For the past five years, North Fork Environmental Council President Bill Toedter has been a constant presence at government meetings and community events, sharing his thoughtful observations and suggestions on what is best for the environment here.
Mr. Toedter, a volunteer with the NFEC, has just moved to Sedona, Ariz. He’ll be back and forth between Arizona and the North Fork, helping the group to transition through whatever the next five to six months bring, but the organization has had little luck attracting a new group of leaders to continue its work.
“For the last two-and-a-half years, it’s just been trying to find new blood and new board members to take on the next five to 10 years,” he said. “A lot of the people who used to serve on the board were early retirees, but no one is retiring early anymore, and even if they are retiring, they don’t have time for something like this.”
Mr. Toedter said that the NFEC’s bylaws allow for up to 18 board members, but when he took over as president in 2011 there were just 10 members, half of whom have since left for personal or health reasons.
Regular membership has also dropped, he said, due to the vast number of competing community and non-profit organizations all vying for charitable contributions. The NFEC owns its Mattituck office, where it rents an apartment and another office space in order to help pay the bills, but has no money for a full time executive director or full time staff.
Mr. Toedter, whose background is in corporate communications, spent his summers as a child in Southold in the house his father had built there just after World War II.
“I was there every summer, and I started college as a marine biology major because of living in Southold, on the water and near nature,” he said.
He moved back to Southold just before becoming the NFEC president in order to help care for his dying mother, and has been working since her death three years ago to settle her estate. Now, he said, he needs to move on to the next phase in his life.
“Five years ago, when I took on this role, we were going to close down,” he said. “I’ve cried in front of our board. I don’t want to be the person to close the doors on this place. I take this very personally. To lose the NFEC would be very difficult for me. But we need someone to bring a board together. I’ve worked my best for the last three years trying to get board members on board. We’ve changed the bylaws so they’re only required to come every other month. We’ve published newsletter articles and asked at our annual meeting for people to get involved, but we just can’t get them to.”
Mr. Toedter said that many larger non-profit organizations now have paid staff that work to write grants and solicit donations and support from the community, and few are still run by volunteers as is done at the NFEC.
“As a volunteer organization, we don’t have paid specialists. We don’t have someone committed to finding grants and doing all the paperwork to secure that money,” he said.
The NFEC had, for some time, had a part time executive director, but found it hard to find someone who could commit the kind of full-time energy needed to a part time job.
“We had enough money in the bank to hire someone at what would basically be a half-year salary, but if you get someone at a half time pay, you’re really getting a half a person,” he said.
Mr. Toedter said he’s spent the last five years developing relationships with other environmental organizations, putting about 15,000 miles on his car in one year alone.
His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. The Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association named Mr. Toedter their first Person of the Year this fall.
“I haven’t done anything on par with [former presidents] Howard Meinke and Paul Stoutenburgh, but I hope I’ve made a small contribution,” he said. “It’s still beholden on people to realize this is an organization of some note and character.”
The NFEC’s next board meeting is Monday, January 11 at 6 p.m. in their Mattituck office at 12700 Main Road, on the bend across from Love Lane.
“Our board meetings are always open to the public,” said Mr. Toedter. “We welcome anyone to join us with issues or if they’re interested in joining the board.”
Mr. Toedter can be reached at 631.298.8880.