Sandra Gomez Oliver Interview
This is file #22, cycl2 3. Today’s date is Feb. 1, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Sandy Oliver. She is going to give a very abridged business career of all the many things she done just in Salisbury. We are not covering the other things that she did. It would take another 3 hours. It is a wonderful story. She will start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
SO:My name is Sandra Gomez Oliver
JM:What is your birth date?
SO:March 26, 1955
JM:What is your birth place?
SO:I was born in Charlotte Hungerford in Torrington, Ct.
JM:What are your parents’ names?
SO:Patricia Pattengell Gomez and Francis Joseph Gomez
JM:I know you have siblings, but can you do them in order?
SO:I have many siblings: , Susan Anne, Michael Francis who passed away 10 years ago, myself, Mark Russell, Patty Marie, Anne Florence, Steven Joseph.
JM: I am going to start with Noble Horizons and I want you to tell me a little bit about how you first came to Noble Horizons through a Keuka Field Period.
SO:I attended Keuka College. There was a field period requirement every year. One of those field periods was done at Nobler Horizons under Dede Winklehorn who was the Director of Recreation in the early 1970’s. I worked under her and when I came back from Arizona (after graduating from college in 1977) I was offered a job by Eileen Mulligan (see tape # 147A, Eileen Mulligan) as the Director of Recreation. That is how I got to know Noble Horizons. (17 cobble Road, Salisbury, Ct),
JM:That would have been from 1978 to 1981.
SO: I had my daughter Stephanie in 1980 and I went back after I had her for a short period of time and then moved on to Gateway at Geer in Canaan, Ct.
JM:What does the Director of Recreation do?
SO:At the time there were only 60 residents total. I planned excursions, recreation, chapel services, anything to keep them busy and happy. AT that time it was a very mobile independent population.
JM:It has changed over the years.
JM:In 1981 did you become bookkeeper?
SO:I did. After I had my daughter, I went back as a part-time bookkeeper 20 hours a week May to October. Then I was offered a social work position at the Adult Day Care Center at Geer.
JM:Your degree from Keuka was in social work, but you got a Master’s in…?
SO:In 2001 I received a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling.
JM:You went back to Noble in 2001 after you had gotten your Master’s.
SO:I was Director of Development and Community Relations then Director of Volunteers after that, and two years after that I became interim Dietary Director, and I filled in as needed as interim social worker for a short period of time as well. I moved around.
JM:You were a one-man band! I am assuming Development and Community Relations is public relations.
SO: Yes and fund raising, public relations, anything to bring other age groups to the campus.
JM:How many volunteers were you supervising?
SO:AT that time I had about 117. We were very fortunate because the private school always sent a contingency of students doing community service. I would oversee and train them and match them up with residents. We had a pen pal program with Indian Mountain. We also had a number of individuals from the community who would come in on a regular basis, say every Tuesday or every Wednesday. We had volunteers who would come and specifically help out, getting people to the chapel service. Everybody found their little niche.
JM:It was very well received?
SO:Oh yes, when I was the Director of Recreation much earlier I was in charge of volunteers at that time too. There was this dynamite little woman from Sharon who was in her 80’s then, but she was a recruiter. She was one of my best volunteers. The program has been very intact for all that time.
JM:When you were in the Dietary Department, what did you do?
SO:There was some restructuring of the department that needed to be done. We were trying to upgrade the menus and the service because sort term rehab was becoming very popular. People would come in for a short time, 2 days, a week, or a month: they had higher expectation of the quality and choice. So we had to get up to speed and at the same time, the goal was to serve quality food at the temperature it was supposed to be served at in a timely fashion. That was the goal and a lot of time and energy went into finding qualified staff and working with veteran staff that had been there quite some time. Any change and evolution is difficult> By the time I left there, Laurie Keilty took over and stayed 10 years, I felt we were as good as we could be.
JM:Did you go back in 2012 to Noble?3.
SO:No I have been there because I have relatives there.
JM:I think we all do; I know more people at Noble than out in the real world. I next want to ask you about “On the Run! which you ran from 1983 to 1994. Why did this business get started?
SO:My sister was interested in opening a bakery and I talked her off that ledge down to retail baked goods from a fine bakery in Winsted based on a model that was successful in Canaan. She at the last minute decided not to commit to something like that and I had already invested my time and money so there I was. I found a partner and I was there 3 or 4 years until I bought the building next door.
