Girls' Week Only!
Written by Christine Milano
Photography by Vicky Beal
Girls' Week Only!
It has been a long-standing tradition to set one week aside each year to simply BE! The sign on our suitcase reads, “NO MEN ALLOWED!” In the past, we have explored islands and temples, lounged leisurely on house boats, and experienced many other adventures. However, this year she is not feeling her best, so we set out for a simple road trip out East.
While driving, I look in wonder at the woman beside me…my Mom. Everything in the car vibrates to the Enigma song blaring through the car speakers—and she is lost somewhere within, eyes closed. For the moment, she throws her hands side-to-side, face upturned in pure joy, swaying to a beat only she hears. I glimpse the free spirit that is so often caged within—of her as a young woman with her whole life waiting to be discovered.
It is the small things I notice about Mom on our trips together. Not only do I see the woman who taught me to maneuver my way through life, but a woman that put her own wants and desires aside to pursue what society expected of her—like many women of her generation.
We talk about her past dreams. Did she have any regrets? Her answer remains consistent. "I would not have the 4 wonderful children I have if I had made other choices. No, I am very content with my life.”
We laugh, we cry, we argue (like most Italian families) and we talk about our bucket lists. “What happens when her bucket no longer has a list inside of it?” I silently wonder to myself. Quietly, I say a prayer that she will continue to add items so we can grow to be old women together, helping each other out of the car seat and adding another sticker to our suitcase: NO OLD MEN ALLOWED!
I would not be who I am today had you not taught me to laugh and not take myself so seriously. Thank you for swaying to your own music and teaching me to do the same.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Rosie the Riveter
Written by Christine Milano
Photography by Vicky Beal
Move Over Rosie the Riveter...Meet Louise, the Welder
Being the rebel that I was, I was not going to be a nurse. I was an artist and I stood firm on my ground THAT was my destination. Oh, poor mom, she was so frustrated with me! As idealistic as I was, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed it forever changed me and the America I loved. Fear seemed to ooze from the very canvasses that once were my haven. I put down my brushes and picked up a welding rod and goggles and entered welding school my senior year in high school answering the call that went out to all women to support our troops and the war in whatever way we could contribute.
Upon graduation, I began welding on Navy contracts. Within three months, I became part of the research group researching aluminum welding procedures on depth-charge canisters. I learned quickly and was assigned to train the teams, mostly males, of proper welding techniques. More Navy contracts followed and my team begin welding triggering devices, 155 millimeter gun parts, hatch covers— well, you get the idea. Unheard of for a woman, I was promoted to Working Foreman, teaching Navy Certified Welding to employees in the evenings on acetylene, electric arc and heliarc®.
Little did I know at the time, but this was the beginning of many twists. While building jet target planes, there he was—standing there as if a spotlight was upon him—the retired, renowned Arctic Explorer, Admiral Byrd, working as an advisor to the Navy. He was touring the plant. To use a young person’s term...OMG! He was walking toward me. I looked around; could he really be walking toward me? He stopped in front of me, stuck out his hand and introduced himself. He talked to me at length about welding, asking many questions. Shortly thereafter, I received an invitation to attend an event for the Washington representatives. I had to decline.
So here I stand years later, reminiscing, as a guest, in attendance at the September 2011 United States Submarine Veterans National Convention in Springfield, Missouri. I was surrounded by a sea of heroes wearing vests covered with the names, numbers, ribbons, braids, pins, patches and emblems that signify courage and bravery. My part during World War II seemed so insignificant in the big picture. When the war began, I was in high school, later welding depth charges, the very bombs used against the enemy submarines lurking within the depths of the sea. At the time, we knew the enemy and the challenges we faced; each person experiencing a private hell. However, it’s a different world now, more sinister, with different challenges and dangers to be met. Veterans of all ages and wars are here.
