He's 71 now, and starting to slow down, but for decades Leroy Cox has been a pioneer in the recycling movement at his Ashland group home for the developmentally disabled.

He's 71 now, and starting to slow down, but for decades Leroy Cox has been a pioneer in the recycling movement at his Ashland group home for the developmentally disabled.

Since 1982, well before many others caught on to recycling, Cox has been tearing the labels off glass bottles, flattening cardboard boxes and tin cans and marching them down to the Ashland Recycling Center in his wagon or on his bicycle, says Jason Feldman, manager of Miller House, one of three group homes in Ashland's Quiet Village.

"He picks up recycling for all three group homes. He makes sure everything's recycled that can be recycled and he separates it all, getting the paper off the bottles and cans and leaving as little trash as possible," says Feldman, translating most of Cox's comments.

A Rogue Valley native, Cox has been recycling for seven years for Darex Corporation in Ashland, as well as building chucks for drill bits, a more complex task.

"He is absolutely meticulous about what goes in the recycling. If he finds garbage, screws or silica packages in there, he'll pick out every last one and bring it to me," says Josh Williams, production supervisor for Darex.

"Everyone's always happy to see him," Williams says. "He has a great attitude. We get bummed out if he doesn't show. He's getting older now. He's good at building chucks but his heart is in the recycling."

Cox, who grew up at Fairview Training Center near Salem, has a good life in the group home, which is part of the private, nonprofit Ashland Supportive Housing, says its executive director, Sue Crader. When not recycling, he can be seen pedaling his four-wheel bike or running errands with staff, including dump runs.

"He has a long history in the community and helped out regularly at the recycling center, helping people get stuff out of their vehicles and into the right bins," Crader says. "He likes things to be clean and orderly and is very helpful to others and pretty proud of what he does."

He displays "superhuman strength," unloading vehicles, Feldman says.

Cox may not understand the global impact of recycling and how his work helps, but Cox says "he knows he's doing a positive thing and will pick up a bottle on the street and see that it's recycled. He gets very frustrated if someone doesn't recycle."

Noting Cox's help with funneling waste food into the compost bin, Crader says, "He likes to keep busy. He likes going out in the community. When you see Jason, you always see Leroy tagging along, joking and laughing with the other residents. He's less steady on his feet now. He used to go by himself to the recycling center but now he goes in the van, with Jason."

Cox's room is tidy and simple, with few possessions.

"He is a minimalist," Crader, says. "He's our little Buddha."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.