A model of good health _ and conservation _ 60-something custodian logs serious mileage walking to work

Wednesday, March 9th 2005, 1:02 pm
By: News On 6

UNITY, Maine (AP) _ For nearly a quarter century of winter snowstorms, spring rains and summer heat, Jimmy Hubbard has hoofed it to and from his job as a custodian, a daily round trip of five miles across central Maine's farming country.

The rail-thin 60-someting isn't interested in being a model of environmentalism at the ecology-minded Unity College where he works. He shows scant interest in the state's media campaigns to get people to walk more and live healthier lives.

``I don't do it to be a model,'' Hubbard said with a wide, toothless grin. ``I do it 'cause I have to get places.''

So far, his daily treks have amounted to power-walking around the Earth, or hiking the Appalachian Trail 14 times. He has no interest in buying a car and no intention of quitting his daily jaunts until his retirement in a couple more years.

``I don't mind,'' Hubbard said on a recent morning after making his way to work through a late-winter rain that washed away part of the snow left by a blizzard a few days earlier. ``It's just the idea that I have to get where I'm going and just keep going 'til I get there.''

He had a car years ago _ he doesn't remember the year or model _ but gave it to his brother. He never bothered to go for his driver's license after getting his permit. ``I'm just a person who doesn't have to have a lot of fancy stuff,'' he said.

Once in a while, he accepts a ride if someone offers it and the weather's especially bad.

Hubbard lives in the little yellow house where he was born. It sits close to a road that winds through the woods at the edge of this town of about 1,800 people. On his 20 acres, he keeps a variety of pets, including three llamas, a bobcat, coyote, Canadian lynx and foxes, sheep, pheasants and peacocks.

Feeding and caring for his animals gets Hubbard up at 4 or 5 a.m., keeps him busy well into the evening after he returns from work, and costs $600 a month. ``I've had animals ever since I was a kid,'' said Hubbard, who is no longer married but lives with a son and teenage grandchildren. ``It's just a hobby.''

Most students on the campus of nearly 600 students have at least a passing familiarity with Hubbard, who carries home-baked cakes to his friends on the college staff on their birthdays. Some students and women on the staff get flowers on their birthdays.

``He's a wicked sweet guy,'' said Tyler Evan, a wildlife conservation major from Brattleboro, Vt. Some students say they knew Hubbard walked a lot, but didn't know he walked so far.

``Basically, it's a healthy campus, so he's a role model,'' said Kyle Koch of Madison, N.H., a junior ecology major.

The students think so highly of Hubbard that for the second year in a row this spring, he will hand out saplings to seniors as they march across the stage in a Unity graduation tradition. One of the professors took up a collection to buy Hubbard a bright yellow L.L. Bean jacket, which he wears on his daily jaunts.

A framed certificate on the wall of his closet-sized office proclaims Hubbard the ``King of Unity.''

Hubbard's daily routine also earns the admiration of state officials, who are trying to help Mainers avoid chronic disease by getting them to exercise and live healthier lifestyles. State multimedia efforts focus on two leading causes of chronic disease: obesity and smoking.

Health officials acknowledge that not everyone in a rural state like Maine can walk to work as Hubbard does. But state radio and television spots, which urge people to park their cars farther from work, do errands on foot and use home chores as exercise routines, stress that any physical activity improves health.

The state Transportation Department is trying to remove barriers that keep children from walking to school, and a Healthy Maine Walks Web site helps connect Mainers with local trails and other safe walking routes.

More than 4,000 Maine residents die every year and 29,000 are hospitalized from cardiovascular disease, according to the state Health Bureau. Much of the problem is due to lifestyles that have grown more unhealthy over the generations, as people eat high-calorie foods and get little exercise, said state Health Director Dora Anne Mills.

``Over the last 100 years, we've segregated daily exercise and good nutrition from our daily lives,'' said Mills. The state is trying to reverse that trend, she said, and Hubbard is ``a prime example of what people can do.''