Heady with the idealism of the 1960s civil rights movement, Brian and Marty Bolton planned to join the Peace Corps and go to Kenya after marrying in their Ohio hometown in 1968.
They never got to Africa.
Delayed first by the need for Marty to finish college and then by the births of their two children, the couple eventually gave up the idea of teaching English or building huts in remote villages.
“We always regretted that,” Marty said.
But they held on to their dream of working to improve other people’s lives.
Brian Bolton, 48, is executive director of the Ventura County chapter of the American Red Cross, which provides housing, food and other assistance to disaster victims.
Marty Bolton, 47, is crisis services director for Interface Children Family Services. She runs the agency’s programs for battered women, abused children and runaway youths.
Some of the Boltons’ friends wonder how the couple avoids being consumed by other people’s crises, Brian said.
“It sounds depressing to them that we’re constantly waiting for some emergency to come up,” he said.
But Marty and Brian Bolton, who both left other careers to work for charitable organizations, believe their concern for others’ well-being has helped them stay happily married after 25 years.
“When you care about other people and you love your job and you have self-esteem, it’s only going to make your marriage good,” Marty said. “We’re still crazy about one another.”
But she and her husband haven’t always had jobs they loved.
In the late 1970s, Brian Bolton had a high-profile advertising and marketing job for an Ohio food manufacturer. Although the money was good and the job allowed him to use his drawing talents, the work was demanding and the hours were long.
Brian was miserable.
“I was not pleased with the people I was working with,” he said. “The dollar was just the ultimate. I just didn’t like the perspective they had. It wasn’t me.”
After Brian headed the company’s United Way fund-raising drive, he found he liked the volunteer work more than his paid job.
So in late 1980, he left the business world to become executive director of the American Red Cross chapter in Newark, Ohio, the couple’s hometown.
He has stayed with the Red Cross ever since. After eight years with the Newark group, he got the job heading the chapter in Ventura County.
Charity work, he said, satisfies him in a way that business never could.
His father was a judge in Ohio, his mother a public school teacher. They instilled in him from an early age a strong social conscience, he said.
And the optimism of the civil rights movement only deepened his commitment to public service, he said.
“Spiritually, I need to connect with other people,” he said. “As long as I feel I’m doing something for others, I feel I’m living the kind of life a person should live.”
But Brian hasn’t completely forsaken his artistic talents: During long meetings at the Red Cross, he sometimes draws caricatures of the people across the table.
At the Ventura County chapter, Bolton oversees an $880,000 budget, supervises a small, paid staff plus an army of volunteers, and coordinates with Red Cross groups around the world to move money, supplies and workers to wherever help is needed.
During the Midwest floods this summer, for instance, the local Red Cross collected thousands of dollars from Ventura County residents for the disaster victims.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ken W. Riley, board president of the local Red Cross chapter, said Brian is clearly devoted to his work.
“He’s bright enough and talented enough that he could be doing something else and making a lot more money,” Riley said.
Brian Bolton earns $53,000 a year at the Red Cross.
Like her husband, Marty Bolton also has had a lifelong passion for helping people, especially children. Between breaks to rear her two sons, Marty taught public school for five years before taking over the school-outreach program of a Newark drug-abuse agency.
She and her husband were both over 40 by the time he was offered the Ventura County Red Cross job in 1988. She agreed to the move, which involved bringing their two sons--now 23 and 19--to California and leaving relatives and friends behind.
“We decided we didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives in Ohio,” Marty said. “We both have always had a wanderlust.”
After volunteering with the Ventura County United Way for a year, Marty got the $36,000-a-year job with Interface in 1990. She supervises shelters for battered women and their children, sets up meetings between runaway youths and their parents, and oversees a 24-hour hot line.
Co-worker Chris Rutter said Marty is always thinking of new ways to help young people, such as a new mobile AIDS education program that operates from a van.
“She’s always bubbly and alive and full of ideas,” she said. “She keeps the morale of her staff high because she’s always very positive.”
Colleen Hunter Hancock, president of United Way of Ventura County, said enthusiasm is a quality that both Marty and Brian Bolton bring to their jobs.
“Brian is a very effective administrator,” she said. “He works very well with the volunteers. He gets them excited about projects.”
As for Marty Bolton, Hunter Hancock said, “she works hard and follows through.”
In some ways, it helps that both Marty and Brian work for nonprofit social service agencies. Each understands what the other faces: long hours, hard work, and sometimes the grief of not being able to help someone in trouble.
“It’s just accepted that there are calls in the middle of the night,” Marty said.
But last year, the couple noticed that the demands of their jobs had begun to catch up with them. They weren’t spending any time together.
“We’d get home and just kind of collapse and that was it,” Brian said.
They began to take evening walks together around their Ventura neighborhood. “We make sure we spend some time letting the other person dump,” he said.
And they have set aside Saturday nights as “date night.” Whoever plans the evening has to surprise the other. One night Brian took his wife on a moonlit picnic on the beach.
When they can’t get enough social service, Marty volunteers for Red Cross and Brian donates some of his free time to Interface. “It’s one of the ways we get to see each other,” Marty Bolton said.