Dawn Martin

Dawn Martin poses for a portrait at her home in Sullivan.

Professionally, banking is the only job Dawn Martin has ever had.

She started in high school, doing odd jobs and running the proof machine at a local branch. Then in the '90s, on the recommendation of a friend, she decided to apply to the mortgage department at Savings Bank of Walpole in Keene.

She's now been there for 27 years, advancing through the ranks to her current position as vice president of mortgage lending. And, in the Monadnock Region, the Sullivan resident is known for this and a host of other roles -- advocate, volunteer, community leader and devoted mother, among them, earning her the distinction as one of this year's Extraordinary Women.

"Her commitment to helping others is sincere and knows no limits as she is somehow there for anyone who needs her. Her caring nature has manifested itself into becoming a magnet for those experiencing hardship, whether she knows them or not," says Savings Bank of Walpole President Mark Bodin in his nomination of Martin. "… Quite simply, Dawn cares."

Dawn Martin is the winner of a 2021 Extraordinary Women award. Video by Hannah Schroeder / Sentinel Staff. 

For Martin, 53, it all comes back to people. Her favorite part of her job is helping aspiring homebuyers navigate a process that can often be confusing and intimidating. This has been especially challenging over the past year and a half as the housing market has tightened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with few homes available and many buyers looking.

"I love talking to people and being able to help them solve a problem, and if I can't help them, being able to guide them to somebody who can," she says. "Because you can't give everybody a loan, unfortunately — I wish you could."

During the public-health crisis, she says the staff at Savings Bank of Walpole has banded together to try to help their clients, many of whom have lost jobs, family members or even their homes. She thinks of her team as a family, and prides herself on the bank's mission to treat customers as people, not numbers or transactions.

"One phone call you're hopefully helping someone get into their forever home, and the other you're trying to help someone hold onto it," she says.

She knows how important community support and resources can be when you're struggling, and she tries to do her part to keep these local networks strong. She's served on the boards of Keene Day Care and Rise for Baby and Family, and donated her time to many other local organizations, including the Elm City Rotary, N.H. Special Olympics and The Community Kitchen.

"When you have the opportunity to work with Dawn, you never forget it. Her interactions are so positive and uplifting. She is supportive and resourceful," says Alicia Deaver, executive director of Rise for Baby and Family, in her nomination of Martin. "She has a wealth of knowledge and imparts it on others in a way that continuously builds you up."

Martin says she's drawn to these organizations because of her experience caring and advocating for her son, Zack, 25, who is on the autism spectrum. As Zack was growing up, she says their small community in Sullivan embraced and rallied around him. She wants to pay that kindness forward by supporting resources and organizations that supported her, as well as people who are advocating for their own children.

She and her husband, Eric, have weathered some difficult experiences, such as being required to file for guardianship of their adult son. Martin says she wants to be there for other families walking that path and navigating situations like hers in general, whether they need help connecting to resources or just someone to talk to who will understand what they are going through.

"It's a really weird thought process when it's your child, and you have to go to court so that you can keep raising your child. And that's emotional," Martin says. "And to be able to kind of walk other people through that and say, look, actually, even though it's hard, it's OK, and here's the things you can do to make it easier. I like to be there for people to do that."

She does it "because she knows how difficult it can be already to help your child get what they need, and that one more challenge or setback can make it feel impossible," says Paige Martin, Dawn's daughter, in nominating her mother. "Because she knows that not everyone has the ability or opportunity to use their voice to speak up when something isn't working. So, she uses hers."

And Martin's drive and sense of compassion has rubbed off on her daughter — Paige Martin recently completed a master's degree in early intervention, and now works with infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities or delays.

"The importance of advocacy is a lesson that my mom started teaching me a long time ago," Paige says, "and one that I continue to learn from her."

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