Jerry Baldwin Interview
This is file #11, cycle 4. Today’s date is June 7, 2019. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Gerard Baldwin, alias Jerry with the bow tie. He is going to talk about his life and times with everything he has been doing in Salisbury. But first we are going to start with…
JM:What is your name?
JM:I want you to tell me about the first time you came to Lakeville as a small boy.
JB:I was 10 years old. My parents used to come up to the Wake Robin Inn (See Shaffin Shariff interview) on Columbus weekend. They had one weekend a year where they had time to get away by themselves. We would have what we called an ”aunt” come and take care of us, three boys. I was the oldest at 10, my next brother was 8, and the little guy was 8 years younger so he was only 2. The Aunt came down with the flu or something that did not enable her to come and take care of us. My parents had two choices: don’t go up to the Wake Robin Inn or go with the children. They went with the children. We would drive around town. We spent time at the Wake Robin. It was a nice warm weekend. My second brother and I got to go out in a boat from the dock at the Wake Robin. We had lunch one day at the White Hart. (See Elyse Harney interview) I just was infatuated with the beauty of the area. Always dreamed of being lucky and being able to come up here and raise my family here.
JM:What would have been what year?
JB:I was 10and I was born in 1944 so it would be 1954.
JM:Right after school you went into the service.
JB:After high school I went to Niagara University for one year. I wasn’t crazy about it. I was an accounting major. I don’t know why, I didn’t really enjoy that. We got snow the third week of school. I wasn’t wild about that either. I came home at the end of the school year and told my parents that I really wasn’t happy at Niagara. I would like to go in and get my military service. I promised them that I would then go back to school and get my degree after that. I went into the Air Force for 4 years. When I got out of the service I went to Sacred Heart University in Fairfield and got my degree there. That took care of the educational other than graduate school at Delphi University down on Long Island.
JM:Let’s go back to the military service. You went into the Air force. Where did you do your basic training?
JB:Lockland Air force base in San Antonio, Texas.
JM:You went off to officer’s training school?
JB:No I didn’t do officer’s training, I went to personnel school. After basic training I went to Personnel School in Greenville, Mississippi for 12 weeks training session. I was fortunate that at the end
of the twelve weeks, the way the system worked is that instructor would put all the possible assignments up on a blackboard and depending on your rank in the class; you were able to pick your assignment. I knew that was the system so I worked hard and wound up being #1 and getting the first pick which was Handcock field up in Syracuse, NY. I still had friend at Niagara University so I wasn’t that far from there and I wasn’t that far from our home on Long Island. I would go home and visit my parents and Mary Ellen.
JM:You were assigned overseas to where?
JB:I was at Tan Son Nhut air field. That is in Saigon now Ho Chi Minh City.
JM:When were you discharged?
JB:Sept. of 1967.
JM:How long did you spend in Vietnam?
JB:There was 120 days called temporary duty service.
JM:What did you do?
JB:I checked in people when we were really starting our build-up. I say “We”, I mean the country. They needed people to get over to Vietnam quickly to help process people coming in. I was doing all the personnel paperwork for the airmen that would arrive. We would go over by bus, pick them up and be at the airport. There were two sides to the airport: the military side and the civilian side. A good portion of the airmen flying over from San Francisco to Saigon were on commercial chartered flights because there were just so many people coming over. We would pick them up by bus, bring them back to Tan Son Nhut and help them fill out their paperwork to make sure we knew who the next of kin was, who to be notified in a God awful situation where they were missing in action or killed.
JM:Now you went to Sacred Heart, when did you graduate?
JB:I graduated in June of 1970.
JM:You did something unusual about your credits.
JB:I had two years left at school when Mary Ellen and I were married so there was a little pressure to finish school as quickly as possible. She had already completed her nursing school and was working. I was anxious to complete college and get a job. I went to the Dean and asked if I could take a bit of an overload on my credits which took a little bit of talking. He says, “Nobody ever takes 21 credits. That is just not in the book.” I said, “If you give me a chance and I am not on the Dean’s List, I shall never ask you again.” He enabled me to take the 21 credits. That got me to graduate quicker than I normally would have. Thus I was able to go to work and earn a pay check.
JM:What was your degree?
JB:Bachelor of Arts in Banking and Finance3.
JM:You really liked this area and every move you made in your banking career, you got closer and closer to this area. If I have got this right, you started off in 1970 in the Franklin National Bank in NYC.
JB:New York City I started in NYC and then I was assigned to Long Island later on, but basically it was a New York bank.
JM: In 1974 you became a branch manager at Great Neck.
JB:Actually in was 1973.
JM:In 1979 you got into Connecticut to the Colonial Bank of Waterbury.
JM:What was your specialty?
JM:In 1989 you wound up in Canaan.
JB:1989 yeah I got to know the President of Canaan National Bank. He was looking for a senior commercial lending officer or I should say a senior lending officer. I interviewed and got the job.
JM:Who was the President then?
