Kevin Walsh is living proof that you can go home again. He was born and raised in Yonkers, where his father worked as an accountant and his mother as a secretary and teacher. After stints in White Plains, Pittsburgh and the Bronx, Walsh came back to Yonkers and bought an apartment in the 104-unit Gateway co-op. Now 62 and retired from a career as a technical writer and business analyst, Walsh enjoys serving on his seven-member co-op board almost as much as he enjoys playing the century-old pipe organ at St. Mary’s Church nearby.
Habitat: When did you move into the Gateway co-op?
Walsh: That’s a trick question. My aunt lives in this building, and I spent weekends and vacations with her starting in the fall of 1976. After I graduated from college, in May of 1980, I lived with her full time. I think it was 1988 that I bought my own place here. I had a one-bedroom apartment, which was plenty big enough for me. Six years ago I started working from home five days a week because our company was downsizing, and I got tired of having my office in a corner in the bedroom. I was able to buy a bigger unit – two bedrooms and a den. I liked the idea of being able to close the office door when work was done.
Habitat: You must really love Yonkers?
Walsh: I have a lot of good friends here, and Gateway is in a nice part of town. We’re right across the street from the Untermeyer Park and Gardens. It’s absolutely spectacular.
Habitat: You had a Catholic upbringing. Are you still a practicing Catholic?
Walsh: Yes, I am. All of my family went to Catholic schools, and I sang in the boys’ choir at Christ the King. Now my biggest love is church music, and for about the last 10 years I’ve been the organist at St. Mary’s in Yonkers. It’s an Odell pipe organ, built in 1906, with four keyboards for the hands, plus one for the feet. And the interesting thing about this one is all the pipes. The pipes for the bottom three keyboards for my hands and my feet are upstairs in the balcony with me, but the pipes for the top keyboard are all the way down near the altar. So if you have somebody downstairs singing a solo, the pipes are very close to the singer. That way you get a much better balance when trying to accompany a soloist.
Habitat: How did you become an organist?
Walsh: I started piano lessons when I was in third grade, and the church’s organist had showed us a couple of things about the organ. When I was in eighth grade, our organist tripped, broke her ankle, couldn’t get up the steps to the choir loft. Father Foley said to me, “Play!” And you didn’t argue with that. I’ve played ever since, but I’m glad there are no recordings of that first Sunday.
Habitat: What does an organist do during a pandemic when there are no church services?
Walsh: It hurt for about three weeks, and then we started live-streaming the Masses – no congregation, but it was going out over the Internet. So at least I got to play for those. It was odd, though. You’re playing for an empty church, but you know it’s going out to the people online. You’re hoping the sound quality is halfway decent. In some ways, it was an even bigger challenge when people started coming back to church. They weren’t singing loud, if at all, but I had to make it sound right to the people in church and to the people watching on their computers. But I feel that I’m doing something that the people appreciate, so I’m happy to do it the best I can.
Habitat: Do you play any other instruments?
Walsh: In my living room I have a piano, an electronic organ, a guitar and a five-string banjo, which is more useful for playing some of the Irish drinking songs.
Habitat: How do the neighbors react when you play music in your apartment?
Walsh: Quite well, actually, because I don’t normally play late at night. If I do play late at night, it’s the organ, and it has a headphone jack, so I can practice at 2 in the morning and not disturb the neighbors. If the finger exercises on the piano drive the neighbors crazy, they don’t complain. Who wants to listen to it? I don’t want to listen to it.
Habitat: And you still have the time to serve as the board president. Why are you doing it?
Walsh: Well, this co-op is an interesting place. I’ve been on the board now almost three and a half years, president for almost two and a half. But 25 years ago, I finished up an eight-year stint on the board, the last four as president. So I’ve done this before. I knew what I was getting back into. We have the opportunity to do a lot of great things here. For instance, one accomplishment this summer was that we were able to open our swimming pool. There was concern in a lot of co-ops about possible liability – if somebody wants to sue and say they got the virus from the pool. We had to develop a safety plan and have an extra person working besides the lifeguard, an attendant who took temperatures as people came in, made sure people wore masks when they came in, and sanitized the furniture when people left.
Habitat: Why do you think the pool is so important for the residents?
Walsh: In July 2019, we had a four-alarm fire, and we still have 11 families who are displaced. Even some of our displaced residents came back and used the pool. Between the fire and kids home last spring, we wanted very much to give the community some sense of normalcy. It’s been a big help. I think this semblance of normalcy is very important right now.