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Fishline ops manager ‘is an amazing human being’ | Editor's Notebook

From left, Lynn Ziegler, Garvin Tootle, Colleen Smith, and Gwen Rose, all of Poulsbo, are part of the Fishline team. This photo was taken in July for a column about Fishline.   - Richard Walker / Herald
From left, Lynn Ziegler, Garvin Tootle, Colleen Smith, and Gwen Rose, all of Poulsbo, are part of the Fishline team. This photo was taken in July for a column about Fishline.
— image credit: Richard Walker / Herald

The last thing Garvin Tootle would want is a story written about him in the local newspaper. But there are a lot of people out there who believe his is a story that needs to be told.

You see, Tootle means a lot to them. He’s a no-nonsense Marine (retired, yes, but once a Marine, always a Marine) who doesn’t do things halfway. He’s patient with others’ personal foibles. He can easily shed a tear for someone else, but would prefer that someone laugh with him when his chips are down.

People much younger would have a hard time keeping his schedule: 12 hours a day as Fishline’s operations manager, filling in on bread runs, cutting firewood for someone who needs it, volunteering with the Lions Club.

“I get in a quarter after 8 and he’s already been there,” volunteer trainer Karen Calhoun said.

People who work with and for him want him to know that he’s made a difference in their lives. He’s inspired them by his example. And they love him.

“He has done a lot for the community. But he’s not the kind of guy who blows his own horn,” one admirer said.

And so admirers are tooting their horns for Tootle.

His lifestory tells a lot about how to live: Selflessly, paying it forward, doing for others.

Back in the day, he enlisted as a Marine and after 14 years was commissioned. He retired as a captain.

After retiring, he built homes in Texas with Habitat for Humanity and served as a volunteer firefighter.

He and his wife, Joan, moved to Poulsbo to be closer to their children. He became a volunteer with the Poulsbo Police Department and later joined Fishline. He’s been Fishline’s operations manager for more than four years.

With Southern manners, military discipline, good humor and a good heart, he and a corps of 230 volunteers meet the needs of 6,000 people a month. “He has become a hero to many,” Fishline director Mary Nader said. “Volunteers respect and admire him. The community watches with awe as he works so hard to help others, and clients ask for him by name when they wish to be heard. He is quite a remarkable person, working tirelessly for 12 hours every day, only a part of that he’s paid for.”

She added, “He lives each day to its fullest. He’s a very hard worker and a very honorable man. He’s a benevolent soul and he feeds it by his activity. The more he does for others, the less he thinks about himself.”

Nader said Tootle has an amazing ability to meet any challenge he’s faced with. “He never says he can’t do it, and he does it in a way that inspires others. He’s a natural leader. People are always ready to help him.”

Gwen Rose, a Fishline volunteer, has worked with Tootle since August 2009.

“One of the things about him is, there’s no halfway. He’s full force — ‘On we go,’” she said.

“He shouldn’t be doing a lot of the things he’s doing, but he continues to do what he would be doing if he was 45.”

She added, “He’s a caring person. That’s the most I can say. He’s one of a kind.”

She told this story as an example.

“He cares about the volunteers and our clients. He just cares about people. I had a medical emergency Sunday — it was a false alarm, but something I need to have checked — and I left a message that I wouldn’t be in on Monday. A lot of the volunteers and staff were concerned. We’re sort of a family there — we miss each other, we care about each other.

“Karen went in and Garvin figured she talked to me. When she told Garvin, he was almost in tears – ‘Did we do something we shouldn’t have done?’ He was worried that maybe I had lifted something I shouldn’t have. He’s very concerned about the people who work there.”

Gavin Watt of Indianola has worked at Fishline for three and a half years, first as a receptionist and then with the Food for Thought program, which provides weekend lunches for school children. Watt is also a member of the Fishline Board of Directors.

“He’s a great guy. I can’t say enough good about him. The amount of energy and effort he puts into that place.

“He served 28 years in the Marines. He volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in Texas, volunteered for the Poulsbo Police Department. He can’t seem to do enough for people.

“He’s a no-nonsense, get-it-done kind of guy. He’s got a great sense of humor. I see him interact with clients, he’s great with them. They love the guy. He’s friendly, and they’re just neighbors to him.”

One Tootle admirer who asked to remain anonymous said, “He’s a totally committed human being. If he was in any corporation, he would run it.

“He’s there Saturdays. He’s the core of this place. He has a good sense of humor and he treats people well. He’s totally goal-oriented, but never have I heard him be rude to anybody. He’s cheerful, funny, outgoing.”

Tootle doesn’t go into detail about his health. He admits he can’t do as much as he could six months ago. But hints are dropped during the conversation. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Experimental treatment.

And even today, in the face of the challenge of his life, he is hopeful — that someday someone will benefit from the treatments he’s testing.

Calhoun has worked with Tootle for three years. She said when she met him, he had a gruff exterior that you would expect from a Marine. She called him “Master and Commander” or “Captain America.” But under that gruff exterior she found a heart of gold.

“His heart is bigger than all of us put together. He cares about others, is driven to make sure they have firewood, food, what they need. He gives and gives and gives.

“I can’t put my finger on what motivates him. He’s just an amazing human being.”

 

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