JM:The location, where were you first?
SO:We were at in the little tiny 196 square feet building adjacent to Jim Vaill’s laundromat. (Now it is the Black Rabbit at 2 Ethan Allen Street. Ed.) Then the building next door which was owned by the Niedhammers who ran a retail clothing store called ”Bubbles & Bows”. They were selling the building and we purchased it and moved in there. Then we expanded the food line to do lunch. Eleven or twelve years later I sold it to my niece Becky Redmond who I think had it for 10 years. She married John Sherwood.
JM:What hours did you have?
SO:5 AM to Noon and it was strictly coffee and donuts in the beginning. A year after I opened, I added breakfast sandwiches. It kind of evolved. There were a couple of years we stayed open until 8:00 PM at night and did ice cream in the summer. We tried different things to see what people wanted or needed.
JM:Were you open 7 days a week?
SO:Yes, always it has been open 7 days a week in all this time.
JM:That is arduous! Then you moved on in 2008 and became the Director of the Housatonic Child Care Center as an interim. (30 Salmon Kill Road, Salisbury, Ct.) What did you do for that? Did you have to get more degrees? (See file # 70, cycle 2, Paul Bryant: file # 57, cycle 2, Kim Cannon: File # 66, cycle 2, Tanya Roussis)
SO:Yes, they were in need of an accreditation, a National Accreditation. They were without a director for months. It was not a field I was well versed in, but the organizational management piece I was comfortable with. I got up to speed in the first year and obtained 33 more credits in Early Childhood as a post Masters. The accreditation, I am happy to say, occurred successfully with high marks. And we received our Certificate of Accreditation. It required a lot of tact. You are working with veteran employees for whom change is difficult. You need to update the actual physical infrastructure, and update the educational background of staff, and recruit board members. Fund raising was part of
that also including budgeting, and obtaining participants for the program. It was very interesting and very challenging.
JM:When you left, who took over as director?
SO:When I left, Kate Dzeidic took over. She was from Torrington and had run a YMCA program. She was there for about three years. Then one of the employees whom I had hired before I left Marci____ took over.
JM:Back tracking to hospitality, the Inn at White Hollow you ran from 1997 to 2001
SO:I was running the restaurant on Route 7 in Falls Village the Fast Track Café which had been the old Falls Village Coffee Shop. There were five cabins in the back of the restaurant and I was renting those out mostly to racers and AT hikers. One of my customers Mr. John Kuhn asked me if I was interested in running the White Hollow which had four rooms.
SO:It is only four rooms because half of it is an office building. It was literally right down the road from the restaurant. It seemed to be a natural move. That is how I got involved in that.
JM:Was it just an inn? Did you serve breakfast?
SO:Technically it is a bed and breakfast, but they never had anyone living on site. They were supposed to when they got there permit, but it never happened. There were four rooms and a common kitchen/living area so I would put out a continental breakfast when there were guests. My cabin guest came into the restaurant to eat.
JM:The Fast Track Café is now Mountainside?
SO:Yes, I sold it to Mountainside Rehabilitation Center (187 S. Canaan Road, North Canaan, Ct.) so that they could open a transitional training program for job skills for people leaving the center.
JM:Now I am going to talk about some of the independent businesses. I was so surprised when I asked you about On the Run! being your first independent business and you said, “No, I did horses when I was in high school.”
SO:Yes we had a large family and we had a Holstein dairy farm. When my father transitioned to different things and got out of the hands-on dairy farming, he attended a number of auctions and came home with a couple of horses, one for each of us older children. After a couple of years we were very comfortable riding and loved horses. My brother Mark who is a year younger than me was a natural. We decided we would turn the garage into a tack shop; we at that point were up to about 35 horses. I was 16 and my brother was 15; it was more than a full time job and it was truly self-taught. We never took a riding lesson in our life, we were just natural. My brother to this day is a natural; he is a polo
player and a trainer. For those two plus years’ sophomore, junior and senior until I went to college, we had the riding stable. The American Hose Association had trails all over off Wells Hill and down/Wells Hill and across Route 112. We could ride everywhere. Right down the road from us were the Baroodys who had horses. There used to be gymkhanas then. It was a good time to ride then and a good time to grow up on Wells Hill. We would take trail rides Mark in the front and me in the back or visa- versa with people in between who would had signed releases. No problem, but we could never to that now. It was a great time.
