The North Fork Environmental Council is looking for a new leader.
Bill Toedter, the nonprofit’s president of the last five years, is moving to Arizona and says that for several years, the organization has been having trouble finding new people to fill the volunteer positions.
Mr. Toedter joined the NFEC about 12 years ago, first helping with its website and newsletter before joining the board five or six years ago, he said.
“The board said they were going to close the doors unless someone stepped forward and everyone wanted me to step forward,” Mr. Toedter recalled.
Unlike environmental organizations that have paid employees, almost all of the positions in NFEC, which was formed in 1972, are volunteer, he said.
Finding donations to keep the group’s work going has proved challenging as well, especially with increased competition, Mr. Toedter said.
“Now, we have homeowners associations and civic organizations and then you have about 90 gazillion different nonprofits regarding the environment or waterfront homeowners and other different things,” he explained.
He said civic organizations or homeowners associations often are concerned with their specific neighborhoods, whereas environmental groups like NFEC and Group for the East End take a more regional approach.
The NFEC has resisted the urge to try and play up issues into bigger things than they are in order to get contributions, he said, something he feels some nonprofits do.
The organization does get revenue from renting two offices and an apartment on the same Mattituck property where its office is located, Mr. Toedter said.
He said there has been some difficulty trying to find new people to run the organization.
“In the past, a lot of our board members used to be early retirees, and nowadays there are fewer and fewer early retirees,” Mr. Toedter said. “Those that are retired these days tend to be working a job or two to make ends meet. So they don’t have the time.
“That’s been a big problem for all civics and nonprofits and volunteer organizations. People just don’t have the time anymore,” he said.
Mr. Toedter, on the other hand, has spent so much time volunteering, he didn’t have an actual paying job.
“I made the decision four years ago to close my consulting business in communications,” he said. “My mother was terminally ill, so I spent the last 14 to 15 months of her life taking care of her. I literally just closed her estate about three weeks ago.
“I’ve been able to live on my savings and have been able to donate and give a lot of my time and effort to the NFEC,” he said. “And that’s one of the reasons I’m leaving. I need to take a little step back and take care of myself and stop my career path again and get back into doing something.”
His efforts have not gone unrecognized.
Last week, the recently formed Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association gave Mr. Toedter its first-ever Citizen of the Year award.
“It was very nice of the [association] to do that, although when I look at people like Howard Meinke and Paul Stoutenburgh and everything they had done at NFEC, I’ve really done very little in comparison,” Mr. Toedter said.
Civic association president Mary Eisenstein said he’s being modest, adding that when it came time for the executive board to pick its first Citizen of the Year there was never any doubt.
“When we asked ‘Who should the first recipient be?’ before the sentence was finished four people said ‘Bill Toedter,’ ” Ms. Eisenstein said, noting that whenever she attended Planning Board or Town Board meetings she’d see Mr. Toedter in the audience, always willing to help share information.
“He would be there and he would have so much information and knowledge about what was taking place,” she said.
“There are some shoes that don’t get filled,” Ms. Eisenstein added. “His leaving leaves a huge gap for us in our community. He kept that organization going.”
Mr. Toedter plans to move to Sedona, a place he fell in love with while helping a friend look for homes. There, he hopes to work on two books he’s writing.
One is based on his experiences several years ago as a caretaker for an estate in Southampton. The other, he said, “is really about Southold. It’s about life lessons in a small town and the things that I’ve learned and that people have passed on to me that I think is important.”
He says he’ll be back for some NFEC meetings and important town meetings.
So far, a successor to Mr. Toedter has not been selected.
NFEC’s vice president is Dan Durett of Greenport, who Mr. Toedter said is very active in the community but also works a full-time job. Former Riverhead councilman George Bartunek had been a vice president until earlier this year when he stepped down to spend more time with his family, he said.
“We just can’t find the people,” Mr. Toedter said. “I’ve been trying for three and half years now. When I joined as president, we had nine or 10 board members. Within the first six months, we lost four of them, three of them to health issues and one of them was moving and retiring.
“So, we’ve been running with six board members for a long time and we just cannot find that next generation,” he said. “We can’t find the current generation. We just can’t find people that have time.”
Photo Caption: Bill Toedter at a Sept. 16 public hearing to discuss the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers’ new dredging plan. Mr. Toedter recently stepped down as North Fork Environmental Council’s president after serving for five years. (Credit: Tim Gannon)
Additional reporting by Grant Parpan.