The perfect day for Richmond Hill resident Mark Bolton would be soaring high above the earth, piloting a Piper Cub aircraft with his son, Nicholas, on a cross-country excursion that would reveal America’s changing landscape far below.
In fact, that’s on Bolton’s bucket list, which is fairly short considering his many life accomplishments.
Bolton, vice president of communications, marketing and economic development at Coastal Electric Cooperative, has been a Coastal Georgia resident for decades, but was born and reared in southern Alabama.
"I was born in rural Alabama. The place where I lived doesn’t really have a name," said Bolton, who considers himself a Crimson Tide fan. "You describe it by how far it is from the nearest big city. It’s about halfway between Montgomery and Mobile."
Bolton moved to Richmond Hill in 1980 and counts his interest in ham radio and broadcasting as two of the main reasons he has called the area home for the last 38 years.
Another is his wife of many years, Wendy.
"I met Wendy after I got here through a shared interest in boating and the local waters," he recalled. "We met at a social gathering one night. A friend of hers, Margie McMillan, introduced us and invited me out with them to to Ossabaw Island.
"Then, as it is today, everybody had a fast boat, but I had a sailboat. Wendy knew I had a sailboat and told Margie that it would take forever for a sailboat to get to Ossabaw," he said. "But I told Wendy, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that gets you there."
The inauspicious beginning has led to 25 years of marriage and a partnership that has been one of Bolton’s life inspirations.
Bolton was working with Coastal Electric Cooperative at the time, then known by area residents as Coastal EMC, and got his start with the company by testing homes for electricity conservation.
"It was never one of those things in high school that when they asked you what you wanted to do with your life, you yelled out to work with an electric cooperative," he said. "I was just lucky. Coastal Electric was and still is a relatively small electric company."
He recalls being assigned more than one job.
"One of the things I did had to do with communications. I wrote articles, took pictures, that sort of thing. Public relations, too," he said. "The other part was more of a technical, customer-help sort of thing. People who had high electric bills called me. I had a little bag that looked a lot like a doctor’s bag. Mine had meters and test instruments in it. I made house calls and did energy audits."
Bolton pointed out that the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce last week recognized the company’s excellence and named Coastal Electric as the chamber’s 2017 business of the year.
All these years later, Bolton still uses his communication skills, print and otherwise, to sell the virtues of the cooperative.
Another of Bolton’s passions was sitting behind a microphone at a radio station. He started working at radio stations in rural Alabama as a teen, doing everything from broadcasting news and weather to spinning records to taking out the trash.
"I was 15 years old when I went to work at the radio station. All of my friends in high school were bagging groceries at the Piggly Wiggly or A&P. Some were flipping burgers," he said. "But I was lucky. I had a job at the radio station. I made a little bit of money, but spent it all on gas for a 1973 Mach One Mustang. I was just fortunate enough to get hired at a small town radio station at about $1.65 per hour."
The owner of that radio station owned several other stations, Bolton said, and the minute he graduated from high school he moved 600 miles to work at another of his radio stations in southern Indiana.
Bolton credits his lifelong interest in amateur radio as one of the main reasons he liked sitting behind the microphone.
"Ham radio is normally an ‘old man’s’ hobby, but here I was interested in it at 15 years old."
He maintains his interest in amateur radio today and says he and his son, Nicholas, have sat in their car near Fort McAllister and talked to people all over the world. As ham radio has changed and grown with technology, so has radio. Radio stations today, he says, are a far different animal than the one he cut his broadcasting teeth on.
"The thing that’s missing in today’s radio stations is local news. That’s the one thing they could do that no one else could do," he said. "It could be local with a sense of immediacy and you just don’t hear that anymore. There’s not even a live person most of the time."
He worked with Richmond Hill-licensed radio station WRHQ, owned for more than 40 years by Jerry Rogers.
"There might be a few people still out there who remember my name from the radio station."
Bolton, an Army veteran, also has had a lifelong interest in aviation.
"When I was growing up, I wanted to be a space shuttle pilot. I was hugely attracted to aviation and still am," he said. "I was taking flying lessons before I could drive. My mother would drive me to take flying lessons. It cost $20 per hour to fly, so it was pretty expensive. I passed the written exam and then got involved in some other things. So I didn’t get my pilot’s license, but still love aviation."
Bolton said he’d like to resume the hobby someday.
"I still would like to take a long trip in a Piper Cub airplane with me at the controls. I’ve often said I’d like to take that trip with my son, Nicholas. There’d be no greater geography lesson than to put a kid in an airplane and fly low and slow from the East Coast to the West Coast," he said. "You would watch the world turn from green to mountains to brown sand back to mountains and back to green again. I think a cross-country trip with Nicholas would be one of the high points of my life, along with marrying Wendy."
Photography is another of Bolton’s many and varied interests.
"I still have the first picture I ever took in 1965. It was a picture of my mother standing up against our old 1955 Chevrolet car. I took it with a camera that cost $1," he said with a nostalgic smile.
There have been many influences in Bolton’s life, he said, but he credits his parents, Bertie and Otto Bolton, with putting him on the straight and narrow and his wife, Wendy, with keeping him on that path.
"We were farmers growing up and we were poor, but we didn’t know we were poor. My parents had a strong faith in God and they instilled that in me. They taught me the meaning of hard work and the importance of treating people the way I want to be treated," he said. "They taught me that you don’t lie, you don’t cheat, you don’t steal. I’ve tried not to stray from that and what I’ve tried to teach my son is that good character and good values matter in life. Beyond that, my wife Wendy has been a very strong influence. She gave up a very good career after Nicholas was born to be a full-time mother. She taught me what was important in life. Nothing was more important to her than to be a mother and wife. She’s been very good at both and I’m a lucky man to be going through life with her. She just never got knocked down. She was the glue that has held us together."