JM:I was so impressed with that. In 2001 you started “Solutions for Seniors”?
JM:What is that?
SO:I had gotten my counseling degree and I always loved geriatrics. There were so many people that were calling me for information; I had so many contacts in that field, I thought I should be become a geriatric care manager. I had the degrees and I had the interest. Kathy McKnight who works at Noble Horizons assisted me in that project because I have always been an advocate for seniors. That entailed going into the community. People would call me possibly a child or a spouse perhaps living across the country, or maybe here, and say, “I am worried about mom, dad, my wife, husband, or my next-door neighbor. Would you please go and do a good assessment and tell us how we can keep them more active or safer or whatever the case may be.” So I would go, maybe more than once and write up some sort of plan with my suggestions. Sometimes it might be they should really go to a congregate living setting or sometimes it was as simple as they need more help at home, they need help in the bathroom, they need someone to go out and garden with them, sometimes it was adapting equipment or sometimes it was much more complex. I was able to do that pretty much until a few years ago. I still occasionally get a phone call for that because my number is out there still.
JM:You also did a lot of private duty care giving and Hospice.
SO:I have done private duty for years and years and years since I was in high school. Since talking to you last time, I keep coming up with names of people whom I did private duty care giving for. For me it is very comfortable and very pleasant to be with older people and listen to their life.
JM:It is a gift. I am more comfortable with children.
SO:It is very comfortable for me.
JM:I won’t say your last career change, but your most recent career change is opening a bed and breakfast called “Sassafras”. How did that come about?
SO:About 12 years ago we lived in big Victorian house at 31 Millerton Road in Lakeville. (See file #86, Peter Oliver) I do not know what possessed me, but I was very involved with the Salisbury Chamber
of Commerce at that time. We had this 6 bedroom house and we said why don’t we do a bed and breakfast? We did get our permit for Lakeville and for a couple of years without advertising, we ran our B & B. I was friends with all the hospitality people. We had races and private school parents through word of mouth. It was around our full time job. It was pleasant and we met a lot of great people, but it was very low key. I have always liked food service so it worked out on the weekends by reservation. So here we were, skip ahead 12 years and we find ourselves in a house that has four bedrooms and four baths, we only need one. My husband had just retired and I was working night, but that last job was coming to an end. “Why don’t we get our permit and try to do a bed and breakfast her?” (171 Canaan Road, Salisbury, Ct. That is how it came to be. We are now going into our 3rd full year. We have been very busy and have meet tremendous, wonderful people. It has been a tremendous experience. Our clientele is much more diverse because we do advertise. We are in a good location and on a main road. The setting is very conducive to having guests.
JM;How much does either the state or the town regulate what you serve, what you have for facilities?
SO:You do have to apply to Planning & Zoning for a permit. To get a P & Z permit you do have to go through the Torrington Health District as well as the Building Office. You do have to notify your neighbors by certified mail what you intend to do. It is permitted in a residential zone with a special permit. You do have to register with the state and you pay occupancy tax and that kind of thing. You are limited to what you can make because you are using your own kitchen. I was interested when you were talking about B & B & D.
JM:B & B and EM (evening meal)
SO:I was telling my husband about it. We would not be allowed to do an evening meal here because that would require a separate kitchen, separate from your personal one. Other than that you file a business declaration at the Town Hall to register your name and you have to pay personal property tax on what you use. There is no annual inspection which in my opinion there should be.
JM:I am surprised at that.
SO:There is not a Fire Marshall Inspection which I am also surprised at.
SO:You have to get specific Bed and Breakfast insurance because of the liability is so high. That is costly but it is part of doing business. Every town is different and it is supposed to be owner occupied in the town of Salisbury. I have talked to people who run B & B’s elsewhere, Maine or Long Island, they are doing it differently. They do not necessarily need to be occupants.
JM:I am going to move on to Salisbury Chamber of Commerce. Would you tell me about the Lakeville Merchant’s Association?
SO:When I was President of the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce, I did a lot of research and was given a suitcase full of material which minutes and photos and brochures from the Lakeville Merchants’ Association.
JM:Whatever did you do with that?
