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Personal accounts: Sometimes travel heals


Joan Galgay
Bank directors find it most gratifying when a club member who has lost his or her spouse continues to travel, despite that member’s feelings of apprehension and sadness. However, unlike many bank directors, Joan Galgay, director of Club 50 at Watertown Savings Bank in Watertown, Massachusetts, can honestly relate.

“When someone comes in my office and tells me that they would love to go on our trip but they have no one to travel with, I look them in the eye and tell them, ‘You’re looking at yourself in the mirror,’” Galgay said.

Life after loss

Galgay said that after losing James, her husband of 33 years, in 2002, “I was such a mess that I couldn’t get out of my own way. My daughter moved home and stayed with me for two years. My wonderful group of friends gathered around and took good care of me.

“Feeling hopeless and helpless at the time, it took one of those friends to finally ask me, ‘What do you want to do?’

“I told her I wanted to work for the Watertown Savings Bank. While my husband and I had always loved giving back, it was well known that this bank had always been so good to this community, and I could only hope that I might be part of this organization.

“And indeed, the bank had just posted an opening for their travel director position that very day. My daughter and I swear that James was still taking care of us.”

Nine years later, Galgay is not only traveling to destinations about which she previously only dreamt, but she is also making dreams come true for many of her Club 50’s 3,500 customers.
By any measure, Club 50 is an extremely active group. Two Christmas parties that offer a four-course dinner and a 20-piece orchestra attract 500 people each. On annual extended trips, Galgay may have as many 75 people sign up.

“When we have that many travelers as we recently did on our excursion to Jackson Hole, the Grand Tetons and Salt Lake City, we take two trips,” she said.

What is the secret to Club 50’s success? “It begins with that community giving we discussed,” said Galgay. “Including a $5,000 donation to a new charity every year, the bank never seems to hesitate to help an individual or group in need.

“Consequently, we have an immense feeling of loyalty. While it is a requirement to have at least $25,000 in deposits to be a Club 50 member, the average deposit for our members is $108,000. In fact, 48 percent of our Watertown Savings Bank assets are from club members. How lucky am I?

“But I also believe our travel program is so successful because my customers realize the great value they are getting. We take care of them from the time they meet the bus until the time we arrive home. They don’t have to do a thing,” she added.

Long before her position with Watertown Savings Bank, Galgay began her travel-planning career with some help from peanut butter. “My husband and I loved to travel with our friends. At the time, we all had young children and not much money, so I heard about this offer from Jif Peanut Butter. If you bought 10 jars, you could get one airline ticket free,” Galgay said.

“Well, I convinced our friends to buy tons of peanut butter, and as a result, about 15 of us went to Disney World. I made reservations for everyone, had a formal itinerary that included golf and all kind of things I had to make plans [for] prior to arrival, including breakfast with the Disney characters.

“It was a smashing success, even for those guys who had doubts about pre-reserved dates and times.”

Without the help from peanut butter labels, Club 50 trips have included one of Galgay’s favorite destinations, Alaska, where the group enjoyed a five-day land tour and a seven-day cruise.

Choices for day trips for these New Englanders are endless. “We are in an ideal location where we can tour major cities, see Broadway shows, take the Turkey Train in New Hampshire, have a lobster bake in Maine and have a step-on guide to accompany us to President Bush’s Kennebunkport home,” said Galgay.

Like most seasoned directors, Galgay has her share of colorful stories. “On my first trip that I truly acted alone as the director, we went to the Grand Canyon. Not only did four different incidents result in four of our members going to the hospital on that trip, but two ladies had to have their room completely emptied — and I mean completely — while park rangers searched for the critter that had eaten through their luggage and hair dryer cord.

“A day later, after the rangers gave up, they finally found a ring-tail cat burrowed inside their mattress, but only after those ladies truly felt a bump in the night,” Galgay said with a chuckle.

A poignant point of view

With a daughter, dad and lifelong friends who have been by her side through good times and bad, and a gang of fun-loving New England-area bank directors who occasionally meet to network ideas, Galgay’s life is the quintessential picture behind bank travel success.

“I’m blessed to have these loyal people around me. You really don’t know how much you love your life and those who are part of it until something happens,” she said.

“Knowing that leading groups and being a part of fellowship at Watertown Savings Bank saved my sanity, I can only hope that I also offer Club 50 members the same feeling of exuberance through travel, fun and companionship, and perhaps when needed, some healing.”