WILLOUGHBY, Ohio-- Known simply as “Bill the Greeter,” you'll find Bill Walton at the West End YMCA nearly every day. Sometimes he’s working out in the pool with the help of a staff member, but usually he’s posted in the front lobby, welcoming members with a smile.
For the 73 year-old with cerebral palsy, it’s been a welcome break from the monotonies of life in a nursing home for nearly five years. He calls his nearly daily four hours at the Y the highlight of his day. Though he may be in a wheelchair, his spirits are high.
“Everyone has a disability, whether physically you can see it, or it's hidden,” Walton said. “I thank God this is a special design, and it has opened many doors to be touched and be inspired.”
Walton said a conversation with YMCA member Todd Golling, of Concord Township, after Golling’s lunchtime workout Monday has impacted his life forever.
“He gets kind of emotional. He said, ‘Todd I'm grateful you take the time to talk to me. Not everyone does it, and I feel very happy you're here,” Golling said. “He had some tears, and I’m sitting there talking to Bill, and I’m seeing people just walk right by him and just, blinders on, and it kind of made me sad, and I thought it would be great if someone said hi to the greeter.”
Golling took a selfie with Walton and posted the picture and Walton’s story on Imgur in a post titled “Good guy people greeter. Gets ignored.” Golling wrote “I’d like to do something nice for him. I’m looking for ideas from the Imgur community.” He listed some of Walton’s favorite things.
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“I posted it late on Monday night, and by Tuesday my inbox had blown up. It made it to the front page of Imgur,” Golling said.
The post went viral overnight and was seen by more than 410,000 people with more than 1,000 comments by Wednesday morning.
“You name the country, I had a message from it, from people wanting to help,” Golling said.
The first gifts started arriving from around the world Wednesday, including a bald eagle figurine and tie dye t-shirt. Some included heartfelt notes.
“Keep smiling and don’t let anything get you down,” wrote a woman named Lydia.
Others commented that they plan to call the YMCA or visit Walton to say hello.
YMCA management said they plan to plaster the lobby wall with any post cards received, to surround Walton with love.
“He surprised me by doing all this, and it's very overwhelming,” said a visibly humble and emotional Walton, who thanked all of those reaching out. “It’s really changed my life forever.”
Golling said he hopes Walton’s story brings out the best in others.
“Don't be afraid of him,” Golling said. “I think it would be awesome if more people took the time to talk to somebody, maybe not Bill, but somebody like Bill and make their day not as bad as it possibly could've been.”
YMCA director Clint Simons said donations can be sent to the YMCA at 37100 Euclid Ave., Willoughby, OH, 44094 and people can visit Walton or call him at the Y at 440-946-1160 between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Simons said he is working on setting up a fund so that people can make a monetary donation, with checks made out to Lake County YMCA, in Walton’s name to go toward construction of a new YMCA facility breaking ground next year or toward the scholarship that covers Walton’s YMCA membership.