JM:You just took the job as lending officer, and there was a problem that developed with the bank!
JB:There was. When I interviewed, I asked for certain records to look over to see what kind of condition the bank was in. The primary focus for me was on the loan portfolio, but as it turned out the previous senior lending officer and the president really did not have a grip on how bad the loan portfolio was. I was misled only because of their lack of ability to identify a problem with a loan. I was very fortunate that shortly after I started with the bank, the Federal Examiners, in the case of a national bank, the comptroller of the currency came in and did a full review of us. They found the bank was in pretty bad shape. A short while after that the bank recognized that the president did not have a real good grip on things so they asked him to leave. I become President without any opportunity to be told I was President.
JM:You became president but you did not have a successor, so what happened then?
JB:I was president for 13 years. I did not have anybody that would follow me as I was approaching retirement age. We began discussions with Salisbury Bank & Trust about the possibility of merging. That took place in 2004 on 9/11.
JM:Who was President at Salisbury Bank & Trust at that time?
JB:That was John Perotti (See John Perotti interview) 4.
JM:His successor is …
JB:Rick Cantele (See Rick Cantele interview) I actually reported to Rick. I was Executive Vice President and Commercial Lending Officer which was kind of fun. I was able to go back to taking care of customers and not having to deal with regulators and board of directors and so forth. I always liked dealing with people and helping them. That was the happiest part of my banking career, not the paper work part.
JM:`When did you retire?
JB:I retired the last day of January, 2010.
JM:Is there anything you would like to add to your banking career before we go on to other things?
JB:Just that it was a wonderful career for 40 years in banking with a couple of different banks. It gave me an opportunity to learn a lot, starting in New York. It was a nice way to be able to raise a family, get them all through college, and so forth. It was a very satisfying career.
JM:We are now going to talk about Rotary. When did you join Rotary?
JB:I joined Rotary in April of 1976.
JM:But not here!
JB:No here, at the time I was working in Poughkeepsie and I joined the Poughkeepsie Rotary Club. I was there three years. When I joined Colonial Bank, Carl Saliter, whom you know, became one of my Customers (Sharon Oil Co.) because I covered all of Litchfield County for commercial lending. Carl said why don’t you transfer to the Salisbury Club. He happened to be President at Salisbury at the time. I was thrilled to do that. They had a wonderful membership with some really special people, not the least of which was your husband (Foster McMillen).
JM:Definitely he was special.
JB:And some characters.
JM:He was that too! When did you transfer? What year?
JB:It was either late 1979 or early 1980, somewhere around in there.
JM:The membership at that time was quite large.
JB:Salisbury has 78 when I joined. Cal McCormick you may remember.
JM:He was my neighbor.
JB:He was a wonderful man.
JM:He did the newsletter.5.
JB:Yes he did a good job with it.
JM:Were there women in the club at that time?
JB:There were not. My wife used to be so annoyed because they called the women “Rotary Anne’s”. That was not your favorite term either, obviously. It was a little demeaning. I was always felt that that was ridiculous, but that was the way Rotary was established back in the stone ages. Women came in. Women have done a wonderful job. We have been blessed to have some very special ladies in the club who made a real impact in what we did for the community and internationally.
JM:Yes, I did Inge Dunham (See Inge Dunham interview) and also Laura Hawks. (See Laura H. Flores interview)
JB:Both of them were extremely instrumental, especially on the international level.
JM:When were you President of Rotary?
JB:I was President from2005-2006. The Rotary year begins July1st so July 1st, 2005, to June 30, 2006.
JM:How had rotary changed over the years?
JB:Rotary still has the same focus. Our major goal is the eradication of Polio. We are not quite there yet; there are some third world countries that still are hampered with that horrible disease. It is difficult right now for most service clubs, I would probably say all service clubs to get some of the younger folks interested in service to their community. It seems to be a real challenge.
JM:It is a challenge for the churches, the volunteers, and the services. You said that you were chairman of just about all the various committees.
JB:Yeah I didn’t do so much on the international side. I chaired the committee on charitable giving, speakers, fireworks: I was always involved with the fireworks for a good 20 years anyway. I was chair of the scholarship committee and more, but I’ve forgotten.
JM:Would you like to add anything to the Rotary section, before I go on to the boards and volunteer activities?
JB:Just that it has been a wonderful experience to be able to give back to your community and to the world. I was brought up that you just can’t take, you have to give.
JM:You have given a lot.
JB:It is not work to me: it is a pleasure and an honor.
JM:One of the outstanding essences of Salisbury is giving back.
JB:Absolutely. We are really blessed. I have lived in different communities and I have never seen anything like Salisbury.
JM:We are unique.
JB:We are in a special way.
JM:You have been on a lot of different boards and many voluntary activities so I am going go through a few of them and ask you about them. I am going to start with the Republican Town Committee. When did you join that?
