Leadership: Service comes naturally to Vilonia’s Toll

Dwain Hebda

by Dwain Hebda

All you need to know about the community-mindedness of rising Vilonia High senior Drake Toll is sitting right out in front of his school. 

A few years back, a rival high school stole an eagle statue signifying the school’s mascot, leaving a vacancy the then-eighth-grader could not tolerate. He appeared before the school board with a plan for a replacement, which they liked but didn’t have the money for. Fortunately, he impressed local business people in the process, and they helped provide the funds for the replacement statue which now proudly stands on campus.

“One of the things that was really big for me growing up was just being around a community that was really involved in having their youth participate in leadership roles and opportunities,” he said. “One of the major things that people around here do is, they don’t say, ‘You’re too young, you can’t do that.’ They say, ‘What can we do to develop you into different roles as a leader, even though you’re young.’”

Drake Toll at Vilonia High School, where last year he was president of his class and vice president of the student council. (Dwain Hebda photo)

The statue project merely primed the pump for what Toll would do in high school. Last year, he was president of his class and vice president of the student council. He also coaches both peewee and Special Olympics basketball. But he’s most passionate about Beta Club, an activity that stresses leadership through serving others. 

“What started me on Beta was how efficient the club was and how big the club was and the fact that it’s not for everyone,” Toll said. “They tell you that; when you look at the Beta national website, the first thing you see is Beta is not for everyone. I love being a part of that.”

Toll thrived in the club’s service- and leadership-intensive environment. He quickly made a name for himself with hard work, ambition and enthusiasm for the club’s mission, personal traits that stood out to peers and adults alike. 

“I was voted club vice president in my sophomore year,” he said. “As soon as they voted me club vice president, they said we want you at this upcoming state convention to run for state office.”

Toll not only ran, he won. Under the banner “Stop, Drop and Toll,” the young man was voted state Beta president to go with the vice presidency of his 120-member home club, roughly two-thirds of whom attended state convention and mobilized his candidacy. 

“We brought 84 kids with the goal of running a state president and we have to win,” he said. “We built this whole campaign; we had campaign T-shirts, we had a Snapchat, we had Instagram social media. It was huge for us.

“You’re trying to promote yourself less politically and in more of a fun way, in a way that grabs their attention. ‘Stop, Drop and Toll’ ended up being really popular. We made a shirt that had my face on it and it was featured in scavenger hunts at the convention. It was a hot commodity.”

The campaign may have had a playful air to it, but Toll is steely-eyed serious about what he wants to accomplish in his leadership roles. He’s taken aim at helping the state’s existing chapters grow and to inspire new Beta clubs throughout Arkansas. 

“From day one, that was the first thing,” he said. “As soon as I joined Beta, it was all about how can we make this into something big.”

No sooner had he landed the state group’s highest office, Toll set his eye on the next level of the organization. At Beta Club’s national convention in Savannah, Ga., he relayed his vision before the assembly in a campaign speech to an estimated 12,000 delegates. His message was simple: Together, we all accomplish more.

“I was the very last person to speak before they voted,” he said. “I was listening to the other speeches backstage and realized my speech was not quite good enough. I call it a God thing; I had a deeply spiritual moment of prayer right before I went on and the second half of my speech was improvised on the spot.”

The performance brought down the house and resulted in Toll being elected the organization’s president, the first national officer from Arkansas in 30 years. He now heads the largest nonprofit educational group in the country with 600,000 U.S. members and 9,000 clubs in 45 states plus several international franchises. While the enormity of the accomplishment has yet to fully sink in, his passion for making the most of his time at the helm is fervent.

“I’ll be honest with you, when I set myself to something I want to give it my all,” he said. “I want to make sure it’s done right and correctly. I want to make sure the more things I have my hand in, the more things I can do at an efficient rate. 

“I’ve always enjoyed being in leadership roles throughout the community and I want to take it bigger, especially with the help of my friends and people around me. And people like to help; it’s not necessarily a single person that led me to this, it’s that once people started saying, ‘Hey, you can plug into this. Hey, you can get started with this,’ it blossomed into real leadership.”