Wilmington Says Trash, He Says Treasure

April 2, 2019

WILMINGTON -- It’s difficult for Michael Bodnar to let go of things in his possession. In his yard sits a motley assortment of objects large and small -- old vehicles, rusted pieces of metal, weathered lawn chairs. On his driveway, piles of wood and other items fill the bed of a white pickup truck. There’s a children’s swing set and an above ground pool out back, and engines dot the yard, including a Maytag engine for a washing machine.

For years, the third-generation townie has gathered items that now form uneven stacks throughout his 109 West St. property. Director of Public Health Shelly Newhouse says she’s been asking him to clean up for the past two decades.

To Newhouse, this is a hoarding issue. Bodnar, a retired carpenter who turned 78 last week, says 90 percent of the objects are actually collectibles.

Officials on Monday visited Bodnar with an administrative warrant from Woburn District Court to assess his property -- the latest chapter in a battle between Bodnar and the town that dates back years. Back in 2005, Bodnar and the town fought over his refusal to remove the hens, geese, and roosters he had on his property.

Newhouse on Monday stood next to Bodnar and gestured to the front yard, where he currently has three mattresses propped up against an old stove.

“I know,” Bodnar told her. “I don’t know how to get rid of it.”

The officials walked into Bodnar’s home and, after some time, out the front door.

“It’s unfair. This is about the seventh time they’ve hassled me about this,” Bodnar later said. “At the present time I have no idea what’s next. It’s overwhelming. I think at some point I have to retain counsel and see what I can do about classifying it as harassment.”

Newhouse told a Sun reporter that the condition of Bodnar’s property has worsened over time. She said the town has received many complaints from neighbors.

“Mike’s a nice guy. I like Mike,” Newhouse said. “I don’t want to see him living like this, and I don’t want his neighbors having to live next to him like this.”

Bodnar’s longtime friend, Michael Shay, followed the officials around with a camera. “I wanted it to be fully documented,” noted Shay.

Shay, also of Wilmington, later stood in front of the home’s side garage stacked to the ceiling with stuff.

“Some people have said this is a mess. To him it’s his life’s collection,” Shay said. “I don’t know what you want to call it.”

The 57-year-old scanned his eyes over the area and promised to help his friend clean up if it comes to that. Leaning on the old adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Shay pointed out that Bodnar still has a 1931 Buick that he used to ride in decades ago.

“It’s memories,” Shay said. “He’s proud, he’s happy, and he’s content with life. How many people in the world can say that?”

Newhouse said the plan is to get Bodnar the help he needs to safely live in his home. It’s now in the hands of the court.

“He’s going to get a letter that’s going to list all of the sanitary code violations that he has -- plumbing code violations, electrical code violations, fire code violations,” Newhouse said. “This is a list that the housing court will work with to start picking away at and fixing. The big thing we need to address is the hoarding.”

Bodnar said he’s been living at this home for at least 65 years. It was his grandparents’ place.

Asked to respond to the hoarding label, Bodnar pointed to a tire changer. He uses it, he said. Bodnar walked down a narrow path and proudly pulled the plastic covering over an old Maytag engine. His attention then focused on a stack of wooden shingles. “I may have a project for them someday,” he said.

There was also a wheel Bodnar said he recently dug up. He plans on using it for a wheelbarrow.

As he stood by a barn in his backyard, Bodnar chuckled at a thought.

“Every time I give something away or sell it, I find a use for it.”

Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.