As Oak Park slumbered early Saturday morning, hushed and still and already more than ankle-deep in the snow that would keep falling until sunset, Earl Bresnahan rose at 4 a.m., pulled on his hat and gloves and marched out to the garage, where a bright red Kawasaki 700 4x4 all-terrain vehicle equipped with a wench and a plow sat waiting. He climbed aboard and cranked the engine and, just as he does after every snowfall, set off into the cold to clear each sidewalk from Oak Park Avenue to Maple Avenue and from Roosevelt Road to Garfield Street.
"That's 112 blocks of sidewalks," Bresnahan said, beaming. "It usually takes an hour and a half to three hours to do it, depending on how bad the snow is."
Saturday morning, it was a three-hour job. The following day, he was back at it again.
"There was a lot of snow," he said.
Despite what some of his neighbors think, Bresnahan doesn't work for the village and he doesn't get paid for his efforts?#34;unless you count the thank-you notes and home-baked cakes that sometimes turn up on his doorstep. But for more than a year the self-employed dad has taken it upon himself to make sure most all of southwest Oak Park is walkable during the winter.
"The older people in the neighborhood especially appreciate it," said Sheila Martinotti, who lives a couple of streets over from Bresnahan's home at the corner of Fillmore and Kenilworth. "I know a few people who wouldn't be able to get outside otherwise."
According to Bresnahan, it all started last winter with a raffle ticket he filled out on a whim at a nearby boat dealership. He was just killing time, waiting to talk to a salesman about winterizing a boat. Eight months later, the phone call came: his name had been drawn, and his new toy was ready to be picked up. The next time it snowed, he decided he'd try it out. After all, the thing had come with a plow already attached.
"So I did in front of the house, and it was so easy that I decided to go all the way to Oak Park Avenue, and then that was so easy I just went to Garfield," said Bresnahan, who owns his own telecom company and works from home.
These days, Bresnahan's neighbors don't just appreciate his work?#34;they expect it.
"If I'm running late, people say, 'Where were you?'" Bresnahan said. "And I've noticed that a lot of my neighbors have snow blowers of their own they'll get out if I'm not there in time. ... One time one lady said, 'I was wondering when you would get here, I've been waiting all day.' Then she looked at me and said, 'You do work for the village, don't you?'"
More than one person has asked Bresnahan if he wouldn't mind also clearing their driveways, and the snowplowing Samaritan said he's so far gotten two complaints?#34;one from an old-timer who insisted the path he cleared was too narrow and another from a woman whose salt he pushed off the sidewalk?#34;but usually Bresnahan just gets a wave and a smile.
"The postmen all love me," he said.
"If he knows we're going to have a heavy snowfall, he's up early," said Bresnahan's wife, Janine. "He gets all excited when it snows. I always say he's like the masked snowman, because he always wears a mask out there."
"Yeah, my friends come up to me at school and say, 'I think your dad said hi to me,'" said Bresnahan's 16-year-old daughter, Carly. "They don't know it's him because of the mask."