SO:I passed it along to Sarah Zarbock. I, in looking for things later, I was horrified that it might not have gotten in a safe place because it was invaluable. The Lakeville Merchants’ Association was very active in the early 1900s and was responsible for the Christmas tree lights at the time. That morphed into the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce. What is interesting about this is that that was the last time that Lakeville was in the forefront of just about anything. When we were changing from the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce to the Tri-State chamber of Commerce in 2004 (See file #59. Cycle 2, Janet Manko) in this neck of the woods we are so close to both border states that it makes sense to promote the area. Build it and they will come. We have never regained that viability that we were looking for in Lakeville. We have been looking for it for forty years. People are still looking for it right now.
JM:It used to be the center of commerce and Salisbury was an after-thought.
SO:It was the hub, more so than Salisbury.
JM:Oh Absolutely! We had 4 grocery stores: there were the baseball games on Sundays.
SO:It is amazing what attrition has done. Of course when the train rain, and this was a very hot spot for tourists. They would disembark in Lakeville and there was a foot bridge across the pond. All these old photos and glossy fold out brochures depicted the lake and the hotels in town. You can’t imagine the population at that time. All those hotels and they were big one: the Gateway, Wake Robin, the Farnum Tavern and the Rambler Inn. That is how I found out about the history of that. I was secretary and President of the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce.
JM:You were secretary to Richard Haskell in the early 1990s
SO:Yeah then I was President and then I was administrative assistant.
SO:I was not President them. I was administrative assistant to Dave Neilson who owned the Salisbury Garden Center, and then it was turned over to Sarah Zarbock who became President.
JM:Now I want you to talk about the three new ventures that you began.
SO:I started a Welcome Center downstairs at the Academy Building. We actually were open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We had somebody there; we got our first computer. We created our first data base. That is when I started rotating meetings and looking for people to host them on their business site and find another business to provide refreshments to make it more collaborative instead of let’s just
come to a meeting and sit in a room. That continues to this day. My board along with that group also started the Tri-State Trade Festival.
JM:Did that start in 1988?
SO:In that ear. My private enterprise started the first one and then the chamber took it over after that.
JM:Where did the first one start?
SO:The first one sponsored by the chamber was at the Interlaken. The first one done by my enterprise was done at the White Hart. Then we moved to the high school after that. It became very popular. The third new venture was Home Town Holiday that we started in the winter to try to encourage local shopping around the holidays.
JM:You did something unique with a scavenger hunt.
SO:Yes you would get a list of things and you would have to go in different businesses to shop in order to find what was on your list.
JM:That was a very clever idea.
SO:A lot of people on the board were very creative and there were a lot of good things. The Adopt a Tree came out of that as well. We figured we were going to put up trees why not have people memorialize or honor people. We had little tags at the time to offset some of that cost.
JM:When did the Adopt a Tree program come in?
SO:That started at the same time as the other things in the early 1990s.
JM:I ask because Foster and I were doing the trees. We took it over from Norm Gardiner, and we were doing it in the 1980s.
SO:Oh no this was definitely in the 1990s.
JM:A little bit back on the trade show, what do the participants in a trade show do?
SO:What we did was we did not limit it to chamber members. We sent out an invitation to all kinds of businesses, all kinds of trades because for two reasons. One is a professional group like the chamber is suit-oriented, a lot of banks and insurance companies. But the artisan population really wasn’t being represented. We thought if we had a tristate trade festival that represented all categories trades artisans, and professionals, they would all come together. I can remember there was a time when we had over 100 participants. That was a lot of booths. We just took over the gym and the cafeteria and the hall way and classrooms. It has decreased since then. Some things get old and you need to change. We started off rotating by doing one in the fall and one in the spring. That fell by the wayside a couple
of years later just because we needed to lock the space at the high school. They had other conflicts. Now it is in the spring. They have changed it around a little. I think it is good to adapt things to what the population and the membership is at the time.
JM:Now we are going to go on to voluntary things, when you had extra time! Tell me about the Northwest Connecticut Girl Scout Council.
SO:I was an avid scout. I started in Brownies and went right up through the ranks. I went to Girl Scout camp every single year. I became a life time scout.
JM:Did you become a Curved Bar?
SO:I am not quite sure what that is.
JM:That is when you got a certain number of badges.
SO:Oh you mean this thing that hung down here?
