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Making a difference: Kolter helps them all
For many volunteers, it’s a matter of supporting one or two particular causes, or perhaps being a part of a service organization they support.
Then there are the volunteers whose name and face seem to pop up wherever you go.
Meet Bill Kolter. That is, if you haven’t already.
“I know half the people that come to the South Okanagan Events Centre,” said Kolter, who has been volunteering with the Vees for a dozen years, and at the SOEC since it opened — the last three years, he has been the volunteer supervisor.
Kolter is the first to be profiled in Making a Difference, a new series in the Western News honouring those who help make this community such a special place.
But Kolter’s work with the Vees is just the tip of the iceberg. He’s also spent 18 years volunteering with the Peach Festival as music director. Then there are the Elks, Citizens on Patrol, and Oktoberfest, all of which are benefiting from Kolter’s time and experience.
“I just put my application in to join the Rotary Club,” said Kolter. Looking back over the 18 years since Kolter moved to Penticton, the list grows even longer: Candy Cane Lane; the Walk of Life; the Terry Fox Run; Ironman and he even helped start the Elvis Festival, volunteering there for the first three years.
“Some of them don’t exist anymore,” said Kolter, who operates the El Rancho Motel with his wife Gail, though he admits she does most of the work operating it. A musician all his life and a booking agent for 20 years, Kolter said he has never retired.
“I am up at 8 a.m. in the morning and I go to bed at 1 a.m. That’s about the size of it. I do as much as I can, to give something back to the community,” said Kolter. “The city has treated us both really well over the 18 years we have been here.”
Giving something back is often cited by volunteers as the reason for their involvement. That’s there for Kolter, but he also said it was seeing the need that kept him going.
“I just see so many things in Penticton, like everywhere else, where people are needed,” Kolter said. There are many more projects he would like to be involved in, he continued, and perhaps when he and Gail stop managing the motel, he will have time.
“As long as I stay healthy, I don’t have a problem,” said Kolter, who will be 78 years old this summer. “We could buy a place here in town and do a little bit more volunteer work.”
It would also give him more time with Gail, who he hopes would volunteer alongside him.
“Right now she can’t, because she is running the motel 80 per cent of the time,” he said.
Though Kolter has given a lot to Penticton through his volunteering, he’s sure he is getting a lot back out of it.
“You make a lot of friends when you volunteer, no two ways about it,” said Kolter, who started volunteering when he and Gail came to Penticton.
“It is very important when you come as a newcomer that you make a lot of friends and you get to know the city really well,” he said. “Especially meeting people that over the years got to be friends, people that I golf with.”
Watching the changes to the city is another benefit to volunteering, especially at the SOEC.
“I started right at the beginning, so I saw how from a low point to where we are now, which is really on top of it,” said Kolter.
There is a downside. Kolter worries that the population of volunteers is aging.
“What really is the problem with volunteers is there are too many old people like me. There are some younger people coming up but not enough to fill the place of the older people,” said Kolter.
“At our age, we don’t know how long we are going to last and we want to leave a legacy behind … that is carried on by the younger people.”