SALT LAKE CITY — Lowell Bodily spends a lot of time cleaning up messes.
"It all looks like trash to me," he said.
But, occasionally, the 76-year-old easy-going health department worker will find the rightful owners of random "stuff" he picks up around homeless camps in the valley.
One of the best power drills he's ever owned came about as a result of an abandoned transient encampment amid the foothills. Bodily had to clean it up and find his own battery to make it work, but it turns out to be one of those unmentioned perks of his job as a licensed environmental health scientist with the Salt Lake County Health Department.
It's a job he's been doing 50 years, and he doesn't see it coming to an end anytime soon. The department honored Bodily for his half-century of service Thursday.
"I'll keep working as long as I feel as good as I do," Bodily said Wednesday, crediting his good health to having someplace to be every day. "People say I'm working for nothing, that I'll never be able to draw out all of my retirement, but how do you put a price on health?"
Bodily was originally hired as one of a dozen employees known as "sanitarians," who largely performed dairy, restaurant and grocery store inspections in assigned areas throughout the county. While he is still inspecting facilities, Bodily's real passion is working with the transient population.
"Lowell began working at the Salt Lake County Health Department on Jan. 16, 1964," said health department director Gary Edwards. "Through a merger, three name changes and seven health officers, he has remained dedicated to ensuring the health and safety of Salt Lake County residents."
Bodily has served in a number of different capacities within the department and said that despite the "ups and downs" that can be found in any job, "I enjoy what I do.
"I enjoy serving the people. I enjoy talking to them and working with them. It's just a feeling that I have, I just enjoy doing it," he said, adding that he was once offered a stolen television — "any television I wanted" — for the way he handled a certain man's situation.
"I treat them like human beings. I get along with them," Bodily said.
For the most part, the population he serves respects him and his job, which is to make sure long-term encampments are popping up where they aren't allowed.
"They know pretty well that I mean business," Bodily said. He typically provides an eviction notice and gives people 72 hours to pick up their camps and move. After that, any property left on the site is cleaned up.
"One of the best compliments I've ever received is from one guy, who said, 'You're firm, but at least you're fair,'" Bodily said, adding that he tries to treat everyone the same.
Bodily gets to work at 7 a.m. and goes home at 6 p.m., working four long shifts each week. On his days off, especially in the winter, he said he "goes nuts because I don't have much to do."
His kids are grown — although one has died. His wife is retired.
"I have the luxury that if I get to the point where I'm not happy, I can say, 'Hey, I'm outta here,'" Bodily said. But he doesn't anticipate quitting any time soon. In fact, he sees his job as a great way to avoid boredom and uselessness in his life.
Bodily is the first health department employee to reach 50 years, but a number of his colleagues are also dedicated to public health. Of the 322 full-time employees, 16 percent have 20 years of service or more. But the employee next to Bodily on the seniority list is 10 years behind him, with 40 years of service.
While he has hobbies — Bodily likes to build his own golf clubs and enjoys target shooting — he doesn't enjoy anything as much as his job.
"It's quite satisfying," he said, adding that he might take a gunsmith class at the community college one of these days, just to learn something new. He and his wife occasionally take a cruise someplace, but Bodily always likes it when they come home.
"A lot of people my age tell me they wish they'd have kept working," he said. "A lot of them are in really poor health or dead. If a job is keeping you healthy, that's good enough for me."
Although he's seen a lot of changes handed down, Bodily said he wouldn't make any changes to the health department and its practices. He also has no regrets about his life.
"You just gotta go with the flow and make the best of what you've got, whether you like it or not," he said. "I enjoy getting up in the morning and I enjoy coming to work. I haven't got anything I don't like."
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