In today’s world, it seems impressive to see someone devote their attention to one thing for 50 minutes without becoming distracted. For Wally Reney, running Cheshire County’s Toys for Tots program was a 50-year endeavor.
After eight years in the U.S. Marines, Reney, then 29, started the program in 1969, with Tal Hood, owner of the WKBK radio station. Over five decades, Cheshire County Toys for Tots kept all its donations local — most other such programs send them to a central location for redistribution, but Reney said he didn’t want to have local donations going to Manchester, because there was no guarantee they’d return to kids here.
The need for the program has hardly ever waned; each year, between 900 and 1,600 presents are given to children in the area.
Reney finally stepped down as head of the program this year, handing off the reins last week to Scott Fifield, 57, a retired veteran who lives in Westmoreland. Even so, Reney expressed some dismay in letting go, saying he’d like to continue, but at 79, “I can’t give it the time I used to.”
The Surry resident just seems prone to making commitments. He’s still an assistant vice president of the Savings Bank of Walpole, a mainstay drop-off spot for the program for decades. He’s also been the town auditor for Surry, putting his banking know-how to work for the community. And he’s a longtime member (and past president) of the Keene Lions Club, participating in that organization’s annual fundraising shows and other charitable efforts.
For many years, he’s also been a ubiquitous presence at Monadnock View Farm, from the day after Thanksgiving until the last Christmas tree was sold. He worked there primarily because of longtime friend and fellow Lion, owner Dave Parody, who died just before the farm opened for business in 2017. Reney greeted customers and showed them the ropes; in return, Parody donated proceeds from cider sales at the farm to Toys for Tots.
On the brink of becoming an octogenarian, Reney may be handing off control of his pet project, but that doesn’t mean he’s given up helping. He said he’ll continue to be a part of Toys for Tots “as long as I’m around.”
Perhaps because he’s not the type to easily become distracted from a goal. And perhaps because Toys for Tots, run nationally by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve since debuting in 1947, made a mark on Reney at an early age. He recalls receiving a toy gun as a child growing up in Bellows Falls whose family didn’t have much.
“When I say that your donation will make a local child happy at Christmastime, know that it comes from someone who has been there,” he said.