I was now rubbing shoulders with those ever-elusive Superheroes of the Sea—Angels of the Deep. They searched, watched, listened, and assisted in missions of the most dangerous nature; missions unknown to the public and now sealed within government records—and all conducted under less than desirable conditions for our nation’s peace, safety, and freedom. The unsung,unspoken stories cannot be shared with us mere civilians; they are only shared amongst themselves. These are the men, after studying and training, who qualified for service on nuclear and conventional powered submarines during the cold war years. This was a service that would deter the faint-hearted—all contained within a hull each would call their home, miles under the surface of the ocean. At the forefront of survival was the constant vigilance of the radar, surveying the sea around them for other steel life...bleep...bleep...bleep...a fellow submarine, a surface ship, and those days, when, Godforbid, it was a depth charge coming straight toward them. Dive! Dive! The sirens screamed across the loudspeakers. Would this be the time when they would become another sinking statistic, to be forever buried deep in the sea—a sealed casket—some never to be recovered? Valor, bravery, and courage are not words; they are in the faces of these Submarine Veterans.
I know I will never know the story of each Veteran. I do want to thank each one, in my own humble way, expressing how grateful I am for their sacrifice for our freedom. May each of you always be carried to safety and back to your families.
Victoria Sayyah (née Shaneen) 1909-1990 as told by Anne & Maurice Frey
Interview and Photography by Vicky Beal
Written by Allison Kelley
Victoria Sayyah (née Shaneen) told by her daughter Anne Sayyah Frey and her husband Maurice Frey (pictured above)
When Anne Frey tells the story of how her parents met, she gets a mischievous smirk on her face, nods, and her chandelier earrings shake. “Mom went to a Dime-A-Dance with her sister in New York City. In those days girls would dance for a dime, which was a lot of money back then. It was 1927. You went out dressed to kill and you danced. And that’s how mom met my dad.”
Anne’s mom, Victoria Sayyah, was a strong-willed, independent woman at a time when women were not viewed as equals. Victoria was fiercely loyal to her 7 children but never to one man. She traveled the country eventually landing back in Ridgway, PA, a small lumber town her Lebanese immigrant family helped develop. Her life was not easy, but she always supported her family and never lost faith.
From a floral couch in the living room of her St. Marys, PA home, a small town neighboring Ridgway, Anne tells the story of her mother. From Lebanon, to New York to Ridgway, population 4,006 (as of 2012), Victoria’s life was shaped by her hardworking immigrant family and the 7 children she raised all by herself. This is Victoria’s story as told to the author by Anne.
Victoria Sayyah was born Victoria Shaneen in New York in 1909. Her parents, John and Sadie, immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in the late 1800’s in search of the American dream. Landing in New York not knowing how to speak or write English, the Shaneen family immediately began looking for opportunities to make money. They had heard the lumber industry was booming in the small developing town of Ridgway, PA and so they journeyed 300 miles to get there. In a few short years the Shaneen’s went from small-time rag sellers to prosperous landowners. They bought hotels including the Larson and Bogert House, restaurants, and invested in many other properties in town. When Victoria’s uncle, Sam Shaneen, died he had 111 property deeds to his name. As a testament to their legacy, the Shaneen name still remains on a building in downtown Ridgway at 245 Main Street.
In 1927, Victoria took a fateful trip to New York with her sister. The two liked dancing so they put on their best dresses and attended a Dime-a-Dance, a popular activity in the 1920s and 30s where men paid to pair up with a female dance partner. At just 16, Victoria was a beauty with olive skin and dark hair. She immediately caught the eye George Sayyah, a handsome and regal man, also of Lebanese descent. The two hit it off and George and Victoria were married soon after. They moved back to Ridgway, where Victoria’s family was busy building their legacy.
Victoria soon felt constricted by her life as a homemaker and craved the independence she felt out on dance floor in New York. During her marriage to George, Victoria raised 5 children, Helen, John, Victor, Anthony, and Anne, while also becoming a business owner. Victoria also had a baby, Edma, who died at 9 months from pneumonia. In 1929, Victoria opened a store in downtown Ridgway where she sold baby items and rugs that she crocheted and knit herself. “She did beautiful handwork,” Anne says. While the store was thriving, Victoria’s marriage to George was rocky. They ultimately wanted different things out of life and eventually George divorced her and joined the Navy.
