Brawley icon Donald Wharton proves “Man Can Fly!!”



BRAWLEY – Brawley councilman and pilot Donald Wharton is a man of many talents, but perhaps his ability to efficiently and swiftly accomplish tasks stands as the most advantageous. A cheerful, talkative man, Wharton is lavish in his praise of his family and community, which soon surface in a conversation as the two main things he loves.

“Life is this great adventure,” he said, sitting in a front room surrounded by pictures, trophies, and jerseys of his two boys’ football successes.

Life certainly is grand for this father of two sons and husband of 23 years. “I managed to turn all my passions and the things I enjoy (into work),” Wharton explained. “I work with a lot of great people.”

Perhaps most noted for his primary position as the Director of Business Development and Air Ambulance Helicopter Pilot for REACH Air Medical Services, Wharton simultaneously serves as the mayor pro tem for the City of Brawley, which many consider a full time job, he noted.

In addition, Wharton is in his eighteenth year in the Imperial County Sheriff’s Reserve Unit as a commander, where he oversees volunteer deputies in addition to managing business administration aspects of the organization, and serving as president of the non-profit unit. He is also the chief pilot of the Imperial County Narcotics Task Force, which operates one crime fighting, law enforcement helicopter. There, he hires, trains, and manages aviation professionals.

During an interview, his wife Suzy chimed in from the other room. “He clearly doesn’t make very much use of his time,” she said jokingly while discussing all his positions.

“It’s almost become the reputation,” Wharton admitted. “Everyone knows I do a bunch of different things and I get asked, how do I make it fit?”

So, how does he manage it all?

“They’re all pieces to a puzzle, and to me, I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to make them fit. That includes prioritization,” Wharton concluded.

Possessing a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management, a Master of Arts in Organization Management (with an emphasis in Healthcare Administration), and a Master of Business Administration from Ashford University, Wharton certainly knows organization and prioritization.

Half Japanese and fluent in the language, Wharton is the son of a late Catholic priest-turned-commercial-airline-pilot father, and a Japanese immigrant and former Catholic missionary mother.

Raised with a strong sense of family and an inherited work ethic, he learned quickly in his professional career that success is not measured by monetary gain, but rather in “giving back to the community, and making it a better place,” he stated.

A self-proclaimed “transplant” to Imperial Valley, Wharton is filled with enthusiasm for the Valley and motivated for the future. As mayor pro tem, his goal is to cultivate and grow Brawley’s businesses and retail attraction.

“When I think of the Valley, “ he said, “in all its splendor, I think of my family, friends, associates, colleagues.” He paused. “I think of life,” he concluded.

Wharton overflows with love for his town and gains personal satisfaction that each of his positions allow him to serve his community with his skills and from his heart.

As the director of business development for REACH Air Medical, Wharton is responsible for the customers, hospitals, and community at large.

“He saw a need here in the Valley and brought the right solution in to fit the need,” said Mark Neill, flight paramedic for REACH. “He was ferocious about getting that to the Valley.”

Each of Wharton’s positions are chalk-full of responsibility, and in reality, one of those positions alone might test the strength of one person.

“He does the work of four people,” his wife Suzy said. “He is extremely driven, and he’s always been that way,” she said. “He’s pro-active and immediate in his response to things.”

Such drive serves him well considering he does not hold a “regular” job. For REACH, “It’s a 7-day a week, 365 day/year business,” Wharton clarified.

In addition to working for the business aspect of REACH, Wharton also serves as a part time Emergency Flight Pilot. “We have one of the highest standards of minimum requirements for pilots in the industry.” Neill stated. “For him to not only have the ability to do business relations but also to be a key member that flies the helicopters is very, very, rare. He is a highly qualified pilot.”

Wharton inherited his love of flying from his father, who was a commercial pilot for American Airlines and taught Wharton how to fly. He is almost reverent in his attitude towards aviation.

“Flying evokes a feeling of great exhilaration and concentration at the same time,” he said. “I find I lose myself in the process.”

“Most of all, it reminds me of my father who loved aviation. I believe he loved flying more than I do,” Wharton confided. His father passed away when he was just 19 years old.

Each of Wharton’s two sons unknowingly echoed the same sentiments about their dad, both saying separately that there is no one they love talking to more than their father. Donald, 21, and Hunter, 20, both affirmed their great respect for him.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned from my dad,” Donald, the eldest, said, “is his presence.”

“Being present is more than showing up physically,” he explained. “You must be there (for people) emotionally, and want to be there.”

The younger son, Hunter, said, “The sky’s the limit for (my dad). He’s leading by example. It’s extremely satisfying to make him proud.”

“He’s the proudest dad ever,” Hunter quipped.

“Everything I do is a direct reflection of him,” Donald said.

Wharton poses an enigmatic dichotomy that many find difficult to fathom. How can one be incredibly busy, passionate, driven, and still stay family-oriented and likeable?

“I have a great and phenomenal family,” Wharton said. “I could not do even half of (what I do) if it weren’t for the support of my wife, and certainly my kids over the years.”

“My wife gives me inspiration for living,” he continued. “I’ve been blessed that I’ve been able to put the key family events and milestones first. I’ve never missed a football game.”

“When I think of each organization (I work for), I think of the great people that work for each and every one of them. I am fortunate that I am just a part of it,” he said.

According to Neill, Wharton doesn’t have coworkers. “He has friends,” Neill avowed. “He has family.”

“The key to it all,” Wharton concluded, “is that I have several great teams of people that I work with. That includes REACH, that includes the city, the Sheriff’s department, and it includes the Narcotics Task Force.”

“It really isn’t all about how do I do it, it’s about how we do it,” he stated.

Looking to the future, Wharton will continue investing his life into the things he loves: his family and his community. When asked what the Valley means to him, he pauses for a moment.

“In a word,” Wharton said, “the Valley represents ‘home.’”

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  1. They left a lot of stuff out! Donny is the busiest guy I know. He is a great friend and neighbor

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