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AEP retiree helps establish Sertoma Club, assists underprivileged Texas children

by on April 3, 2014
AEP retiree Bill Ditman (right) and Lindi Andrews, principal of Grace Hardeman Elementary School in Watauga, Texas, display some of the contents of the backpacks that are donated through the Sertoma Club  to underprivileged children in the area.

You can call Bill Ditman a lot of things — a mover and a shaker, a guy who makes things happen, tireless, persistent — but you can never call him “shy.”

That outgoing personality and never-ending drive served Ditman well throughout his 27-year career at AEP. From his first job as a right-of-way maintenance supervisor for Appalachian Power Company in 1961 to his retirement as director of marketing and transportation for AEP Fuel Supply in 1995 (he also had an eight-year break in service where he worked as a self-employed environmental/regulatory consultant), Ditman was the go-to guy when you wanted to get things done, especially when it came to community service.

So it was no big surprise to discover that he found — and filled — a big void in a small community in Texas during his retirement years.

“I have had two passions since retiring in 1995, Sertoma and Russia,” said Ditman, “and I can not explain one without telling of the other.”

While working with a number of associates from Orenburg State University on various educational and cultural-exchange projects, Ditman ran into a young man who asked for help to get into Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. “He was accepted and I realized we needed some money to help him meet expenses,” Ditman recalled. “The Lancaster (Ohio) Sertoma Club was the only organization willing to support an appeal; however, with one little condition…I had to join.

“As a newly minted Sertoman, I asked if Sertoma — which means ‘Service to Mankind’ —  could start a club in Russia and not only received a yes but encouragement,” Ditman continued. “My friends at Orenburg State University were interested, and on my next visit we created a Collegiate Sertoma Club at Orenburg State University. Next we built a collegiate club at the new branch campus in Orsk and then a third collegiate club at the campus in Buzuluk.

“Then it was on to the high schools,” he added. “We helped build eight clubs in high schools throughout Orenburg Region. I had the privilege of escorting the president of Sertoma International, and several others, to Orenburg to meet with all the new Sertomans. What a trip!” 

In 2004, Ditman and his wife, Beverly, moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to help out their son, who was a single parent with three young girls, and he wanted to stay connected with Sertoma, primarily because of the Russian connection. However, he soon learned that he would have to start a new club.

“Shortly before the big move, I attended Sertoma’s annual convention and met a journalist who worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and told him my story,” Ditman noted. “He immediately said, ‘I know just the place, a city with a population of 23,000 and no civic service clubs, Watauga.’  He then told me he had been tough on the town and wanted to do something good for them.” Watauga, he explained, was a community in transition which resulted in all four public schools being designated Title 1, with over 50 percent of the children from low-income families.

The journalist provided Ditman with an opening and later wrote a column in the Star-Telegram describing his efforts to establish a club in Watauga. It took from October 2004 to March 2006 for Ditman to meet the requirements for chartering.

“I knocked on a lot of doors, shook a lot of hands, made a lot of friends,” he said. “I did not have access to good eclairs (delicious pastries Ditman provided as rewards to those who helped with community service projects in Lancaster during his tenure at Fuel Supply) but there is a very fine restaurant in a gas station in Watauga, so I resorted to treats of crab cakes and bread pudding for the real hot prospects.

“But after the grand banquet, reality set in,” he continued. “We had a club but no real mission other than being good guys.”

Ditman said one of the new Sertomans suggested providing shoes for underprivileged children. While Ditman admitted he was looking for something on more of a grand scale, he suggested that he bring it up at the next next meeting. “He arranged for the school nurse to come and share with us how she was dipping into her own pocket to  provide shoes to kids so they could participate in school athletics,” Ditman said. “We, on the spot, adopted what is our signature mission of ‘Shoes for Kids.’  The mission was expanded to include all four schools in Watauga.”

From there, the community outreach exploded. In addition to Shoes for Kids, the bustling Watauga Sertoma Club now spearheads the following activities: 

  • Sertoma Santa — assists families eligible for support from Christmas Providers but can not be covered because school quotas are not adequate to meet the need.
  • Back 2 School — a cooperative program, engaging the entire community, in which 1,000 backpacks are stuffed with basic school supplies and distributed to needy children the week before school starts.
  • Camp Jolt — support for a program to ensure all fifth-grade students can participate in the fifth-grade science camp, a three-day outdoor adventure.
  • Hearing Health — responds to the needs of the hearing impaired who do not have resources for hearing devices.
  • Accessibility Fair — organized annually by the Watauga Public Library to provide information to the public on sources of help such as Sertoma’s Hearing Health program.

“The community now has an active civic club with a focus on serving the needy school children of Watauga,” Ditman concluded. “I am active in recruiting and finding money and still work with my friends in Russia.”

From → Retiree Profiles

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