Hundreds of notes, mostly from school children, are waiting for Campbell at Village Hall. One salute came from Avery Wuebbels, a fifth-grader at Albers Elementary School.
The 10-year-old and her younger sister, Adelyn, always run out to see him as his truck pulls up to their grandparents’ home.
“Whenever he stops, he always says, ‘hello,’ ‘have a good day’ and ‘thank you,’” Avery said. “We always give him brownies and Gatorade. He’s just really nice.”
In the village with a population of 1,200, Campbell has a long list of admirers. Brenda Morris, the village clerk, said she takes a few calls each week from residents who want to share a sweet story about Ira.
From helping an Albers resident lift a sick dog out of a vehicle to carefully placing garbage bins away from the edge of the curb, Campbell goes the extra mile, Morris said.
His day starts at 3:15 a.m. every morning at his New Baden home. Christian radio is playing in his car as he heads to Marissa to pick up his truck. He starts his route in Albers at sunrise, greeting residents as they pick up their morning paper or head to work.
His performance on the job “comes from my upbringing,” Campbell said. “Honor your mother, your father, you know. What I would always say is, ‘Christ first, then others.’ Some people say it’s joy. Jesus, others, then you.”
Campbell notes that his title is actually sanitary waste engineer. The job requires him to operate a computer in the truck, and to have knowledge about how to handle different types of waste. But he doesn’t mind being called the trash man, perhaps because it’s more personable, and that’s just what kids call him.
Campbell, who grew up in Washington state, is looking forward to the key ceremony. His father, Ira Emphriam Jr., will be there to watch as the city says “thank you.”
Emphriam helped to integrate sports in Texas. More than 60 years later, his son is making his mark by spreading kindness through the village of Albers.
“Ira is a testament to how everyone can make a huge, positive impact on the lives of others,” said Morris, the clerk. “His selflessness, joy and happiness and commitment to service has made him an integral part of Albers.”