‘Dynamo’ volunteer makes community hum

Barbara Hootman

Twenty-three years ago, Roy and Jean Fenton moved to Black Mountain from Syracuse, New York. Roy began volunteering with the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry almost immediately.

“We moved down to Black Mountain because we had kids here,” he said. “Now, like a lot of other families, the kids are scattered all over the United States. First thing we stopped by the Chamber of Commerce, and Jean Abbott got us started on the right foot here in Black Mountain. She directed us to St. James Episcopal Church and the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry to volunteer. We got involved in the community.”

Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry was much smaller when Fenton, a former emergency medical technician, started volunteering than it is now. Lois Nix was the director then; she and Fentons became close friends.

“I was a Jack of all trades,” Fenton, 85, said. “Whatever needed to be done, I did it, and more or less still do.”

Today, Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry has some 200 volunteers. Last year they provided some 26,000 hours of service, according to director Renae Brame. “If we were paying $15 per hour, this would be $390,000,” she said. “You can see how much money our volunteers save the ministry.”

Even though there are a lot of volunteers at SVCM, some days there are just a handful there, Fenton said.

“I serve on the board of directors, the executive committee,” he said. “I am also the corporate secretary and the building and grounds chairman. I fix whatever needs to be fixed. And I shop, along with three other volunteers, at MANNA FoodBank once a week. I even change the light bulbs when needed.”

Brame sees Fenton’s volunteer work at SVCM as being far more extensive than he admits to.

“I have worked with Roy Fenton since my first day of employment on January 2, 2002,” she said via email. “During this time, Roy has been instrumental in many different steps forward for the ministry. It was under Roy’s leadership as president of the board of directors that future growth of our facility came about. We soon began the ‘Expanding for Greater Service Capital Campaign’ to raise $900,000 to purchase the house at 201 North Ridgeway and to build a 5,000-square-foot building. The capital campaign was a great success.

“I remember when I first began duties as director, there were many times that I needed Roy. And without having to call him, he seemed to show up just at the right time. I have always known in my heart that God brought Roy here. He will always be a part of the foundation of the SVCM. It has been my privilege to work with Roy, to be a witness to his leadership, and his heart of compassion”

Patti Windisch, the ministry’s community services navigator, called Fenton “Mr. Fixit.” And, she said, he has a great sense of humor.

“He is constantly finding cute, funny little things to share with the rest of the staff,” Windisch said in an email. “He uses things like stuffed animals, statuettes, toys, artist supplies and signs to bring cheer. If you come into work and find a plastic statue of Pluto (Mickey Mouse’s canine friend) on your desk or a large, colorful parrot attached to your blinds, you know Roy has been there.

“I also attend the same church as Roy and his lovely wife, Jean (St. James Episcopal Church), so the fun carries over into the weekends.”

Fenton said he would be bored just being retired and not volunteering.

“My wife and I also volunteered a lot in New York,” he said. “We were EMTs (emergency medical technicians) before retiring. I enjoy whatever I am doing. Since I am 85 years old, I am cutting back a little here and there in the volunteering.”

SVCM is not the only place in Black Mountain that benefits from Fenton’s generosity. He has volunteered many hours at his church.

“I sing in the choir, and I’ve served as the senior warden,” he said. “I guess I’ve done every possible thing there is at the church since I moved here.”

The Rev. Scott Oxford, rector at St. James Episcopal Church, said Fenton has been a devoted volunteer.

“He has faithfully served at St. James on our vestry (the body that represents the church in legal matters concerning its property), The St. James Foundation, and has served on any number of committee’s since he and Jean arrived in Black Mountain,” Oxford said. “Roy is a dynamo. He is a natural giver. The more he volunteers, the more he seems to have to give. He is one of those unsung heroes who make St. James and this community work.”