Gail Swalm knows the meaning of community.
Swalm has spent the past three decades giving back to her community as an employee of Walden Savings Bank and as a member of the Walden Community Council.
“It’s so fulfilling when you’re part of a community,” Swalm said. “You have to immerse yourself, and you get so much back.”
Swalm moved to Wallkill in 1976 with her husband, who acquired a job in Manhattan. At first, the couple thought they wouldn’t be staying in the area for so long.
“We weren’t planning on living here forever. We were eventually going to relocate but we’ve lived here for 43 years,” Swalm said. “So, time flies. I guess we must have been having a lot of fun.”
Swalm took a job at Walden Savings Bank in 1982. Her favorite part of the job was forming relationships and friendships with coworkers and customers.
“I’ve made a lot of good friends that are like family,” Swalm said.
Swalm also enjoyed closing mortgage loans and seeing people fulfill a basic need.
“When you give them that, you’re making somebody happy,” Swalm said.
She became more invested in her community through various causes the bank supports, such as the Walden Humane Society, the American Heart Association, the Pine Bush Relay for Life, the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, and many more.
Walden Savings Bank president Derrik Wynkoop nudged Swalm to join the Walden Community Council, which was formed to improve the lives of Walden residents and promote the village.
She made her dearest friends through the council and helped create some of Walden’s most beloved community events, such as Harvest Fest, Music on the Grove and more.
One of her fondest memories was of building the playground at Wooster Grove. Walden residents turned out in hordes to build the playground in five days. Volunteers handed out food and refreshments, while the Bruderhof Community handed out their famously delicious cookies.
“It was one of Walden’s finer moments,” Swalm said.
Swalm came home each day covered in sawdust, dirt and polyurethane. Her friend, Midge Norman, laughed at the site of Swalm, who is normally so put together.
“I’ve never been so dirty in my life,” Swalm said, chuckling.
Swalm and her husband raised two daughters in Wallkill and now have six grandchildren. One of the proudest moments of her life was to watch her daughters graduate from Wallkill High School.
Swalm was also active with the Wallkill Athletic Booster Club Association during her daughters’ participation in sports, and helped raise $80,000 to keep the sports program alive while the school underwent an austerity budget in the 1995-96 school year.
“This was an amazing feat that the parents, students, faculty and the Wallkill School District Community rallied behind and we were able to raise the money,” Swalm said. “The sense of coming together with the whole community was just so meaningful.”
She was later presented with a special Panther Award by then-principal Vic Liviccori for her years of service to the Booster Club.
After 37 years of service, Swalm will retire from Walden Savings Bank on March 1. She has seen many changes at the bank, including the expansion from four to 12 branches and from 40 to more than 150 employees.
Her coworkers held a retirement party for her, where she heard many kind words and received cards from well-wishers.
“I was reading cards, and just the words that people have to say about you, you can’t even describe the feeling,” Swalm said.
She saw the greater Walden area change too, as more houses were erected and young families moved in. Prominent community members passed away. The next generation inherited family businesses.
But through all the changes, Swalm’s love for her community never changed.
“It’s where you live and where you work, you make it what you want it to be,” Swalm said.
She is planning to move to North Carolina with her husband. She is looking forward to the next chapter of her life, full of sunshine and the ocean’s spray.
But, she realizes it will be hard to leave her friends and family and the little community where she lived and worked for so many years.
“This is just a great community and I’ve loved living here for all these 43 years,” Swalm said. “It’s been my home.”