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Trish Tootle: It’s about passion, not just about keeping busy
Trish Tootle

Everyone knows Trish Tootle. If you don’t know that you know Tootle, within a few minutes of talking with her, you’ll figure out that your mom knows her from Farmers & Merchants Bank (now Morris Bank) or that your grandma has volunteered with her at one of her many “extracurricular” activities. 

If you’re one of the few who truly doesn’t have an unearthed connection with her, don’t worry — she’ll find one soon. Her bubbly personality makes her a joy to know, to talk to and to be able to call a friend. And before you know it, you’re being called one of “hers” (her girls, her boys, her babies, or whatever term of endearment she comes up with at the moment). 

Tootle, 64, grew up in Claxton, Georgia and attended design school in Savannah after which she went to Swainsboro Tech to study Early Childhood Education — she had a dream of owning a daycare. She worked for several years at a design studio out of Savannah. She married her late husband, David, in 1974 and after son Matt, 43, was born, she began working at Belk Department Store. Her now 36-year-old son Clint was born while she was working at Belk. About 35 years ago, one of the FMB vice presidents came shopping at Belk and asked Tootle had she ever thought of going into banking. And you could say the rest is history.

Currently the Community Relations Officer at Morris Bank, Tootle’s job is actually to establish partnerships and develop relationships with community members, organizations and causes around Statesboro. If you ask anybody that knows her, she’s been doing that like it was her job for much longer!

“It’s amazing to work for a bank that gives me the opportunity to do what I need to do in the community. They want their entire staff out in the community doing volunteer work and they also put the dollars behind that. It’s in my DNA, but they are also supportive and a driving force,” she said. 

She is definitely committed to all the causes that she’s involved in and there are quite a few. To name a few that she’s no longer working as closely with but has served on boards or committees for: the American Red Cross, American Diabetes Walks, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Business Women’s Association and Relay for Life. Tootle said she’s sure there’s more but she can’t remember them all! 

Some of the causes nearest and dearest to her heart are all quite diverse: The Averitt Center for the Arts, the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro, Ogeechee Area Hospice and the recovery community, including local recovery centers and the Freedom Through Recovery program. She’s also very involved in the Statesboro Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce and the Statesboro Police Officer’s Foundation. Every Sunday, she serves as the Children’s Minister at Emit Grove Baptist Church and every summer, she directs Vacation Bible School and she’s been doing so for the last 15 years.

One of her great loves is teaching children about Christ, which she’s been doing for the last 35 years. 

She’s been involved with Ogeechee Area Hospice for the last 20 years. She started out as a “volunteer’s wife.” David, a land surveyor, volunteered at hospice and Tootle would tag along. 

 “The men would love me more than they would David and they became part of our family. One night we were with a family and the man was holding my hand and reading poems to me and he had a stroke and died. David got with his wife on the other side of the room and told me who to call so I did. They asked me who I was and I said, ‘A hospice volunteer.’ At the funeral, Nancy Bright said ‘Trish, you’re not a hospice volunteer.’ I said, ‘Well I was with one!’ So, they made me go through the volunteer program and soon after that I was asked to serve on the committee to secure the funding for the building,” she said. 

Since then, she’s been on the board for hospice and worked with the committees to get funding for the multiple buildings as well as served several terms as president. She also helps to head up the annual barbecue fundraiser. Although David died in 2010 from melanoma that had metastasized to other organs, Tootle has remained dedicated to Ogeechee Area Hospice — the region’s only nonprofit hospice organization. 

“Hospice has always been very important. It’s always really amazing that David volunteered all those years for hospice and then those folks came in and took care of him during his last few weeks of life. Hospice isn’t a job. It’s a calling for our employees and volunteers,” she said. 

Another great love of hers has always been the Averitt Center for the Arts, and she’s been involved in some capacity as long as it’s been open. She’s been on the board for the last seven years and served two terms as president. 

“I love the shows, the gallery openings, but when I see those little kids getting off of those school buses for Art Adventures in the afternoon, it just makes me happy,” she said.

As a businesswoman and involved community member, Tootle has always seen the importance of a strong Chamber of Commerce and she has served in some capacity, on and off the board, and served several terms as president with the Statesboro/Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce for the last 34 years. She can be seen at ribbon cuttings, Business After Hours events and many more.

“If I had to give up some things there are four things I wouldn’t give up. Besides church because I don’t count that as community hours, I would keep Kiwanis, hospice, Averitt and the recovery community. I couldn’t give up my addicts and alcoholics. And that’s a God thing. I didn’t wake up one morning and think ‘Oh, I’m going to go work with recovering drug addicts and alcoholics.’ But that is my great love — people in recovery. But it’d be hard to give any of them up,” she said. 

With Freedom Through Recovery, the group helps with all forms of recovery whether it be grief, Al-Anon, homeless, or helping parents get their children back, and holding Bible studies to get them through their struggles.