Victoria took her 5 children and moved 2 hours east to Wellsboro, PA where she met her second husband, Mayne Hoadley. Mayne was a classic country boy, spending his days working on the railroad. Victoria was built for the city. They were like fire and ice but he loved her and eventually they married. Together they had two children, Joe and Sadie. But just like before, Victoria began to feel restless and so she packed up and spent a year with her kids in Texas, staying with her second son Victor who was stationed in the military. Eventually she moved the family back to PA but did not stay with Mayne. She bought a house using her own money in Kane, PA and lived there for 3 years.
As a single mom with 7 kids, Victoria struggled to financially provide for her kids. Even though her family had money to give, she never asked them for anything. This was the life she chose and her only option was to survive and push forward. In 1935 the welfare system was created to provide public aid to low-income and unemployed Americans. Victoria signed up, looking for any way to alleviate the financial burden. However, the allotment barely covered necessities and the family would often have to eat straight lentils for up to a week at a time. “We never ate meat,” Anne recalls. “We’d ask mom for a nickel to go to the movies and she’d tell us, ‘I don’t have it.’ Sometimes you wonder how she did it, but she did. She survived.” As a way to give back to the country that kept her family afloat, all of her sons served in the military and were stationed at bases in Germany, Korea and Vietnam.
When her son, Victor, who she had stayed with in Texas, returned from the service, he went back to Ridgway to help his mom out. Out of all her sons, Victor was the most industrious. “He never let grass grow under his feet,” Anne says about her brother. When he was a teen growing up in Ridgway, Victor worked for his mom’s family in their restaurant, carrying heavy beer cases down to the cellar. As an adult, he worked his way through the ranks at Prudential and eventually started his own lucrative insurance business. When Victor became a multi-millionaire his family began calling him “the godfather” because of how much he provided for the family. Victoria was very proud of her son and the two remained close throughout her life. Victor was one of the very few people Victoria did not want to disappoint. She knew how hard he worked and how many people relied on him. However, because she had always lived so transiently, when Victor would buy her things (homes, cars, etc.), she would sell them because she always remembered how quickly things could change. She always preferred having some money vs. things “just in case” Victor ever lost his wealth.
Victoria remained feisty and defiant even towards the end of her life. When she refused to be put into a hospital or nursing home, her son Victor set her up in her own suite on the ranch he owned in Colorado. Victoria passed away in 1990 at age 82. Family and friends poured in to pay their last respects and to honor the woman who lived life on her own terms.
Olga & Louis Schavie
Interview & Photography by Vicky Beal
Written by Allison Kelley
Louis & Olga's Love Story
HERE IS A LINK TO THEIR VIDEO INTERVIEW!
When Louis and Olga Schavie met in 1945 you could go to the movies twice a week and only spend a dime (they would go to the show on Sunday and get a free ticket to see another double feature during the week). Methods of mass communication were not readily available - the radio was how you got your news and letters were how you kept in touch.
And then there were the in-person conversations that developed in the neighborhood and on the block. Back then, everyone knew everyone, but occasionally an outsider would appear and that would lead to a chance encounter. Lucky for Louis and Olga, their chance encounter has led to an inspiring 70-year marriage.
“I came home on a furlough and decided to go to the corner to see some of my friends. As I was crossing the street I heard someone call out to me, ‘What’s the matter? Are you too stuck up to say hello?’ I stopped in my tracks and looked across the street and there was my lovely wife,” says Louis.
“Olga!” Olga chimes in. And with a supportive nudge from Louis, Olga finishes their “how we met” story. “That’s the story all right. He came back and ever since, here we are, 70 years later.”
And after all these years, Louis and Olga are still there for each other. When they talk they hold hands, a small gesture they know the importance of more than most people.
In 1972, Louis was dealt a devastating blow when he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Laterals Sclerosis or ALS. At the time, not much was known about the neurodegenerative disease and the prognosis was grim. Louis’ doctors told him he had 3-5 years left to live.
