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Longtime Wellington Heights Neighborhood President Steps Down

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa Walking around the Wellington Heights Neighborhood, it's clear Terry Bilsland knows just about everything and everybody there is to know.

"I know an awful lot of people," Bilsland said. "A lot of them know me. Some of the characters in the neighborhood recognize my truck because they see it all the time."

He has spent eight years working to clean up his neighborhood by taking on the president's roll of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association.

"I've been known to just get in the truck, go out and drive around at 11 or 12 at night to see if something is going on that needs to be reported," Bilsland said.

Now he's ready to hand the job over to someone else and enjoy his retirement. This was his last week on the job after nearly a decade of holding the presidential title.

The 71-year-old man has lived in the Wellington Heights Neighborhood for 45 years. For the last eight, though, he's dealt with a lot. He's been the face of a community that has struggled with crime, a high concentration of rental units and poverty.

"Some of the worse things that happened were some of the shootings where somebody has been shot to death," Bilsland said. "Those things are usually caused by people who know each other."

He said one of the biggest reasons the area gets the crime reputation is because there are too many people living in a small space, especially with a lot of rental units.

Bilsland said he sometimes got phone calls in the middle of the night to deal with issue. From time to time, he logged as many as 40 hours a week. Through it all, he worked closely with Lt. Tim Daily to reduce crime.

"In specific areas such as the 1400 block of Bever Avenue, it's down over 50 percent," Lt. Daily said. "That's largely due to the efforts Terry had in the community: reaching out, making ties, making connections, knowing what's going on [and] who to talk to about it."

"I think that I accomplished the fact that maybe some of the children on the street are safer than they were when I first started," Bilsland said. "Maybe that crime is down and with some of this stuff, like the Affordable Housing Network going on in the community, it's making a big different in the housing stock in the neighborhood."

Now the work will continue with Justin Wasson, 24, taking over as president. Bilsland is interested in seeing what ideas a new president will bring to the neighborhood. Wasson said he's already making plans to fix up streets and add new street lights to the area.

"I think we've got a lot of potential that we can tap into to turn this neighborhood around," Wasson said.

While Bilsland is leaving his presidential post, he said he'd still be around. His red truck will continue to make appearances as he keeps an eye on the neighborhood.

"They are still going to see it," Bilsland said.

Bilsland has spent much of his 11-year-retirement working for the neighborhood. Now, he plans to spend some much-needed time with his family and his fishing pole.

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