SO:Yes I was a curved bar girl. I wasn’t connecting that. It was a wonderful time in scouting and wonderful experiences with trips and you name it. I became a Girl Scout leader for my daughter’s troop going up the ranks. I was co-leader with Mary Ellen Baldwin, and with Bonnie DeAngelis and Melissa Cook; I worked with different people through the years. I loved scouting. When the Northwest Council was looking for board members, I loved to be on the board. Part of my job was fundraising and event planning. That was again in the mid-1990s. I was on for two years.
JM:Then the Lyons Club came along in 2002?
SO:Yes. The last year I had run on the ticket for selectman and we had gone to speak at a Lyons Club meeting when we were campaigning. We were so impressed with the job they were doing that we thought that after this is over, we are going to join the Lyons Club. We did. I want to say for four years until the club disbanded. Sharon had a very active Lyons Club and much larger than Salisbury so kind of got absorbed. Canaan also had a club. Our group got smaller and smaller, but we did fundraising every year; my job was to set up the raffle and we made about #2,500 each year on the raffle. We would start in the spring and sell tickets right through the Fourth of July event at the Grove and then have the drawing.
JM:What was the money used for?
SO:It was given to three organizations: one was for the blind, we would donate a good portion of the money for resources for the blind: there was a daffodil fund raiser that we did and that money went to another entity because the Lyons Club deals with vision, hearing and all those sensory issues, and also we contributed to the Alzheimer’s Association.
JM:When did you run for selectman?10.
SO:That was around 1999.
JM:How did you do?
SO:I lost by 27 votes, but that was really OK because Peter got on the board. He was on the board for 8 years. I was not unhappy. If I had won, I would have done a good job. But I was perfectly happy. I wanted to do something.
JM:Didn’t you get an award from the Lyons Club?
SO:I did. I got “Lyons of the Year” Award. I think I received it in 2003.
JM:You have been on various boards.
SO:Yes, you know I was trying to come up with dates, but I have to be honest I can’t pinpoint the dates. I filled out the term for Dr. Gevalt on the Board of Finance. That would have been in the 1980s.
JM:Did you have your own term?
SO:No I did not run after that. I could have run. They asked me to run, but I was so busy at the time.
JM:Was Carl Williams Chairman at that time?
SO:Yes, Carl Williams was Chairman.
JM:Then you were on Zoning Board of Appeals.
SO:I was interested in ZBA and was an alternate and then became a member. That again had to be in the early 1990 to mid-1990s because Dale Brown was still here. He was on that committee, Stephen Victory was Chair. They had just hired an administrator at the time for that committee. The training for that was very interesting. The gentleman who wrote the regulations for ZBA came to talk to us on two different occasions. He told about a lot of interesting cases.
JM:What comprises a term, 3 years?
SO:No 2 years.
JM:So you were on for four years?
JM:Now tell me about SWSA, please.
SO:Early on in the late 1980s I was doing the fund raising to upgrade the ski jump at the time. I was very involved with SWSA in that capacity.
JM:Do you ski?11.
SO:I used to do downhill and cross country but I was no good at it. I have never been good at it. My siblings my three brothers are good at it. I would go because I liked to have fun, but I would scream all the way down the hill, “Get out of the way!” The only way I could stop was to run into the hay bales. Again I like to skate but I am no good at it. I love sledding, but I am no good at any of those things. I was good at horseback riding.
JM:I know I have missed a lot, but is there anything specific that you would like to add before we close?
SO:Not that I can think of immediately. I think for whoever might be listening to this way down the road, growing up in this time and this town on a farm with other farms which are now gone, in a time where you rode your bike everywhere. You went out in the morning and came home for supper at night. Everybody on your street was your surrogate parent. You got to eat dinner at different people’s houses, bring home people, and get help with the chores from neighborhood children. It was a good time to grow up in this area. It has been 30 years, my daughter is 38 this year, and she grew up here. Although there have been a lot of change, most of it is good, I would like to see Lakeville maintain itself, but that has been a hue and cry for decades. As we become more of a bedroom community to Gt. Barrington, Millerton, Torrington, we are lucky to have this little bubble of idyllic time considering what is happening in some other places. I have always loved the fact that our tax mill rate is so low. That is an added benefit. I thank you Jean for doing this; it is terrific.
JP:Thank you so much.