Walter Notton was a Mount Pleasant newcomer, a recent retiree from Pittsburgh, when he attended a fateful picnic in 1993.
A former transportation official with the aluminum company Alcoa, Notton did not have any big plans for life after retirement, beyond enjoying more time with his wife, Linnea Rogers-Notton. Notton had been advised at a retirement seminar to consider getting involved with a nonprofit group, but he hadn't had a chance to act on that advice.
Then, at a Fourth of July picnic at Middleburg Plantation, Notton found himself sitting next to the director of East Cooper Meals on Wheels. It was a chance meeting that started a 14-year relationship with the nonprofit organization that's still going strong.
"I can't think of a person who is more dedicated and loyal, through the ups and downs," said Pat Walker, executive director of East Cooper Meals on Wheels. "He has served on the board of directors and is a past president of the board, but the thing I would say about Walter is that, as a volunteer, he gives a significant amount of time and will do whatever is needed."
Walker said that Notton has done just about every job a person can volunteer to do with the organization, but he's best known for using his transportation background to craft the best delivery routes, so that volunteers can deliver meals to the homebound in the most efficient manner.
Walker said the organization delivers
more than 225 meals daily and has about 210 volunteers.
Notton, 73, said his role with East Cooper Meals on Wheels has changed many times since 1993. He started as a regular volunteer, served as assistant director for a while when a vacancy needed to be filled, was on the nonprofit's board several times and stepped in more than once as interim executive director.
"It's a wonderful experience that reminds you how fortunate many of us are," Notton said.
He said anyone who tried volunteering with East Cooper Meals on Wheels would understand why he has stayed with the organization so long.
"All you need to do is go on a route and see the appreciation of the people," Notton said. "These are people who are just hanging on by their fingernails, and we are the last thing allowing them to remain in their homes."
East Cooper Meals on Wheels covers a broad swath of Mount Pleasant and unincorporated Charleston County, as well as Daniel Island and the Cainhoy Peninsula. There are about 14 delivery routes, and they are ever-changing as clients come and go.
Notton, a self-described "map freak," is constantly designing and re-designing the routes, and drives them himself to make sure they work well.
"The recipients become the extended family of the drivers, and if you take a favorite person off one route and put them on another, you hear about it," he said. "They (the drivers) get to know the recipients, and can pick up subtle changes in their health, and they can tell Pat (Walker), who might call their doctor or family contact."
Notton is currently serving on the organization's board, 14 years after that chance meeting at a picnic.
"It's life-changing, and value-changing," he said of his volunteer work. "I had never done anything like that."