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Q & A with FISH President Bill Fellows

January 6, 2011
Bill Fellows just took on the role of President at Friends in Service Here (FISH) of Sanibel. Read on to find out more about this Sanibel resident’s extended — and furry — family, why you might seriously want to consider joining him for Sunday breakfast and how you can help FISH continue its mission of neighbors helping neighbors!

Where did you grow up?

I really have lived a nomadic life as a child and as an adult. My parents — either out of necessity, or maybe they were just adventuresome — took us from where I was born in New Jersey, to live in Delaware, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania, all before my marriage and career. Then our career had us moving 17 times and took us to California, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia and a couple great overseas assignments in Sydney, Australia and Paris, France. Thanks to great family support, every move was viewed as our own adventure and turned out well. We’ve been settled in Sanibel for 10 years, the longest we’ve ever lived anywhere — I’m pretty sure we’re here to stay.

What's your family like?

We’re a pretty average family by the numbers, my wife and best friend Virginia and I have two grown children, both married and just this past August we were delighted to become grandparents for the first time. We have a rescued Greyhound and I’ve lost track of the number of cats, it seems we agree to board a cat or two for a month, and three years later they are all still with us. It’s anything but average when we’re all together, but its great fun and we wake up every day knowing how fortunate we are as a family. An added advantage of being settled, as we are today, is the terrific friendships that get developed over time. While we have many great friends around the world, the ones that you know you can call on any time day or night are those right here on Sanibel.

You are now officially the president of FISH — but what did you used to do professionally?

For as long as I can remember, it seems I have always had a profession — delivering newspapers, cutting lawns, selling fruits and vegetables door to door or caddying at the local golf club. But, when I realized I had to get serious about a long term profession, I worked for IBM for 40 years. Twenty-five of those years were with a small division of the company that supported the Federal government. It was pretty spectacular to be part of our Space program in the early years, Project Gemini, Apollo and the Shuttle. Then, as an executive on the front end of the development of IBM’s new Services Business, which eventually took us overseas, which was also very exciting. I couldn’t have asked for anything more challenging and more satisfying through all those years.

What sorts of duties does your presidency entail?

As you may know, FISH has grown significantly in the last four years. We are at a point where one individual cannot be expected to oversee the day-to-day responsibility of making sure our clients’ needs are met and at the same time steer the organization to meet our growing needs — both financial and the enhancement of our FISH services. Maggi Feiner, our past President, has agreed to stay on as an Executive Director (another voluntary position) with responsibilities for the day to day operation of FISH. I’ll preside over our Board meetings, frame and lead the execution of our strategic plans, serve as the first link to the Sanibel and Captiva communities, and promote our organization to prospective donors. I’m looking forward to taking on the challenges we’ll face in 2011.

How long have you been associated with FISH?

I started as a volunteer driver right after I retired at the end of 2005. I’ve told this story many times, but my eyes were opened to volunteerism when my mother passed away in Pennsylvania. We thought we were doing everything for her that was required to live independently in her home. Actually, she had a lot of friends who were driving her to medical appointments, taking her shopping and just making sure she was doing okay every day. Turns out, this is a lot of what FISH does and not everyone is as fortunate as my mother was with lots of friends. So, I wanted to get involved. I had no idea how satisfying this would be, not only does our client get to their appointment but I just met a new friend and learned so much more about Sanibel than I ever knew. It was at this point that the Board of FISH began to see the demands on the organization were starting to grow. I was asked to join the Board in 2007 to fill a brand new Resource Development position. We wrote, submitted, and were awarded our first grant in 2007. We launched our first all island mass mailing, and with the support of a very generous community of individuals and organizations, we have been able to keep up with the demand.

Why is an organization like FISH important to Sanibel and Captiva?

We are fortunate to have many devoted organizations looking after our Island assets. The natural beauty, our wildlife, and at FISH I believe we look after our most important Island asset, our neighbors. It’s difficult for many to understand that on our Island paradise, in addition to the stress of the difficult economic environment, we have social issues such as homelessness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, mental illness and serious health issues that require our neighbors to call on FISH for assistance. FISH is the most inclusive human services providing organization on the Islands, and for whatever legitimate reason, nearly 20 percent of our permanent residents are FISH clients. I believe without FISH there would be even more serious issues to be faced in our community.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’ve been an avid golfer for 55 years and combined with a competitive nature, am always in pursuit of a lower handicap, my first hole in one, or even just winning a $3 Nassau. Actually, I’m in my second year as the President of the Beachview Men’s Golf Association and really enjoy the camaraderie among the members and developing that next competitive event. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to help influence our new grandson into becoming a golfer, and hope he will enjoy the game as much as I do. We have a regular group of Bridge players in the neighborhood and one night a week we have a wine tasting that gets interrupted with a bridge game. Of course, the nomad in me is always looking forward to our next family trip to somewhere exciting.

If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I’m too shy to want to have dinner with anyone I don’t know, so I look forward to every meal with family and friends. It’s always interesting conversation, usually excellent food, and always with people I like. How can it get any better than that?

What's something people might be surprised to learn about you?

Well, I am absolutely barred from the kitchen at meal time — I have trouble boiling water. However, many years ago we developed a tradition in our family that “dad” would be responsible for Sunday morning breakfast. So, I learned how to make pancakes, from scratch, and to this day when the kids are in town they (the pancakes) are expected on the Sunday morning menu. I’ve even tweaked the measurements of the ingredients to be sure no one will ever be able to duplicate the magic formula.

Did you make a New Year's resolution this year?

I haven’t ever had much luck with New Year’s resolutions, but this year it’s critical that I learn to balance my time. After family, golf and FISH, I have to remember I am retired.

What do you predict for FISH in 2011?

If I could change the question to “What do I wish for FISH in 2011?” it would be an easy answer — we hope that demand for our services will reduce in 2011 — but experience tells us even though the economy shows signs of recovery, unemployment turnaround may be in the distant future. My prediction for FISH will continue to be a “bad news, good news” story. Demand for our services will remain high and with the help of our community FISH will be able to meet the demand. I also hope that our hard working Board of Directors and our FISH volunteers can continue to put in the voluntary hours that really make a difference to the lives of our clients. Our overall plan is to continue to expand the services we offer. During 2010, in collaboration with other human services agencies in Lee County, we have started programs for ‘Moms and Toddlers’, Literacy, memory screening, tax filing assistance, home budget management training and breast cancer counseling, to name a few. We will continue to add new services like these in 2011.

How can people help FISH?

We currently have a corps of volunteers 200 strong, and we always need more. Our food pantry is in constant need of supplies. I hope the community can continue to be as generous as they have been with financial support for FISH. And, let’s all keep our fingers crossed for a very busy tourist season.

Article Photos

Bill Fellows



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