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With A Little Help From His Friends, Scranton Man With Cancer Continues Roadside Cleanup

April 22, 2019 GMT

SCRANTON — Despite battling his fourth cancer, Bill Bittenbender still held his annual spring roadside cleanup in West Side today.

Though the task is usually one he performs solo, this time Bittenbender, 67, got more than a little help from his friends.

Nearly a dozen people turned out to pick up litter and clean sidewalks along the viaduct area of West Elm Street and Fourth Avenue.

Ed Chomko, who has known Bittenbender for 34 years, was among those who spent part of Earth Day sharing the burden of sprucing up the streetscape.

“I told him, ‘Why don’t you just take a break? We’ll do it,’” Chomko said, noting Bittenbender could not stay away. “You can’t sit him down. He’s got to make sure it’s done right.”

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Bittenbender came prepared as usual, with his wheelbarrow personalized with a family nickname, “Bitts,” and tools. He also handed out hand-drawn maps of the area and instructions on what to clean up and where.

Along with picking up roadside litter, the work crew shoveled, swept and raked dirt, weeds and leaves from the sidewalk and curb under the viaduct mural along Fourth Avenue.

The crew included members of two newer neighborhood organizations, West Scranton Community Development at The Club and the West Scranton Neighbors Association.

Bittenbender started doing the cleanup six years ago, but Chomko thinks Bittenbender has been at it longer than that.

A resident of nearby Archbald Street, Bittenbender likened West Elm Street and the viaduct as a gateway into that part of West Side. Noting the litter and debris look awful, Bittenbender has been doing cleanups three to four times a year, coinciding with Easter, Independence Day, Labor Day and, if weather permits, Christmas.

“This is one of the entrances into my neighborhood,” Bittenbender said. “I felt as though this is something that I could do.”

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in November, Bittenbender previously battled other cancers. Those included non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2002 and 2004, and colorectal cancer in 2011.

“I’m fighting cancer for the fourth time,” Bittenbender said.

His genial demeanor remains intact. He broke into an unsolicited, unrelated joke and said he always has a story to tell.

“I can talk a dog off a meat wagon and can talk a cat off a milk truck,” Bittenbender quipped.

Bittenbender and his wife of nearly 47 years, Dorothy, have three children and five grandsons.

He hopes to help instill pride in the neighborhood and that it spreads.

“Maybe somebody will go home and clean their own front yard, or sweep their street, or maybe do their neighbor’s house next door, because the city needs all the help it could get,” Bittenbender said.

Contact the writer: jlockwood@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5185; @jlockwoodTT on Twitter