Saying that she’s “not a person who likes to take credit for things,” longtime Rosendale resident Gayle Grunwald seems a little incredulous that New Paltz Times readers might find her an interesting subject for a profile. But there’s no doubt that she has witnessed some interesting times firsthand, including years of battling bureaucracy and raising elusive funds to protect one of the town’s core historic resources: the old A.J. Snyder Estate, home to Rosendale’s last functioning cement mine. Currently the secretary/treasurer of the not-for-profit Century House Historical Society, which owns and maintains the site for public benefit, she was a key player in the campaign to preserve it.
A native of Kerhonkson, Grunwald was been working since 1979 in the financial aid office at SUNY New Paltz, helping students get their educations paid for without ending up eternally in debt. Her official title is senior financial aid advisor, but she says that she is informally known at the college as the Empress of Loans. Characteristically, she gives plenty of credit to her co-workers, but she finds her work most rewarding “when I can say to myself, ‘Look at all these people that I was able to help’!”
“What I do is extremely technical,” she notes; and that experience of guiding students through the bureaucratic maze prepared her for a new, very ambitious campaign that she undertook with her late husband Dietrich Werner in the early 1990s. The two were newlyweds at the time that the Snyder Estate came on the market, having “met cute” soon after Grunwald moved to Rosendale. Werner was her neighbor, and one day she addressed him on the street while he was “holding a big piece of plywood. He turned around and literally swept me off my feet: He knocked me over!”
The two quickly discovered that they had many interests in common, including the preservation of historic community resources like the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and the remnants of the D&H Canal. Meanwhile, events were in motion that would give them a major cause to work on together. A.J. Snyder II, the last scion of Rosendale’s last cement-mining dynasty, left his family holdings — including important archives of photographs and documents pertinent to the once-dominant local industry, as well as collections of carriages, sleighs and antiques — to the Huguenot Historical Society when he died in 1988. But that organization found that the rich gift “didn’t fit with their core mission,” Grunwald relates, and soon put the estate on the market.
“The whole Snyder Estate/Historical Society project was basically a New Year’s resolution between Dietrich and me,” she reminisces. “We thought that the property was so important that it needed to be interpreted — that it had great educational value and could serve as an impetus to make Rosendale grow.” Impulsively, they leapt into an ambitious plan to protect the property themselves, with their own modest savings and income (Werner was a plumber and electrician) as the seed money, before it could be bought up by a commercial developer.
“The price tag was rather hefty, but by March we had raised the mortgage. We were able to purchase it with the ultimate goal of chartering an organization to hold the property in perpetuity. There was a lot of community interest,” Grunwald recalls. Her experience in dealing with filling out government forms on behalf of SUNY students stood her in good stead, as she was quickly able to secure 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit status for the Century House Historical Society and obtain a charter for it from the New York State Board of Regents as an educational resource. The next step was to get the state to designate the 280-acre site as the Snyder Estate Natural Cement Historic District, which was accomplished by 1992. It’s still “the largest collection of resources related to the natural cement industry,” she notes.