“We have to do something to honor Sam Palma this year!” insisted Mahala Ruppel, Secretary for the Friends of Gates Public Library Board. “He’s handled every book sale for the Friends for the past 15 years ever since the Friends started! That’s a lot of work!”
“Yes,” I enthusiastically agreed, “plus Sam had another 10 years of volunteering on the Library Board from the mid 1970’s to the mid 1980’s. In fact he joined the steering committee for the new Friends when he came off the Library Board. He’s given more than 25 years of volunteer service to our library. Recognition of his volunteer efforts is long overdue!’
From this innocent beginning, a core group of Friends Board members began planning a surprise roast for ‘a rare man,’ Sam Palma. We never thought we could keep the event planned for November 29th at the Party House a secret, but this group of women did just that, despite Sam walking in on us over and over as we met in the library meeting room.
Over 130 people from the community joined a gala surprise roast for much beloved Sam Palma. Even as Sam walked into the Party House where he thought he was going to watch his daughter receive an award, he said to his wife, Doris, ” Gee, I didn’t know my daughter knows all the same people I do.” Only then was the truth revealed and the fun began!
Everyone had favorite Sam stories to tell and others had gag gifts. Ralph Esposito, Town Supervisor, was Master of Ceremonies for the event. Many who had known Sam from years past came to the event. The day happened to be my 60th birthday and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than to bring my daughters and enjoy the good times together with Sam and friends.
In every community, there is a powerhouse of a community volunteer who always gets things done and who is known in every organization. Sam is just such a person and I like to think of Sam as ‘The Heart and Soul of Gates’ because he embodies all the fine qualities that attracted me to live in this town for the past 30 years. Over the past 15 years he has run the Friends’ used book sales, he has raised over $75,000 for the library.
The next time you’re at Gates Public Library, look around at all the brass plaques on the equipment in the library. If the plaque says it’s from the Friends, then you know Sam raised the money for that piece of equipment through the Friends’ used book sales.
So here’s to Sam Palma and here’s to the great team of Friends Board members, Mahala Ruppel, Jesse Matroniano, Joan Bawden, Kay Feraios, and Betsy Hoppe that planned this ‘roast of a rare man’ in concert with Doris Palma, who’s kind enough to share her husband with the community!
GATES - Sam Palma, 81, didn’t want any newspaper article about him to be “syrupy,” for heaven’s sake.
“I don’t want people to say, ‘Well, you can walk across the canal without using the bridge.’”
Although Palma cannot walk across water, the energetic senior citizen has achieved a long list of accomplishments in a life of service to his community and church. An Army veteran of the European Theater in World War II and an award winning former scoutmaster, Palma has made a life out of his dedication to others.
A parishoner at St. Theodore’s Church, Palma serves as a eucharistic minister and lector, and also works on the parish’s bingo committee.
“I preach, teach and make money to warm the buildings,” he said with a smile.
Married to his wife, Doris, for 52 years, Palma has three children and three grandchildren. One of his kids is Deacon David Palma, director of the Office of Deacon Personnel. His son’s vocation came as no surpirse, Palma said.
David was always an altar boy, from when he was seven-years-old till high school,” Palma said. “We’re very proud of him.”
And the community of Gates is apparently quite proud of Palma, who was selected Citizen of the Year by the Gates Lion Club in 1985. One of the biggest reasons he’s so valued in his town is his dedication to its public library, which he has served in various volunteer capacities since the 1960s. Among the services he’s rendered to the library are advocating for its expansion in the ’60s; serving as preident of its board of trustees from 1976-85; working to improve the pay scale of its employees as well as securing an endowment fund from the gates Amita Club; and serving since 1985 with the Friends of the Gates Public Library Board, which organizes three to four book sales each year to benefit the library.
The retired General Motors employee volunteers at the library once a week, often sorting donated books, and is a familiar face to library patrons.
“People think I work here, but I don’t,” he said with a sheepish grin.
Palma recently was honored for his work by the board of trustees for the Monroe Country Library System, which gave him a Certificate of Appreciation for Service Beyond Measure. Palma was nominated for the award by Sue Swanton, director of the Gates library.
“He’s super, just absolutely super,” she said. “I want to be like Sam when I grow up.”
The book sales Palma has organized have raised more than $60,000 for the library, she said, noting that the proceeds have helped the library purchase equipment and offer programs that would not have been possible otherwise. She credited Palma’s religious belief in helping others for motivating his tireless service.
“This is a person who lives his faith in action daily,” she said. “You don’t get any better than that.”
Judy MacKnight, the library’s assistant director and volunteer coordinator, pointed out that Palma is an inspiring example to the library’s 24 other volunteers.
“We wouldn’t know how to run the book sales without him,” she said.
Palma said his great love of reading is something he likes to share with others. He fancies travel books, science fiction, and self-help books with a spiritual flavor. He added that one librarian told him when he was growing up that he must have read every book in her library.
“I read quite a bit, and I’ve always been a good reader, and I think it’s very imporant for a community to have a good library,” he said.
Indeed, Deacon Palma said his father always enouraged his children to read.
“Memories of my father and books go back as far as I can remember,” the deacon said. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t visiting a library with my father.”
The Gates library isn’t the only beneficiary of his love, the elder Palma noted, adding that he’s also helped some churces, hospitals and other not-for-profit groups improve their library collections.
He’s passionate when he talks about inspiring children to read, and offers this advice to those who design libraries.
“It’s got to be kid-friendly,” he said. “There should be plenty of space for kids to sit and read.”
Children who learn to use libraries at an early age find high school much easier than those who don’t, he added.
What’s most remarkable about Palma is that he has retained his zeal for volunteering despite his battles with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease characterized by fatigue and weakness. Palma said the disease can make his eyes “go out” and give him difficulty swallowing. Fortunately, Palma said, his dissease is currently in remission, and among his many activities, he has served as a volunteer assistant to the director of the Western New York Chapter of Mysathenia Gravis Foundation, which is currently know as the Myasthenia Gravis Alliance.
While other seniors might find his commitment to volunteer work daunting, Palma sees it as the logical outcome of a life he said was blessed.
“After I retired, I figured it’s payback time,” he said. “You have to give back to your community and your church.”