If you are driving along south Golf Course Road in Crystal Lake early in the morning, you can’t miss Larie McKeever. Clad in a bright-orange reflective vest and lugging three burgeoning garbage bags, the spry 80-year-old is cleaning up her neighborhood and brightening the days of passersby, one walk at a time.
“I try to leave the house as soon as it’s light outside,” McKeever said. “But if I open my door and it’s pouring down rain, I won’t walk. Then again, if it starts raining while I’m on my walk, I won’t turn back.”
McKeever has lived just off Golf Course Road since 1997, when she and her late husband, Gene, moved to the area from Wheaton. McKeever had retired from her role as librarian at Wheaton College and wanted to move closer to baby-sit her oldest grandchild, Kate, who was then a toddler. It was Kate who inadvertently inspired her grandmother’s routine walking. The daily 3-mile jaunt was borne out of habit for McKeever, who started walking the route when Kate was in middle school and began taking the bus. McKeever would walk to see her as she waited at her stop. She kept up the route when Kate’s younger sister started middle school a few years later.
A love for walking started long before McKeever became a grandmother. As a child growing up in Story City, Iowa, McKeever walked with her father, the local pharmacist, to the drugstore nearly every day.
“He would tell me to ‘grab a bag,’ and we would pick up litter along the way,” McKeever said.
Although a little drizzle won’t stop McKeever, she prefers walking in the winter, as the summertime months are uncomfortably humid for her. She wears “grubby clothes” that she doesn’t mind dirtying, and always tennis shoes in the summer and Totes waterproof boots in the winter.
“I prefer walking in the winter to the summer because I can dress for it. At my age, you can’t take too many layers off,” McKeever said with a laugh.
A heart condition doesn’t slow the spunky octogenarian, either. McKeever has a condition called aortic stenosis, or a narrowing of the aorta. Although the valve will eventually need to be replaced, her cardiologist applauds her daily exercise.
“He told me to just keep doing what I’m doing,” McKeever said. “Improving my health has been one of the most rewarding things about my walks.”
McKeever has found more than just good health on her daily walks. Driver’s licenses and credit cards (which she dutifully turns in), pencils, candy wrappers, a headboard, you name it, McKeever has picked it up. She wears thick gloves to pick up trash and aluminum cans, which she gives to a friend, who then sells the metal and donates the money to the Lake in the Hills Food Pantry. She’ll even stoop to pick up small roadkill, as she “hates to see it just lying there out in the street.” McKeever often finds articles of clothing in the Woodscreek and Ken Bird parks and abides by a simple rule of thumb: She moves the clothing into plain sight and leaves it for two weeks. If no one returns to claim it, McKeever takes the clothing home, washes it herself and gives it to a schoolteacher friend who distributes it to children in need.
McKeever’s Good Samaritan acts do not go unnoticed. Many drivers stop their cars to say hello or wave to McKeever as they pass by. Some neighbors leave bags of aluminum cans on their front lawns to support McKeever’s collection, and others deliver notes and cookies as tokens of thanks. When McKeever twisted her ankle a few weeks ago, many passersby told her they worried about her and were glad to see her out walking again.
“We certainly appreciate all she does,” said Victor Ramirez, director of public works in Crystal Lake. “Many on my staff have seen her out walking, and it’s inspiring to us. She has taken it upon herself to instill a greater sense of pride in the community.”
Although McKeever has become something of an icon in her neighborhood and to those traveling down Golf Course Road on their morning commutes, she is quick to deflect accolades for her impact on the community.
“I just like seeing the parks and streets cleaner,” McKeever said. “I don’t like litter; I never have.”
It seems McKeever’s distaste for waste has inspired others to keep their community clean. McKeever has heard of or seen other walkers and runners carrying garbage bags of their own as they wind down the tree-lined stretch of Golf Course Road. While she is happy to see others taking up the cause, McKeever often looks back on the path that led her here.
“I think about my dad a lot when I’m walking,” McKeever said. “I think about how proud he would be that I’m still picking up litter, all these years later.”