“We try to take that person and walk them along to where they need to be. We have one young man who came here homeless. He came to FTR, we helped get him a job, we have a shower in the back he’d come and take a shower, wash his clothes and he’d go to work. He’d work and then go sleep outside at night or in a tent. And now he has a house. We helped provide the tools for him to get out there,” Tootle said.  

She serves as a cheerleader, mentor and volunteer as well as an executive board member. She attends AA meetings as a mentor, not because of a past struggle with alcohol, but to be a friendly face. Someone recently told her, “If you can come here, I can come here.” 

A family member who is in recovery has been asked, “Is she one of us?” and they respond “No, she just acts like that.” Many get involved with a program because of their passion for it. So where did Tootle’s passion for the recovery community come from? 

“David and I were not drinkers. We didn’t smoke, didn’t take drugs, but we loved to drink coffee together and when he died, the one thing I could not do in my house was make coffee. So, every morning, I pulled into Dunkin Donuts and they hired the kids going through the halfway house and they became like my children,” she said. “I’d always done things for the local treatment center but it was a God thing. They needed me and I needed them. They were the first people I saw in the morning because I didn’t have David and I was kind of one of the first people they saw before the actual crowd came. I did not know that God was paving the way for one of my own.” 

Tootle has been a member of the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro for 12 years. She went almost immediately onto the Board of Directors after joining.

“I was excited to join. On the day I was to be inducted as president, my dad had had surgery that morning in Claxton so I was on 301 coming from Evans County to the fairgrounds and I got to the intersection where 169 is and it hit me. When I was a little girl, my favorite thing was to come to the fair. For us in Claxton, it was a big thing,” she said. “We talked for weeks about what night we were going and who we were going with. And I thought you know what? I’m about to go be sworn in as president of this organization that meant so much to me as a child. It was such an honor to do that because I knew the joy it had brought to me. I knew it would bring that joy to kids in our county and surrounding counties and also the monies that were going to be raised because of it.”

She didn’t know as a child what the money raised at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair was actually put towards — she assumed it went along with the fair people. Trish has served on the Board of Directors and made her way through the president rotation. She’s also served as the membership committee chair for a number of years and she currently is that committee chair. She’s also a member of the fair committee. 

“It is a family. Those months we were Zooming, it was awful. I’ve been going every Thursday for 12 years to those lunch meetings,” she said.

She joined in February 2010 and David died in August 2010. Then-President Barbara Price asked her if she’d be able to help with the loss being so recent. Trish said “Oh no, I need this. I need to be busy.” While they were talking, Don Whaley said, “She’s with me.” Whaley has headed up the pancake house for many years. 

Tootle can always be found during fair week in the pancake house in high heels. While many other Kiwanians wouldn’t be caught dead wearing high heels because of the amount of time spent on their feet, Trish has done it for 12 years because of Whaley. She showed up her first night in the pancake house in heels and has continued the practice — but, as she said, “Thank God they had a chair for me to sit in this last year.”

“You know I take the money and the orders and I back the lines up talking to everyone and kissing some of them. That’s why they won’t let me sell tickets anymore! My favorite thing is the camaraderie in the pancake house. Unless they die or are sick, we know who is going to fry sausage, who’s going to make batter and that I’m going to take money. We all have our places and we’re very territorial,” she said. 

Her joy is in seeing the community. In 2021, she heard so many people saying how happy they were that the fair was back since it was cancelled in 2020. Tootle also secures the judges for the parade floats during the parade held each Monday of fair week. 

Another really important thing to Tootle is the Statesboro Police Officer’s Foundation board, where she’s served for seven years. The foundation provides scholarships for law enforcement, staff members and their families. They are there to offer support when officers are injured or killed in the line of duty. 

She also participates in the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing as a committee member. The group works to identify areas in Statesboro that need to be revitalized and the state works alongside them to give everyone an opportunity to have an appropriate place to live. 

Tootle has also been active with the United Way of Southeast Georgia for 25 years and serves on the Tasting the Boro committee and allocation committee. 

All of these causes and volunteer projects take time, effort and energy and if you know Tootle, you know that she seems to never run short of any of these things. She was taught that service was important from her family and in church. 

Many times, Tootle has quoted Matthew 25:40: “In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” 

“In everything I do, I hope that the Lord is pleased and that is has helped somebody. We are kind of his hands and feet here on Earth so it’s up to us. He gives me the time because I don’t have a clue where it comes from,” she said. “I don’t know where the time, the energy or the motivation comes from — it’s just a gift from God. I am also blessed to work with an employer that gives me the opportunity and encouragement to do these things.” 

Morris Bank recently asked its employees to do an evaluation of themselves and their community service hours and after Tootle took a close look at the time she’s served, she ended up with a total of 535 service hours and those are all hours spent outside of work — before or after hours or during her lunch breaks. With community commitment like that, it is no wonder you can’t talk to Tootle without 15 people stopping to greet her or hug her neck.