Every day in Minneapolis, city workers make sure the streets are clear, the drains are draining, and our lives are a little more comfortable.

It's not every day someone thanks them for it.

But this week, a neighborhood, and a neighborhood's worth of dogs, came together to do just that.

For 11 years, Mark Clark's smiling face greeted neighbors and visitors to downtown's Loring Park Greenway — the bright ribbon of walkways, flowers and fountains that links bustling Nicollet Mall to the city's oldest park.

He was there, clearing away ice, when the windchill hit 20 below. He was there in torrential rain, pulling on hip waders to dredge leaves out of clogged fountains.

He was there, pockets stuffed with biscuits, to greet all the neighborhood dogs by name — Hi, Stella! Hi, Zak! Hi, Paco! Hi, Scout! — as they towed their humans over to say hello every morning.

"You've got to be a people person" for this job, Clark said this week, with the smile of a man who genuinely enjoys his work. "It's the people here. It's the community. … I'm just trying to keep it clean and safe for everyone."

He was one of a thousand Minneapolis Public Works employees. He was one in a million.

And then he was gone. Off to a new assignment on the other side of town.

The dogs still look for him, every day.

So the neighborhood invited him back for a party.

"You've given the greenway something extra, which was a face," said John Van Heel, president of the Loring Greenway Association, at this week's Mark Clark appreciation party at the Hyatt, where delighted dogs circled the room and threw themselves at their favorite human, who was waiting with biscuits. "Thank you."

The guest of honor arrived with presents — box after box of Milk Bones and squeaky toys that he raffled off for free to the dogs.

Dozens of neighbors dashed in through the rain Thursday evening to see him again.

"Even before I had a dog, I was always happy to see Mark," said Ken Shain, keeping an eye on his terrier, Scout, who was keeping his eye on the Milk Bones.

Shain knew Clark before either of them relocated to the greenway. He remembers him working trash collection on Nicollet Mall, piloting a tiny garbage truck he kept so clean, you could smell how clean it was when it rolled by.

"One of the things we look for is someone who wants to take ownership, [who] is proud of what they're doing," said Mike Kennedy, director of transportation, maintenance and repair for Minneapolis Public Works, who oversees street department crew members like Clark.

Public works takes on the vital and often thankless work of maintaining the bedrock functions of this city — the drinking water, the sewers, the streets.

Each of them has a piece of Minneapolis they're charged with keeping clean and safe. The best of them say: " 'This is mine. I want to take care of this. I want to take some pride and kind of become part of the neighborhood,' " Kennedy said. "Mark was that kind of guy."

Taking care of the streets and sewers and treat-hungry dogs of Minneapolis is a job.

It's not every day someone says thanks for a job well done.

But sometimes they do.

"We get a lot of complaints," Kennedy said. "But when we get a compliment? One compliment makes up for 100 complaints. It's just fantastic."

jennifer.brooks@startribune.com • 612-673-4008

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