By Bernadette Casey, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Gayle Colacicco’s decades of service are certain proof of the adage: “You make a living with what you get. You make a life with what you give.” Her dedication to the military has lasted through the decades and taken her across the U.S. and to numerous countries as both a Red Cross and Army volunteer, as well as an Army civilian employee.
The Colacicco family’s roots to the military run deep. Her oldest son is a recently retired Army colonel, and her oldest daughter was just promoted to Army colonel. Her husband attended West Point as a cadet and served in the Army from 1969 to 1999, during which time the family moved around a lot.
One of her first experiences as a Red Cross volunteer was in the pediatric clinic at the US Army Hospital in Berlin in 1978. For three years she assisted the deputy hospital commander helping with early childhood-development testing, among other things.
Berlin was followed by a one-year stint as a Red Cross volunteer in Kansas at Fort Leavenworth, in the base hospital’s ob/gyn clinic.
She continued with various volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross over the years and “did a lot of other volunteering as well. As an army wife on troop posts, there's a lot to do.” She volunteered on spouses’ clubs, ran the historical society at Fort Riley in Kansas and was a volunteer coordinator at the middle school on Fort Bragg in North Carolina, just to name a few roles.
When the family moved back to West Point in 1993, Colacicco began working at the base teaching civilian retirement seminars, becoming West Point’s expert on federal civilian benefits and retirement.
“I dealt with employees who died in service and counseling surviving family members on what their benefits were and getting their paperwork filed properly. I did retirement estimates for civilian employees and would handle 100 to 150 retirements a year,” she says.
After her own retirement, Colacicco was able to focus on multiple Red Cross roles at West Point. This is in large part because she recognizes the significance of the organization’s services for the 4,000 young men and women who go to school there.
“They're not regular college students. They are soldiers. We are there for them whether they are at the hospital or if they need to reach out to [Red Cross] services to the armed forces for assistance,” says Colacicco. With 4,000 cadets plus 3,000 faculty, staff, civilian contractors and their families, West Point is “a small city in itself,” according to Colacicco.
Her current volunteer work with the Red Cross includes managing volunteer staffing at blood drives and at the information desk at West Point’s Keller Hospital. She also serves on the Red Cross Committee at West Point and has been committee chair since 2015.
Colacicco is especially proud of her efforts to get the Paws for a Cause pet therapy program into West Point. “It took me eight years, but I finally got the pet therapy dogs into Keller Hospital on post. Everyone is so happy to have them,” she adds.
“The leadership that Gayle provides at West Point is top-notch. She is the embodiment of a life of selfless service and a tremendous Red Cross volunteer who I feel honored to work with,” says Gregg Porter, Director, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services at the American Red Cross in Greater New York, who works closely with Colacicco.
Last November, at an annual event recognizing women who serve their country and their local communities, the Red Cross and community leaders honored Colacicco’s decades of volunteerism. New York City Mayor Eric Adams spoke at the ceremony and three of Colacicco’s four children attended.
“It was absolutely amazing to be there with other women who spend a lot of time volunteering. It was inspirational,” says Colacicco.
What drives a decades-long history of volunteerism and devotion to the military?
“It makes me feel good to be able to help people. I like the fact that the Red Cross is there to help on so many levels. I feel that volunteering has helped me as much as it's helped the people we have helped. I'm 72 years old, but I'm very active and it keeps me going,” she says.