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70-year-old East Austin abuelo tends to Tillery Fields for a decade without help from the City

For Ismael Guzmán, it's a labor of love. For the City, it's labor they refuse to do.

AUSTIN, Texas — On the corner of Tillery Street and Kay Street in East Austin, you'll find Tillery Fields.

These fields are by no means state of the art, but they're usable.

On most Tuesday afternoons, you'll find them freshly mowed, the trash cleared and the soccer goals put in place.

At the entrance to the facility, there's a sign that reads, "This field is not maintained by the city. But by one volunteer abuelo."

Ismael Guzmán is that abuelo and he has tended to them for 11 years.

"This is for East Austin Soccer Club," he told KVUE.

At 70 years old, he's technically retired, but not actually retired.

Guzmán spends between six and seven hours on his personal lawnmower, with gas he purchased himself, to mow this vast amount of land.

If he didn't do it, no one else would.

"If it weren't for Ismael, [Austin] Watershed would mow this twice a year," said Jessica Eley, a neighbor and co-chair of the Govalle Neighborhood Association. "Watershed says, 'We'll let you use this as a soccer field, but you're responsible for everything.'"

Eley is frustrated for her friend.

"For a struggling East Austin soccer league like ours, it means Ismael does everything," Eley said.

KVUE reached out to Austin's Watershed Protection Department. A spokesperson told us the space was meant to capture stormwater and to prevent flooding in the surrounding area.

The City has an agreement with East Austin Soccer Club to let them use the field, but most land improvements can't happen because they might reduce water capacity and increase pollutants.

Yet, neighbors say pollutants are already there.

"We couldn't have Port-a-Potties. We couldn't have trash cans. The City hasn't picked up the garbage in weeks and it's so full at the point we're all just taking a bag home. Why can't we get some sort of trash pickup at least?" Eley said.

But Guzmán likes to think of his work as a labor of love.

"I'm working for the kids. That is my passion," Guzmán said.

Guzmán's love for this community started in the 1990s when he moved from Mexico to the U.S.

"East Austin is very, very important for me. It's a soccer club that's for kids that are low income," Guzmán said.

And it's the kids that keep him going.

"They give me power," Guzmán said.

Twice a week, Guzman returns in the evening to Tillery Fields, his work far from finished.

"He's had a super-long day today," Guzmán's son, Roberto, said.

After spending all morning tending to the fields, Guzmán then coaches a group of dozens of kids for a two-hour practice.

"I want to thank him. Not as his son, but really more as just a member of the community," Roberto Guzmán said.

Yet, Ismael Guzmán is hesitant to accept thank yous or notoriety for his work. Instead, he hopes others can soon help him with the burden. 

"Maybe now I can get more help," Guzmán said.

While City crews have yet to lend a helping hand to Guzmán, Austin FC and the 4ATX Foundation have donated "Verde" nets to the facility – a story which KVUE covered back in April.


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