JB:Shortly after we moved here. We bought our house in 1975, so it probably was 1977 around there. We became friendly with a number of people that were active-Denise Rice, the former Tax Collector (See Denise Rice interview), Frank Laverty who was chairman of the Republican Town Committee, John Bartram was going off: his term was finished as treasurer so they asked me if I would be willing to be treasurer. Probably nobody else was looking to do it. I was treasurer for 4-5 years; it was not that difficult. It was satisfying. The Republican dominated the picture in Salisbury in those days. It was a different story than today.
JM:When I came here in 1967, I went to register to vote. Lila Nash told me I had to be a Republican!
JB:I could see her doing that.
JM:Oh yes, there was no choice! After that you were on the Northwestern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce.
JB:I was vice chair of that in 1987-1988. That was based in Torrington, but it covered all of northwestern Connecticut.
JM:Did it morph in the Tri-State Chamber of Commerce?
JB:No the Northwest chamber is still unique to itself.
JM:How long were you an active member?
JB:I was active until I joined the Canaan National Bank in 1989. Canaan has a small chamber and I joined that as secretary.
JM:The Torrington Area Foundation for Public Giving has changed its name. It is now the Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation.
JB:That’s right. I was on the board for 4 years when I was based in Torrington. When I transferred to Canaan National Bank, I had difficulty getting to the meetings. I had to step down from there. It is a great organization and very satisfying. They do so much good for all of northwest Connecticut.
JM:I am now interested in the Salisbury Board of Assessment Appeals. What does that do?
JB:People have an opportunity if they feel that the assessment of their property is too high, they don’t come in if they think it is too low! We have a series of annual meetings at Town Hall that people were entitled to come and register a request that their assessment be adjusted. John Rice was chairman of that committee when I was elected to be on it. He educated both Michael Fitting (See Michael Fitting interview) and myself very well. That was the committee the 3 of us. We had some interesting discussions with people. The funny thing John Rice’s favorite question was if somebody said, “They assessed my property at $140,000 which means it is probably worth $200,000. That is way too high.” John would ask, “If you were going to sell your property, what kind of a price would you put on it? They would say $240,000. So John would say, “Well there you go!” What is your property worth?
JM:When were you on the Assessment appeals Board?
JB:I was on that twice. I am going to do a little guessing on these years, probably 1981-1984 and later on 1987 maybe to 1991 something in that range.
JM:That was before John Harney Jr. got on. (See John Harney Jr my interview)
JB:Yes that is right John came on after me.
JM:Board of Finance oh boy that is a tough one!
JB:Yeah it was. With banking background and fortunately I had the ability to understand the numbers, it wasn’t all that difficult. Carl Williams (See Carl Williams interview) was chairman which made the job a lot easier because Carl would generally have most of the work done before we got to the meeting. We had a good board: Art Eddy was on there (See Art Eddy interview) with me. Sandy Gomez, her name was Gomez in those days (See Sandra Oliver interview). Jack Rogers had just gone off (See Jack Rogers Interview) He was on prior to Carl Williams as Chairman. Then Bill Willis came on (See Bill Willis interview). I think Bill may still be chairman.
JM:He is. I have interviewed him too. Do you remember when you were on the Board of Finance?
JB:Probably 20 years ago 1999 or so.
JM:The term is how long?
JB:The term is six years.
JM:You are important in your church St. Mary’s.
JB:The church is St. Mary’s but the parish is now St. Martin of Tours. The church is Norfolk, and the one in Canaan and the church in Lakeville are all one parish now so we have three location. I am a trustee of the ST. Martin parish, one of two trustees.
JM:You are also on the finance committee, aren’t you?8.
JB:When you are a trustee you are automatically on the finance committee. I am Head Usher at St. Mary’s. We only have one mass now because our pastor has to go to the three churches. Father Dawson has a horrible schedule on Sunday 7:30 mass in Canaan, 9:30 mass in Lakeville and 11:30 mass in Norfolk. He is back for a nap at 1:30.
JM:You are also chairman of the Parish Council.
JB:I was. Actually I was chairman of the Finance Committee back when Father O’Brien was here. Mary Ellen was chairman of the Parish Council. I was vice chairman way back. Do you remember Dan O’Donnell and Mary O’Donnell? Dan ran Becton & Dickenson in Canaan. That was probably in 1977, 1978 when I was vice chairman of the Parish Council.
JM:What does the Parish council do?
JB:They are like Congress. They look for opportunities to make life better with in the parish and oversee the education and the social coffee hours, dances, fund raising and that sort of thing. In the Catholic Church the ultimate work is the Priest. It is a bit of a monarchy. The Priest has the final say so the Parish council is more advisory as is the finance committee. All the committees in the church are advisory. In my opinion the smart priest listens because we have a lot of good people in the community that are offering their time. In some cases attorneys and accountant, bankers have a background which the priest may not have because their primary focus is religious education. I have been very happy with my opportunities to be of assistance there.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add before we close?
JB:Just that it has been a wonderful opportunity to live here and serve here and raise our family here. I couldn’t ask for more.
JM:Thank you so much.
JB:Well thanks, Jean.