Melker devotes herself to many causes

Two decades ago, Nina Melker looked at her two young, healthy daughters, and considered herself lucky.

She decided she wanted to express her gratitude for such fortune by volunteering. Melker joined an organization called New Horizons in Autism. Then, she became a member of its board of directors. She began meeting more people, and joining more organizations.

Now, 20 years later, Melker belongs to at least a dozen organizations and sits on the board of at least 10. She serves as president of the Mercer County Community College Foundation, vice chair of the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-Hamilton board, president of the Hamilton Education Foundation and treasurer of the Hamilton Area YMCA board, among many others.

Coupling her volunteerism with her career as a senior vice president at Hopewell Valley Community Bank, Melker spends much of her time out in the community. It’s what caught the eye of HVCB president and CEO James Hyman when his bank started in 1999, and it’s what inspired Melker to run as a Democrat for a four-year term on Hamilton Township council this November. It’s her first run for public office.

“You’re quick to formulate an opinion about Nina,” Hyman said. “[When HVCB started,] we tried to get involved in the community right away. Nina would always be there. She’s the real thing. She is always ready to commit.”

Melker said she prides herself on that commitment, and credits it for leading her to her current position. She began her career as a teller at a bank called National Community Bank in North Jersey in 1980. She started in banking to earn money for college; she stopped her initial stint in higher education after one semester because her mother did not approve of her fine and performing arts major.

She never went back to college, opting instead to dive fully into banking. She shifted from a job as a customer service representative to one as a note teller. Melker enjoyed the dynamics of lending, and eventually became a loan officer. By the time she moved to Hamilton from Kearny in 1983, she was 22 and had transitioned to a management role.

“I wound up realizing I was a true people person,” Melker said. “I was one of those people who’s always willing to learn something and take on a project. Anytime there was an opportunity to do something and learn something, I did it. By doing that, I was always able to progress.”

She started working at Yardville Bank in 1983, the same year she married her husband, Michael. Melker spent 23 years moving up the ranks at Yardville Bank, which she credits for helping her get involved with the community. She uses the same energy and work ethic in the community that she used in her career.

On a typical weekday, she might start off with an 8 a.m. board meeting at the YMCA, then head to her office for 9:30. At noon, she’ll drive to St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center—she belongs to its board, too—for a lunch meeting to discuss the facility’s Peter Nero fundraiser. Then, after finishing work, she’ll go to an evening event for a nonprofit organization before heading home around 9 p.m.

Melker said she has about three evening community events per week and three community group meetings per week.

“I’ve never been afraid to work long hours,” Melker said. “I’ve never been a 9-5er. And then, when I got involved in the community, it helped even more. I was giving back, giving of myself. And that’s helped my business because … in business, everything’s about building relationships. That’s really been the basis of any success I’ve had, because I build relationships. The community, banking, my personal life, they all kind of fit together.”

Melker does it, she said, because she cares. She recalled one Sunday where she participated in a walk for anti-bullying group Kidsbridge (whose board she serves on) for a few hours before racing across the county to a fundraiser for Ryan’s Quest (ditto), all sandwiched between functions with family and friends. Melker said she wouldn’t just do that for kicks; she wants to be active in causes she believes in.

If she can’t devote herself as much as she wants, she’ll give up her position.

“Really, I’m committed,” Melker said. “I have a real pet peeve about people joining boards, putting their name on a board and not participating. I resign from boards if I can’t [commit]. If I’m on a board, and I’m not participating like I should, then I’d rather not be on it.”

She said Michael and their daughters—25-year-old Jillian and 23-year-old Jennifer, both graduates of Steinert High School—have been very supportive and willing to share her with the community.

They’ve been doing plenty of sharing. People seem to form quick connections with Melker, and Hyman said much of it is due to her enthusiasm. He joked that, by now, there probably aren’t many organizations in Mercer County who haven’t recognized her for work.

“She is just a unique individual who brings an awful lot of commitment to this community,” Hyman said. “And she always has a smile. It’s part of her personality. That’s the way she always is. That’s not a front. That’s just her. I’ve never met anyone else like her.”