"People either like me or they don't," Ron Whitehead said, sitting in the kitchen of his Riverview home on a hot Wednesday afternoon.
Located in southwest Baltimore County, a short distance from the Patapsco River and the border with Anne Arundel County, Riverview is a community of approximately 980 homes, different in appearance from the larger homes in neighboring Lansdowne, Whitehead said.
"When I lived here as a kid, it was a great place to live," Whitehead, 71, said. "Nobody locked their doors."
Like him or not, Whitehead has been actively working for many years to maintain the community, an area bordered by Freeway from the east, Bigley Avenue from the west, Hollins Ferry Road from the north and Kessler Road from the south.
Living in Riverview or Lansdowne most of his life, Whitehead has witnessed a decline over the years, he said.
"My favorite expression is, this section of Baltimore County is the ashtray of Baltimore County. Everything ends up here — most of it you don't want," Whitehead said.
The area has changed, with more crime and less who are willing to invest in the community, Whitehead said.
"I think everybody should be involved in the community. Unfortunately, they aren't," Whitehead said. "They're doing what I had to do 40, 50 years ago. They're trying to buy homes, raise families, stuff like that. They just can't seem to find the time."
Pete Kriscumas, the legislative aide to 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, grew up in Lansdowne. Kriscumas said he remembers when Riverview was a nice place to live.
"I used to ask my parents if we could live there," Kriscumas said. "I remember the community that it used to be."
As president of the Riverview and Ryerson Circle Community Association for 12 years, Whitehead has been a strong, relentless advocate for the community, often calling Quirk's office when he sees something awry in his neighborhood, Kriscumas said.
"I've seen over the years, the difference he has made in the community," Kriscumas said. "He doesn't hold punches back, and he looks out for his community.
"We've made some strides and it's all due to Ron," Kriscumas said. "He's the ambassador of Riverview."
Kriscumas described Whitehead as a "straight shooter."
"He will tell you exactly how he feels about an issue...He's going to tell you the facts, not fiction," Kriscumas said.
Chris Koloski, former first vice president of the Lansdowne Improvement Association, echoed Kriscumas.
"He's a straightforward kind of guy," Koloski said.
Quirk, in his first term as councilman, agreed that Whitehead has been a good leader for Riverview over the years.
"He's a can-do type of person and I have the utmost respect for him as a community leader and as a friend," Quirk said.
Deep roots in the community