Volunteer of the Week: Donald Hlavaty
Published 12:37 pm Thursday, July 7, 2022
By Angela Cutrer
It was a simple thing the way it happened. One day, while walking his dog, Donald Hlavaty noticed his neighborhood looking a little … shabby. He thought to himself as he paused, “Maybe I’ll just pick up some trash as I go along.”
And that’s how it started — when Don Hlavaty decided to become an unknown, yet dedicated, volunteer for Carter County’s beautification needs.
Hlavaty said he first began his endeavor by picking up litter each morning on the dog walks. “That progressed into picking up litter in the neighborhood, Powder Branch Creek and Powder Branch Road,” he said. “While picking up trash on Powder Branch Road, I was approached by Ed Jordan of Keep Carter County Beautiful (KCCB). I then started attending KCCB board meetings and KCCB cleanup and beautification events.”
And the rest is history.
Hlavaty was nominated and elected as chairman of KCCB in January 2022. He thinks the group’s task is a meaningful one. “I love my new home in Northeast Tennessee and hate to see it defaced,” he said. “This area of the country is one of the most beautiful in the United States. [We have] mountains, lakes, rivers, wildlife galore and it is all being made to look like a landfill by people who just don’t care.
“This organization is trying to fix the problem of littering and dumping and repair the damage done to our community. The best thing about KCCB is that they are 100 percent all volunteers. No one is getting paid, and they all work together because they see a problem and believe we can fix it. The volunteers are all passionate about their community.”
Hlavaty said he is not a “people person,” but he realized that others might be like-minded about cleaning up, but perhaps cannot help. “I go out and work on the problem because they cannot,” he said. “I get great satisfaction out of knowing I am making the community better, so I guess it is as much selfish as it is helping others.”
Hlavaty was one of those who worked on an event at Buffalo Mountain with about a dozen other volunteers. Someone had dumped 1,000-plus tires into the forest instead of properly disposing of them. “It was rainy and muddy all morning, but those volunteers worked so hard that day,” he said. “When we were done, almost everyone had a big smile on their face.
“If I could bottle that enthusiasm and effort, we could solve the world’s trash problems. OK, that is an exaggeration, but I was so impressed that these people just gave up a Saturday to do something that very few people would know about but that impacted so many. They did it for no other reason than it was the right thing to do.”
Hlavaty was born and raised in Michigan, and most of his family are still there or in California. Educated as a civil engineer and construction engineer, Hlavaty worked for 15 years in project management, cost estimating, manual drafting and business management.
When he “got [his] hands on one of the first personal computers and saw what computer-aided drafting could do, [I] was hooked,” he said. He educated himself at night on anything he could find about computers and computer networks. He worked the next 25 years as a system administrator, Microsoft Certified systems engineer and data center architect, which he calls a “fancy title for the guy that designs and maintains computer networks in data centers.”
His wife (“a great woman”) of 41 years and his sister-in-law retired several years ago, and then, he did, too, four years ago. After 40 years of working, he decided it was the right time to retire and enjoy himself.
“I moved to Elizabethton with my wife, sister-in-law, two large dogs and one small cat,” he said. “My wife and sister-in-law worked 30-plus years in health care in Michigan. My wife is the queen of recycling and that is a good thing, and my sister-in-law is one of the most organized people I know (also a good thing).”
The group is now in their fourth year of living in Elizabethton.
Hlavaty designed the KCCB website, with information on upcoming events, recycling, Tennessee laws and how to volunteer. The website is located at www.keepcartercountybeautiful.org or www.kccbtn.org.
In February 2022, KCCB became a Tennessee nonprofit and a Federal 501c3 Public Charity, which means all donations are tax deductible. They have 10-15 events every year and have an information booth at several Elizabethton Parks and Recreation events.
What advice would he give to others in the community — or to any community at all? “Don’t wait for someone else to help,” he said, “jump in, the water is beautiful. No amount of pay exceeds the feeling of satisfaction you can feel when you volunteer to make things better.
“If not you, who? It is OK to volunteer for something that makes you feel good. Sometimes being selfish can help everyone around you.”