting with Penka.
"It’s quite a job," Penka said, mopping his brow. "I think I spend more time chasing things (like his truck) than I do working."
He has a system. He first uses a gasoline-powered trimmer to whip the grass from around the trees and from the cracks in the encircling bricks. Then, he rounds the island with the mower, stopping every couple laps to empty his grass catcher.
Then, he moves on to the next island and repeats the procedure.
As he’s mowing, cars whiz down both sides of the islands, sometimes within a couple feet of Penka. "The traffic took a while to get used to," he said.
It’s better this summer, even with the start of school. Last year when 10th Street torn up due to construction, "the traffic was unreal."
For the most part, he enjoys the work (he has other mowing jobs besides the islands) and keeps him outdoors. However, "when it was a 105, it made me think ‘do I really want to do this?"
The islands have become landmarks in Great Bend. So, at the end of the day as he looks down the row of neatly manicured patches of green, he has a sense of pride.
"It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it," he said with a smile.