Richard Hyatt: Owen Ditchfield is the pride of Columbus' southside

September 11, 2013 

Thirty-one years after Jack Pezold built his first McDonald's on Victory Drive, the cheeseburger magnate will join Owen Ditchfield for a ceremony to honor his new restaurant and other successes on Columbus' southside.

Pezold, one of the area's major stakeholders, hasn't stopped selling Happy Meals and Ditchfield hasn't stopped selling South Columbus.

"And I won't," said Ditchfield, the voice of the southside since 1982. "I told Jack that if they rebuild this McDonald's in 30 years, we'll push our wheelchairs down Victory Drive together."

He didn't need a wheelchair when he appeared before the Muscogee County School Board and Columbus Council this week to talk about his favorite subject. He invited officials to join him at "Take Pride in the Southside II," a Saturday morning ceremony to benefit the House of Heroes.

The rally begins at 10 a.m. in the Winn-Dixie parking lot on South Lumpkin Road, across from Pezold's resurrected McDonald's. Folks being able to gather at a modern supermarket is a reminder of how much Ditchfield and his friends in the South Columbus Concerned Citizens group have accomplished.

"I always said I'd die happy if we got a good supermarket out here, and the next year we got two," Ditchfield said. "My wife said I'd better be careful what I wish for."

Ditchfield retired from the U.S. Army, retired as a media specialist at Fort Benning's White Elementary School, and left the Muscogee County School Board when the late Rev. Joe Roberson -- his neighbor in Oakland Park -- narrowly defeated him at the polls.

His positions change but his passion for a formerly neglected part of town never wanes. It began when Victory Drive was littered with tattoo artists, massage parlors, used car lots and prostitutes openly doing business in flea bag motels that were an embarrassment to the decent people that lived nearby.

The past is past and the present is promising, built on accomplishments of the past three decades -- such as: closing the landfill and opening Oxbow Meadows; building the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center; planning for an Armor Museum, a business park and the relocation of Westville; construction of six motels and four apartment complexes; construction of three public schools, a recreation center, a police precinct and a fire station; development of the Gateways beautification project; improvements at South Commons, including the Civic Center, softball complex and the Civil War Naval Museum.

Various public and private agencies were deeply involved in these projects, but the common link was the indefatigable voice of Owen Ditchfield. He complained, prodded and cajoled until people listened.

"At the risk of sounding trite, I just believe everyone put on this earth has to pay rent," he said.

And his is paid in full.

More from Richard Hyatt:

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Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him on Twitter @hyattrichard.

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