After a storied career as downtown Phoenix’s spotlight member of the Clean and Green Team, Don Olund has retired, leaving a profound emptiness in the Downtown Ambassador Program.
“When I informed members of our hospitality and convention task force of Don’s retirement, the reaction was shock and gratitude,” Chief Marketing Officer R.J. Price said.
Olund was a downtown Phoenix staple before his retirement in June. Since 1993, Olund has cleaned over 50,000 graffiti marks in the area. He was always the first to be called when a graffiti tag needed to be removed. “I loved what I did. I took great pride in my work. It was my calling,” Olund said.
“For years, our partners at Visit Phoenix, Phoenix Convention Center and the large hotels have been able to sell downtown Phoenix as one of the country’s cleanest downtowns due in large part to Don Olund,” Price shared.
The “Clean and Green Team” strives to make Phoenix neighborhoods clean, friendly and welcoming central hubs. Olund exhibited this mission and, in his 28 years, embraced this attitude every day.
“Don had an ability to adapt and overcome,” Downtown Phoenix Ambassador Chuck Padilla shared. “His dependability, work ethic, friendliness and kind thoughtfulness showed through every day at work.”
Olund moved to Arizona from Alaska in 1993. He also lived in the Midwest. Back then he was described as a talented youth hockey player. Upon moving to Phoenix, he responded to an ad in the newspaper for a job with downtown Phoenix’s Clean & Safe Team (they would change the name a few years later). According to Dan Klocke, Executive Director of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, Olund was late to his interview, but when he eventually made it there, he was hired to become a member of the team.
“On one of his first days on the job, he was dispatched to the First Ave. bridge in the warehouse district to remove some graffiti tags,” Price said. “And that’s what he did for the nearly three decades that followed.”
Olund will be remembered for his “can-do” attitude and mentorship to other ambassadors, but he also sported a signature hairstyle until shortly before his June retirement.
“My favorite tidbit about him is that he has maintained his signature mullet all of these years,” Klocke shared. “In January, he cut off the ‘party in the back.’ So, it’s been a year of significant changes for Don. A true end of an era in a way.”
Klocke explained that Olund would share his graffiti removals as if he was “a soldier in a war.” Olund had many confrontations throughout the years, but it never stopped him from doing his job.
Furthermore, Olund created friendships with downtown Phoenix’s homeless population and would try to help them as much as he could. “I was right out in the streets and saw people at their worst. They would see me and say ‘Don, we found a couple tags for you,’” he said.
Known as the Graffiti Man, Don would help out the population by buying them shoes and bringing them meals from Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway and even home cooked meals.
“I wanted to try to make their lives a little better. Do what I can to brighten their day a bit and show them a little love. Especially now, we have to help each other,” Olund said.