AP NEWS

Man, mowing lawns for free in all 50 states, stops in New London

May 25, 2019

New London — When a stranger knocked on Tom Williamson’s door on Friday to inform him that a man who travels the country mowing the lawns of veterans for free would be mowing his lawn later that day, Williamson was “dumbfounded.”

He thought it was a gag. He thought the man at his door, who he learned was Reid Burdick, was out of his mind.

But about 4:30 p.m., Rodney Smith Jr. showed up to mow his lawn.

The story of how Smith ended up at the Beckwith Street home of Williamson, a Vietnam veteran with five Purple Hearts, traces to a Waterford High School student who has “been slightly obsessed with” Smith since discovering him in a YouTube video two years ago.

Smith said his mission started in 2015, when he stopped to help an elderly man mow his lawn. He set the goal of mowing 40 lawns, then bumped it up to 100.

He started Raising Men Lawn Care Service, with a mission of encouraging youth to volunteer to mow lawns and shovel snow for veterans, the elderly, the disabled and single moms.

Smith said in 2017 he decided to travel to all 50 states to mow the lawns of such people for free, and encourage kids to take part in his 50 Yard Challenge. He traversed the country three more times in 2018 and is now on his fifth tour.

The Waterford High School student, 16-year-old David Sugrue, said he was struck because “most people don’t do nice things for nothing. Most people look for something out of it, and he doesn’t.”

Following Smith on social media, Sugrue saw that the generous grass-cutter was going to be in New England. Smith posts his phone number frequently so people can reach out with the names and locations of veterans, so Sugrue reached out. He heard back last night, and so began a frantic search for a veteran.

Sugrue’s father, Ocean Beach Park manager Dave Sugrue, reached out to Burdick, a longtime friend who he knew would be able to find someone. Working in New London and feeling down at the bad press this “incredible place” has received lately, Sugrue wanted to find a veteran in New London.

With guidance from New London firefighter Joe Nott, Burdick ended up on Williamson’s doorstep.

According to his Facebook page, which has more than 115,000 followers, Smith started his day Friday mowing the lawn of a Navy veteran in Gary, Maine. He then mowed the lawn of a Korean War Marine Corp veteran in Maynard, Mass., and the lawn of a Vietnam War Navy veteran in Ashaway, R.I., before ending up in New London.

His next plan was to find a lawn in New Haven— but not until after taking the Sugrues up on their request for him to join them for dinner.

e.moser@theday.com

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