Family serves community while honoring loved one

Published 2:15 am Monday, September 20, 2004

By By SPIROS GALLOS / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Denise Connell of Niles, along with family and friends, does her best to ensure the two-mile stretch of U.S. 12 from Third Street to the Cass County line, looks the best it can.
Denise and her mother and step-father, Gail and Steve Crocker, are part of the Michigan Department of Transportation Adopt-A-Highway program.
Like them, thousands of volunteers across Michigan take time three times a year to clean up roadsides and keep Michigan looking beautiful.
The MDOT Adopt-A-Highway Program has seen 232 community groups across the state report for duty since its inception in 1990.
MDOT provides the groups with safety vests, garbage bags, and signs promoting each groups sponsorship of their stretch of road. Groups must also attend a highway safety class each year.
This is the family's first year participating in the program. Denise and her family have dedicated their volunteer work to the memory of Steven Scott Lakes, Denise's brother and Gail's son.
Steven died in 2000 after he moved from Niles to Texas, and his family wanted to do something to honor his memory, but couldn't think of what to do.
Denise presented the idea to adopt a highway to Gail and Steve and they were all for it.
The two-mile stretch of U.S. 12 that they clean holds a lot of significance for the family, it runs right by Brandywine Junior/Senior High School, where Steven attended high school.
There's also a 13 acre plot of land on the north side of the road where Steven rode his dirt bike when he lived in Niles.
On average, it takes a group of six about two hours to clean up the stretch of highway. Gail said that the last time they cleaned the road, in July, they filled about 30 30-gallon trash bags.
In addition to cleaning, Gail plans to spread wildflower seeds along the side of the road to beautify it.
As to the future of their participation in the program, Denise said as long as they have helpers, the family will keep taking part in the Adopt-A-Highway program.
Gail said that everyone could benefit from taking part in the program.
Anyone interested in participating in the program should contact their local Adopt-A-Highway program coordinator. A list of MDOT Adopt-A-Highway program coordinators, go to