"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
Whitehead moved to Lansdowne from Baltimore City with his family at age 9. He grew up on Clyde Avenue in Lansdowne and attended Catonsville High School.
He bought his home in Riverview in 1966 and lives there with his wife of 52 years, Eileen. The couple raised their two children, who have since moved out of the area, there.
He said he joined the Riverview and Ryerson Circle Community Association because he noticed code enforcement problems and an increase in crime.
At the Riverview group's last meeting of the year, Whitehead stepped down as president of the organization, along with Harriet Pittman, 77, who served as treasurer of the group for nine years.
"I'm not going anywhere," Whitehead said. "I just thought it was time for new leadership."
Whitehead said he thought someone else might be able to better engage residents in the community.
"I think it's time for a change of leadership. Things were getting stagnant," Whitehead said.
Betty Cain, a Riverview resident who has lived near Whitehead for 35 years, is part of the small leadership team at the association. She is also a member of the Lansdowne Improvement Association.
"He's been a good neighbor to everyone here and he's always around to do something to help someone," Cain said.
Cain said she was also ready to relinquish her leadership role in the organization, but worried that the organization would "fold".
They convinced Riverview resident Cheryl Bush that she should take the reigns.
"She thought she was getting bamboozled...but we convinced her we would stay and help," Whitehead said.
"It saddens me. It's a shame that he stepped down," Bush said. "But he was tired of being president and thought someone new might be able to get younger people to join."
Whitehead said some issues he sees are a lack of communication among residents and no activities throughout the year for children.
The area is also often overlooked by the county, Whitehead said.
"I'm a little jealous of Arbutus," Whitehead said of the nearby community. "They have a lot of participation and they get things done."
Whitehead said he is confident that his successor has ideas for making Riverview a better place to live.
One of those ideas is partnering with the Lansdowne Improvement Association, Bush said.
"It would be nice to work with Lansdowne to make the community stronger," Bush said. "The more we stand together, the better it will be."
Whitehead said new developments such as Hollins Station, a development by Enterprise Homes on Hollins Ferry Road, show promise for the neglected community.
"I think it will be a nice looking area and an entrance to the community," Whitehead said.
"The area is unsightly," Whitehead said. "If you get something built there with the proper drainage, it will only help the area."
Although he's stepping down as leader of the group, Whitehead will remain a member of the association. He said he will also continue to lead the group's annual neighborhood cleanup in July.