“No matter how much you give, or how little you give, it takes every single person to make a community work. It isn’t just a couple doing it. It’s the whole community working together.” —Mabel Walker
Great communities don’t just happen. History has blessed the north country with those who, in many forms, have chosen to make a difference. In 2016, the Northern New York Community Foundation embarked on a project to tell the stories of civic engagement and citizen philanthropy in the best way possible — directly from those who have demonstrated it. “Northern New York Community Podcast: Stories from the Heart of Our Community” is an ongoing effort to capture first-hand audio testimonials from residents of Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties. To date, more than 30 episodes have been produced and are available at www.nnycpodcast.com.
One of the first interviews was with Tom and Mabel Walker. It was logical that the first season would include a conversation with those who are synonymous with leading by example for their community. The breadth and depth of their reach across our region leaves an emptiness with Mabel’s recent passing. While their contributions have been diverse, their message has been consistent. Their leadership was not meant to dominate, it was done in a spirit of collaboration, it was not done alone.
Both were quick to remind that their efforts were one part of a greater combined commitment. In Mabel’s own words: “I want everybody to know that no matter how much you give, or how little you give, it takes every single person to make this work. If it wasn’t for every single person helping, it wouldn’t work.” She meant it. About meaning it, the podcast also reveals Mabel’s reflections on her reputation for being especially outspoken. It is true that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Her example was also one that emphasized the power and importance of the combined forces of time, talent, and treasure for a community to realize its full potential. While her life encompassed heavy doses of all three, she recognized that not everyone is able to offer them all. Her contributions and their generosity as a couple have been widespread. Ultimately, they realized a strong community would help uphold their hopes and dreams for raising a family and living life in a place that was the best it could be. In the Northern New York, they always saw that potential of what we all are striving to achieve. Their giving often gave organizations the confidence and momentum to pursue meaningful endeavors. “We expect to give to many things, instead of giving one lump sum to one big project, we feel that all of these organizations need help. If we help these organizations, we feel that other people will follow suit and help them also,” she said. She believed strongly in the importance of creating a culture of community responsibility and stewardship among the next generation.
We are humbled and honored that this will continue through the Walker Family Community Fund, a permanent grantmaking resource that will have the ability to support all the organizations they have in the past, and others, forever. We are grateful for all who made a tribute gift to join them in making this possible. You will be a part of every grant made from that fund in perpetuity. Just like in life, together, we will inspire others to pursue their own pathways of service, upon which our region relies on for its successes.
I am grateful for all Mabel Walker did to make my community better, stronger, healthier, and more educated. The investments she made will last a lifetime and beyond. I believe her most enduring legacy, though, is her words and her example. For those who knew her and for those she never met, her story forever reminds us that the best communities take each of us, and all of us.