It’s not unusual for Dick Pracht of Marion to pick up the phone and hear, “Are you the ol’ coot?”
“Yes, I am,” he replies without hesitation.
It’s no joke. It’s serious business. Pracht operates a lawn service named One Ol’ Coot and a Lawn Mower.
The 65-year-old Pracht acquired the self-inflicted nickname as payback for his use of the term “ol’ codgers” to refer to a group of senior citizens he transported in his younger years.
Pracht is far from foolish, stupid, or senile, as the colloquialism implies. He says he took his name from the loons (aquatic birds) that frequent the water near his residence at Marion County Park and Lake.
He does yard work for 29 customers in the Marion area, most of them elderly.
After retiring early from Learjet in 2001, he had time on his hands. He had always had a soft spot for the elderly and enjoyed visiting them in hospitals and care homes.
After working in a foundry for years, Pracht was used to being active and working in hot conditions. He decided to start mowing lawns for elderly neighbors and friends, “to help them out.”
It wasn’t long before his generosity became widely known, and he found himself with more jobs than he could fulfill.
He began charging for his services and named his business, “One Ol’ Coot and a Lawn Mower, a sign he proudly displays on his company van.
Now in his eighth year in business, Pracht does more than mow grass. He trims shrubs and trees, picks up branches and leaves, cleans out gutters, and removes small trees and stumps.
He is available year-round.
“I have some clients I’ve never met,” Pracht said.
The more pride people have in their property, the more pride he takes in the job he does for them.
Some have been customers for six years or more, but his clientele changes from year to year, as people die or move away.
He tries to stay within 15-20 miles of home. Most of his jobs are within a mile or two.
“I bet I’ve done work for half the people in Marion,” he said.
He is particular about his work. Using a tractor mower with a grass catcher to cut the main part of a lawn, he is careful to avoid rocks and stumps. He mows lawn edges with a push mower and finishes with a trimmer.
Ten years ago, Pracht had a five-bypass heart surgery.
“It’s a blessing to be 65 and still feel so good,” he said.
“I feel like 40. I don’t need to pump iron because I stay physically busy. I get plenty of exercise and love to do outside work.”
His customers are happy, too.
“I can’t say enough about Dick,” said Harold Keazer, 91, Pracht’s business customer at 403 S. Thorp St., Marion. “He is very good and does an outstanding job. I’m an ardent supporter.”
He became familiar with this area of Kansas when his parents, Orval and Agnes Pracht, moved to Marion in 1968.
He courted his wife, Martha, through letters from Germany, where he served as a Ranger in the Army, after her brother-in-law, who served in his unit, brought them together for a long-distance relationship.
They will celebrate their 45th anniversary in November and have two children and five grandchildren. They have lived at Marion County Lake for 13 years.
Pracht not only cares for people’s yards, he also continues to care about the elderly who no longer live in their own homes. On regular visits to retirement homes, he sings and talks about life.
“These people need attention, and I get the biggest blessing by talking to them,” he said. “I have a captured audience.”