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Post  Yakima Canutt on Sun Jan 01, 2012 11:13 pm

”You do the best you can,” he said.

He still carries himself with dignity, still flashing that internationally recognized gap-toothed smile, even as everyone is whispering why.

Why is Leon Spinks here, in Columbus, a town of 20,971 split by the Union Pacific railroad tracks?

”Well I’m still breathing, still making money,” said Spinks, who acknowledges he came here after being smitten by a woman he met on the road.

”I’m happy ’bout life. Still trying. I ain’t giving up on life.”

The years have been tough. Spinks got divorced and lived briefly in an East St. Louis shelter. He was a greeter at Mike Ditka’s restaurant in Chicago. He says he helped start a gym in Detroit and did odd jobs in California.

Now he cleans the local YMCA for $5.15 an hour on weekends, sometimes unloads trucks at McDonald’s, and volunteers to help the homeless. He also never turns away a kid looking for an autograph or advice.

”Sometimes it’s good to get away from the city and get a little clean air, a little space,” said the Champ. ”I’d love to teach kids how to box here. There’s nothing to do here but get in trouble.”

Twenty-seven years later, he’s still strong, his biceps still bulging, still no man to mess with. He wears a Spiderman knit cap under a Chicago White Sox baseball cap, a green pullover over a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and work shoes. Only when he moves does he appear stiff, and he walks with a slight limp.

Sandy Staverman, another custodian, asks a photographer to take her picture with the Champ.

”He’s really neat, he’s got a great personality,” she said. ”He acts like an everyday human being.”

Bob Lauterbach, executive director of the Columbus Family YMCA, agrees.

”I call him Champ, and he likes that,” he said. ”We get a ton of phone calls, mostly people wanting him to sign stuff. He’s real, real quiet. He gets challenged in bars. An African-American in Columbus is going to stick out. But people are generally kind. He’s a proud man and very humble. His situation has made him more humble. He’s a good guy. He just wants to be a viable entity. When I told him everyone at the Y has to pass a CPR class, he took it and he passed it.”

The Champ spoke to the kids in the Y. ”When they found out he won the championship of the world by beating Ali, they flipped out,” says Lauterbach. ”He told them, ‘Don’t do drugs.’ Everybody applauded.

On his tour of duty, one shy boy follows the Champ around and watches him mop the floors. Finally, Spinks gently puts his arm around him and poses for a picture, then he gets back to work. The boy, on top of the world, takes his smile and runs to tell his friends.

Spinks does his chores methodically, never taking a break.

He says the older kids ask his advice.

”Kids come up to me when they see me cleaning, and I tell them my opinion,” he said. ”The kids are thrilled to meet me and their parents are thrilled, too.”

The Champ also likes his second job at the local McDonald’s. ”I get 50 percent off on Big Macs and everything,” he said. Spinks also goes to several autograph shows each year.
Yakima Canutt

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Post  pinhedz on Mon Feb 27, 2012 3:28 pm

Anybody can make a great record if they get to collab with Rosemary Clooney.
Schrödinger's Hepcat

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