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A love for the environment, turns into years of volunteering

By Staff | Dec 9, 2015

Denny Toll has been volunteering at CROW for many years helping clean cages, as well as conducting the Wednesday Wildlife Rescue 101 presentation. MEGHAN MCCOY

An Illinois native added Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife to the long line of organizations he volunteers for after he and his wife began visiting the island in the late 1980s.

“I’m big into the environment,” Denny Toll said, adding that he has dedicated almost 40 years of his life to volunteering, which has always included an aspect of the environment.

Every Monday, Toll cleans the animal cages at CROW and on Wednesdays he brings the Education Center to life during his Wildlife Rescue 101 presentation.

The energetic volunteer instantly captured the audience’s attention last week as he asked everyone where they were from before diving into what CROW does for the wildlife community. His presentation included multiple photographs and engaging stories of some of CROWs patients, some of which he rescued.

“When they make it and we go on releases that is the coolest thing in the whole wide world,” Toll said. “You open the door, step back and it comes out.”

Toll, who was born on the south side of Chicago, taught high school electives for seniors at Wheeling High School for 35 years, as well as coached for 18 years. Toll said the school had about 2,500 kids and is the largest school district outside of the City of Chicago in the state of Illinois.

“I don’t know why anyone would not want to teach,” he said. “It is the greatest job in the whole wide world. There were days I couldn’t wait to get to school.”

While he was teaching he began a club called SAVE, Students Against the Violations of the Environment. His group recycled newspapers and cans. On average they collected 11 tons of paper a year, 60 percent of which was used at the school. The club also raised between $800 to $1,000 in cans that were recycled.

The funds used from the recycling sponsored animals, one of which was a gorilla.

“I have always been big in the environment issues,” Toll said. “It is important.”

His giving heart continued throughout the years as he helped his students.

Eighty pairs of glasses were purchased between he and his wife for their students who were in need.

“I had a kid in my class. He was a starting halfback and a test was coming up. I said, ‘you have to pass this test for me’ and he said, ‘I can’t read,'” Toll said, adding that his student revealed he couldn’t see the page. “I said lets go. We went to Lens Crafters and he played that game. He got a scholarship to the University of Illinois and became a lawyer.”

Toll also began a turkey dinner program for Thanksgiving. The middle class and upper class students delivered a 10 pound turkey, five pounds of potatoes and canned vegetables to 700 people they provided the service for.

After discovering Southwest Florida, his volunteerism continued.

He spends time volunteering at Hope Hospice and is an usher at Barbara B Mann. When he is at his summer home he rescues dogs and cats for the Humane Society.

Three years ago, Toll set up a dance studio in his wife, who passed away five years ago, name in Fort Myers. Last year he took more than 20 girls to the Nutcracker ballet and this year seven of those girls are dancing in the ballet.

“I’m taking all the parents to see the kids dance,” he said.

When Toll is not volunteering, he spends time setting up at fine art craft shows at least three times during the winter months.

About 30 years ago while he was driving to his grandmother’s house on garbage day he noticed an old lawyer’s bookcase that was missing pieces. Picking up that one piece turned into a passion of taking antique furniture and turning into a work of art.

“I took an old buggy seat and made a chair,” Toll said, adding that he also has turned an old sewing machine table into a computer table.

“The furniture I have in this house and up north . . . every piece is an antique and every piece I refinished and completed. That is kind of cool,” he said smiling.

Toll now lives on Sanibel during the winter months and in Wisconsin during the summer months.

“I have a log cabin on the lake that I built myself,” he said.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.