“I was starting to lose the feeling in my right hand. Being a barber that’s not a good situation. I would drop the comb every now and then and when I reached in my back pocket to pull out my wallet I couldn’t grasp it. It looked like I just didn’t want to pay the bill,” Louis says with a smile.
45 years later Olga and Louis can laugh about it because he survived. Louis credits his health to acupuncture, exercise, his wife and his positive attitude.
“I got in touch with a doctor who practiced acupuncture and after the first treatment I felt invigorated. My muscles were tingling. I felt this man could help me. I worked with him for two years. Throughout the whole process I found out how much will power meant. You have to have the mindset that you are going to beat whatever is trying to knock you down.”
Over time Louis learned that independence was integral to his recovery.
“If things get difficult and you let somebody else do the work for you, like tying your shoe, after a while you can’t tie your shoe anymore. So I quit letting people help me and tried to do it all by myself,” says Louis.
But as his lifelong partner and biggest fan, Olga had a hard time letting Louis go it alone. “I always wanted to try and help him but he would say ‘until I can do it, leave me alone. And then you can help me.’ Seeing him go through this made me admire him even more,” says Olga.
Louis and Olga’s resiliency and positive outlook is a testament to their upbringing. Growing up in Chicago in the 1920s and ‘30s, both Louis and Olga’s families did not have much. But what they lacked in material items, they made up for in rich familial traditions.
“I’m lucky I had parents that shared with me their experiences and taught me how to do things. My dad was the repairman of the house. He never called anyone in to fix anything and often I’d help him out on projects around the house,” says Louis.
From Olga’s father, Louis’ father-in-law, Louis learned how to hunt for edible dandelions and how to select grapes for winemaking. All of Louis’ memories of his father-in-law are food related. He talks with such clarity you can almost taste the sweet homemade white zinfandel and smell the briny cured meats hanging in the basement.
“Every month with my father-in-law we did something. In September we made wine. We would go down to Fulton Market and the grapes would come in from California. My father-in-law knew the exact name of the grapes he wanted – white zinfandel. I’d go with him and we’d taste the grapes and end up making a barrel and a half of wine.
After making the wine, on weekends we’d have a feast with all the food we were making in the winter. We looked forward to those months. When fall came around we’d look at the weather and say, ‘The mushrooms should be ready soon.’ We’d go drive maybe 3 or 4 hours and to where the mushrooms grew and it was an outing. It was something exciting. We’d gather them all up, filled the trunks up with them, and bring them home,” says Louis.
Finally Olga interjects, sensing just how happy the memories are making her husband. “He’s getting excited!” she says with a chuckle.
Olga’s family’s love of good food rubbed off on Louis. “I’ll say one thing about him, he’s a good eater and if I didn’t cook good I probably wouldn’t have had him. I know that he likes his food. And that is something I learned from my mother,” says Olga.
Aside from great cooking, Olga says the key to a long marriage is listening. “We listen and pay attention to what we’re saying to each other instead of just saying, ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If you don’t think about each other, it’s not going to work.”
Louis echoes Olga’s sentiment as he talks about the strength of their bond. “Once we resolve our problems, we always hug and kiss and everything is rosy again and life goes on. We cope with whatever ailment comes up; we have each other and that’s the strongest thing you can have going for you in a marriage. You have to pull together because life is hard. There’s always something that comes up that’s critical and you have to face it and be brave enough to work hard and solve your problems,” says Louis.
When they think about the state of modern relationships, Louis and Olga are saddened by the distractions and disconnection facing couples.
“I think people nowadays don’t take the time to think about each other enough. There’s so much going on through their life that they just don’t seem to want that togetherness once they get home,” says Olga.
Though miraculous from afar, Louis and Olga say there’s no mystery behind the success of their seven-decade spanning marriage.
“You just need a good right hand behind you,” says Louis putting his arm around Olga. “My love for her has never changed in our 70 years together. I’ve never had a thought in my whole lifetime that I would be without her. Every morning that I wake up I thank God that she is there. She always has coffee ready for me.”