When Harry and Jane Beckett are painting memorial benches along Columbia trails, they often encounter walkers, joggers and bikers who pause to thank them for their service.
“People are so nice,” Jane Beckett said. “When they see us working or painting, so many people go by and say, ‘Thank you for the work that you do.’”
For over a year, the Becketts have volunteered to preserve a distinct aspect of the parks and trail system by repainting the memorial benches.
They have repainted at least a dozen benches in Cosmo, Rothwell and Twin Lakes parks and along the MKT Trail.
If the Becketts notice a bench in disrepair, they ask to repaint it. Otherwise, someone from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department will point out a bench that needs a paint job. The city provides all supplies.
Every bench gets a coat of brown paint with standard white trim for the lettering. On average, the Becketts say, it takes around four hours to complete a bench, depending on the condition and amount of lettering.
Harry Beckett paints the bench while his wife uses her art skills and steady hand to meticulously restore the grooved letters in the wood.
“It’s nice being able to use my artistic abilities to beautify Columbia and make people happy,” she said.
The Becketts began their involvement with the Parks and Rec Department as part of Park Patrol, which works to keep the city’s parks clean and safe. When painting benches, they wear neon yellow vests that read “Park Patrol Volunteer.”
“People go out and walk the trails, and they’re kind of like the watch guard for the park,” Harry Beckett said about the park volunteers.
When the pandemic curtailed the couple’s indoor volunteer work with organizations like Mobility Worldwide, they searched for ways to continue helping the community in an outdoor setting.
“COVID prompted us to find volunteer activities outside,” Jane Beckett said.
When they approached the city to offer their help, Neighborhood Services Manager Leigh Kottwitz responded with a job that would incorporate their love of the outdoors with Jane Beckett’s painting skills.
“As you can imagine, there are tons of things that could be done to improve the community and the parks, and there’s just not enough paid staff to do it,” Harry Beckett said.
The Becketts also volunteer for the Adopt-A-Trail program and take care of a quarter-mile section of the MKT Trail. Together, they trim branches, clean up honeysuckle bushes and sweep leaves off rocks and walkways.
“We’re doing it with love, joy and happiness,” said Jane Beckett.
Aside from volunteering, both Becketts like to be outside where they can walk and cycle.
Harry Beckett is a professional musician, music therapist and adjunct instructor with the MU School of Music, while Jane Beckett is a retired art teacher who taught for 20 years. An MU grad with degrees in art and Italian, she has also worked with Art Underground, a downtown art school that offers lessons to students from kindergarten through high school.
The couple lived in Springfield for 26 years before moving to Columbia four years ago and say they have been actively involved in the community ever since.
“It’s simple,” Harry Beckett said. “It’s all about giving back to the community.”