KINGSTON TWP. — Anyone who’s spent time with Royal Sutton knows laughter is inevitable.
The perennial volunteer has lent a hand (or two) to several Back Mountain nonprofit organizations, and he prefers to serve with a smile and a light heart.
The Trucksville resident was recently selected for the Charles D. Lemmond Jr. Community Spirit Award, sponsored by the Dallas Post.
The award is named after the former senator who passed away in 2012. It was first awarded in 2013 and honors those who endeavor to improve the lives of Back Mountain residents through outstanding community service, public service or philanthropy and who embody Lemmond’s commitment to doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons.
Previous honorees include Back Mountain Trail originators David and Judy Rimple in 2013, then-Back Mountain Harvest Assembly pastor Rev. Dan Miller in 2014 and Dallas artist Sue Hand in 2015.
“I’m very humbled,” said Sutton of receiving the award. ” I knew Charlie (Lemmond). He was a very encouraging and enthusiastic guy.”
Sutton volunteers with local organizations including the Back Mountain Chamber of Commerce, The Meadows Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Shavertown United Methodist Church and the Back Mountain Men’s Ecumenical Group.
He received the 2015 Volunteer of the Year award from the chamber during its Mardi Gras banquet earlier this year. And he just returned from a mission trip to the Henderson Settlement in Frakes, Kentucky, while working with a group from Shavertown United Methodist Church.
Sutton said people were shocked to see the 84-year-old climbing ladders to clean gutters and helping people who are younger than he is.
“It keeps my mind busy and my feet working,” he said of volunteering.
Spirit of service
Those who know him say Sutton is a tireless worker for the community, but keeps his quick wit intact.
“I enjoy working with Royal,” said Bill Leandri, executive director of the Back Mountain Chamber. “He’s not only hard working, he has a deep committment to others, and he’s got a great sense of humor, and he shares that with everyone and everything he does. People enjoy being around him.”
Gene Kelleher, leader of the Back Mountain Men’s Ecumenical Group, said Sutton is a “wonderful man” who would do anything to help his community — no matter how old he is.
“He’s 84 going on 59,” said Kelleher.
Sutton is a longtime member of the men’s group and writes the weekly newsletter, which is sent to 180 members via email. He keeps a dozen or so hard copies around for those who aren’t computer savvy.
“Really, he’s an asset not only to our group, but we attend the same church, and he’s an asset to church,” said Kelleher. “…He’ll do anything he can to support (these groups). He loves to volunteer and help.”
Dallas resident and Daddow-Isaacs Post 672 Dallas American Legion member Clarence Michael, who nominated Sutton for the award, said he’s amazed at all Sutton has accomplished and felt his service to the Back Mountain was fitting for the honor.
“He’s like a Renaissance man,” Michael said. “He’s a very, very busy person … how he gets to do all these things is beyond me.”
Michael said Sutton embodies the spirit of Lemmond, from his dedication to the Back Mountain to his rapport with other residents.
Sutton “always has a nice thing to say about people,” Michael said. “To me, he exemplifies what Charlie was. If Charlie saw you, even if he just saw you yesterday, (he made you feel like) it was a great thing to see you.”
Jack of all trades
Sutton was born and raised in Wisconsin but found his way to Nebraska when he was stationed in Omaha with the U.S. Air Force.
There he met his wife, a cattle rancher’s daughter named Kathryn, and eventually took over the photography business where he worked under George Marsden.
Marsden left Sutton the business, but not without quite a bit of debt, and eventually Sutton had to close the Rinehart-Marsden Studio in the late 1960s.
Despite the closing, Sutton was able to recover photos taken by Marsden’s father-in-law and founder of the studio, Frank Rinehart, of Native American tribes during the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in 1898.
Sutton went on to write two books, “The Face of Courage” in 1972 and “On the Edge of Extinction” in 2013, on Rinehart’s photographs.
Sutton said his family came to the Back Mountain in 1971 when his employer allowed him to choose where the company should develop in the northeast.
“It was really the ideal place,” he said of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Since then he’s worked as a salesman selling copy machines, insurance, time shares and advertising, yet he’s always found the time to give back.
“I’ve never retired,” he said. “I don’t like the word.”
Family comes first
Sutton and his wife had three children: daughters Tricia and Meg, who are both married with children and live in Downers Grove, Illinois and Poulsbo, Washington, respectively; and son Gregg, who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with his wife and children.
“I have family in four time zones,” he said.
Kathryn, to whom he was married for 57 years, died in 2013 after living with Alzheimer’s disease. Sutton provided her with around-the-clock care, up until a few months before her death.
“The highlight of my life was my wife,” he said.
Now Sutton volunteers at the Meadows with the Alzheimer’s caregivers support group and Memories in the Making, a fine arts program for those with Alzheimer’s that aims to increase self-esteem in patients and open communication with their loved ones.
Sutton said he’s seen firsthand the effects of the program on patients. He said one woman had gone from sitting hunched in her chair to painting and smiling within a few weeks.
“It was beautiful to watch,” he said.
Sutton plans to continue his mission to give back and hopes others will, too.
“I’d like to encourage more and more people to volunteer,” he said. “Even if you think you don’t have the time, you have the time.”
Reach Sarah Hite Hando at 570-704-3945.