There's an old saying: dynamite comes in small packages. And that would certainly describe one Mishawaka retiree who happens to head up her neighborhood watch group.
Don't mess with Wilma. She's small in stature, but has played a large part in keeping her neighborhood on the safe side.
If you go to Mishawaka's Hillis Hans Park, you'll likely meet Wilma Barnes. She's the unofficial park superintendent of the six acre beauty. She'll be your best friend, unless you step out of line.
“They all know me, and I pull no punches (laughter),” says Barnes. She has lived in the Hillis Hans neighborhood for 46 years and is the neighborhood watch coordinator.
“Sometime back, we had some car windows broken out here in the neighborhood,” she says. “Some minor petty theft from cars and things and a few cars stolen and all that. Then I heard about the neighborhood watch; this was 12 years ago. I'm going to get involved. Nobody else started it so I did.”
She now has seven co-captains to help watch over Hillis Hans' 116 homes. And a digest that includes information on the people who live in those homes.
“Their name, their address and their telephone number and how many children they have, says Barnes. “That's how I do it. For example like this house here they had an alarm go off which nobody lives in. I know the owner by his phone number by which he lives out of town. I called him. Just little things like that."
A few years ago, Barnes went door to door and collected some $5,000 in seed money to begin the transformation of Hillis Hans Park.
Donations from the Kwanis club, modern Woodmen Insurance and a substantial commitment from the city of Mshawaka meant new sidewalks, trees, playground equipment and pavilion.
And Barnes works hard to protect her, her neighbors and the city's investment.
She’s not afraid to approach people at the park for breaking the rules.
“Definitely not,” says Barnes. “I have some call me all sorts of names and it doesn't bother me.”
And she says she not afraid to bother city hall, like after a recent weekend gathering attended by some litterbugs.
“I called the mayor's office, of course he wasn't available, which, I talk to him all the time. And then I called our parks department and then I turned around and I called my councilman and an hour and a half later we had business.”
Barnes is convinced neighborhood watch has cleaned up crime in this sleepy neighborhood.
“If somebody sees something, I always tell them if you don't want to report it, call me. But if they're seeing something they can report, go ahead and call in yourself. That's what neighborhood watch is for: we're watching one another’s house and this is a very tight neighborhood.”
Barnes also volunteers for many causes. Among them: she's a community service supervisor for the courts.
You've heard about people being sentenced to community service. Barnes says some of her charges fulfill their community service hours by Cleaning up Hillis Hans Park.