Walter Zadan, 95, was given an award for his commitment to oyster restoration well into his 90s. Photo: Kenny Fletcher

CBF Honors Longest-Serving Oyster Volunteer, 95

Williamsburg’s Walter Zadan is amazing.  At the age of 95 years, he still insists that the three things needed for a long and happy life are “First, to eat good food. The second thing is to exercise. The third thing is to stay connected to society and feel like you are doing something good.”  

These days, as he has for the past 13 years, he takes his exercise collecting buckets of shucked-out oyster shells from several area restaurants and driving them to a large collection bin on the campus of the College of William and Mary. Then, when the bin fills up, Zadan and other volunteers load them into a Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) truck and trailer that transport them to CBF’s Virginia Oyster Restoration Center at the mouth of the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach. 

There, Foundation staff and volunteers clean the empty shells and place into large tanks with free-swimming baby oyster larvae called spat, which attach to them, up to 10 per shell. Then CBF crews plant them on designated, three-dimensional sanctuary reefs in Virginia rivers. The Foundation is a charter member of the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, which aims to add 10 billion new oysters to Virginia and Maryland waters by 2025.

In his 13 years with the program, Zadan has recycled about 2.78 million shells, which have become home to about 27 million oysters that staff and volunteers have planted on restoration reefs. Last Wednesday, Dec. 2, in Williamsburg, CBF honored Zadan with an outstanding environmental stewardship award for dedication and volunteerism. The award recognizes him as CBF’s longest-serving Virginia oyster shell recycling volunteer. The Foundation’s Virginia Oyster Restoration Manager, Capt. Jackie Shannon, presented him with the award outside Berrett’s Seafood Restaurant, CBF’s longest-standing restaurant participant. 

“Walter is truly inspirational,” said Jackie Shannon. “Well into his 90s, he’s still loading buckets of oyster shells, baking bread for friends and fellow volunteers, and sharing stories from decades of environmental advocacy. His kindness and dedication have been a recipe for a long, active, and meaningful life. We wouldn’t be able to restore oyster reefs in Virginia without our many volunteers like Walter. His dedication and positive attitude provide a wonderful example of how anyone can pitch in and make the world a better place.”

In accepting the award, Zadan said that being part of the process gives him hope. “I feel like I’m making a contribution,” he said. “It’s a good thing both from a moral point of view and because it encourages business activity.” He hopes that he can continue to inspire younger generations to work toward a healthier Chesapeake Bay. 

John Page Williams