“Loving kindness is my religion” was Sandy’s creed, posted on the front of her refrigerator. She never said it out loud, never preached or proselytized; she just put her philosophy into practice every day through mentoring a child, wielding a hammer for a Habitat for Humanity building, gift wrapping for LifeChronicles, singing with the Inner Light Gospel Choir, and steering Garden Court seniors toward the joy of good works.
“If she knew she could do a service, that filled her up,” her Inner Light Gospel Choir friend Karen Curtis said. “It was just who she was.”
Sandy lived to serve and serve joyfully. She had a gift for discovering who needed help and then pitched in with all her heart. For 10 years, she was resident services director at Garden Court, the downtown low-cost residence for seniors.
“We became known as the giving place after Sandy,” recalled former Garden Court resident Fran Krauskopf. “We learned what giving was from her. We learned what fundraising was.” And fundraise they did, selling handmade scarves and crafts, jewelry and cookies, and pooling their own dollars to benefit charities ranging from Unity House to Salvation Army’s Adopt-a-Family to Afghan and Katrina relief. During Sandy’s tenure, they managed to raise over $40,000.
At Garden Court, Sandy turned what could have been a sleepy senior housing facility into a beehive, starting women’s history groups, writing and poetry classes, meditation groups, book clubs, and jewelry and knitting classes — all bracketed by joyful celebrations. Her friend Sherry Lydon remembers Garden Court’s “big parties with music and gospel singing, celebrating every day and season with all those people who loved her like a daughter, and insisting that everyone appreciate every moment — a huge legacy.”
Sandy sang soprano with the Inner Light Gospel Choir, always front and center, clapping, swaying to the music. She took the words and message of those gospel songs to heart. “When the spirit touches you, you feel lifted,” her friend Karen said. “I could see that in her face.”
In 2007, Sandy’s Garden Court seniors were honored as Local Heroes by The Santa Barbara Independent. But ask any resident, and they’ll tell you Sandy was the real hero. She helped them celebrate life right up to the end, danced at their birthday parties, and held their hands and those of their families at their passing. She had, as another friend said, “the ability to bring many up from an abyss to joy.”
Someone once asked me which friend I’d choose to be stranded with on a desert island, and I answered Sandy. She was the best of friends, loving, nonjudgmental, cheery, optimistic, and multitalented. She could do anything: roof a house; stop a leak; grow a garden; cut your hair; organize your files, your sock drawer, or your life; and help you up when you were down. When she worked on Habitat for Humanity projects, she liked to pencil her initials on a framing beam. Out of sight, but there, like Sandy, making things happen.
Sandy never looked back, always forward, to the next good thing, the next good deed. She aimed her whole being at life, saw newness and opportunity in every day. She loved food fights, surprise parties, and all the festivals in Santa Barbara, especially Solstice. She carried supplies to a birthing center in Bali, swam with dolphins in the Caribbean, sailed in hot air balloons, and canoed in the Amazon.
The nonprofit LifeChronicles was Sandy’s last big charitable love, and she served on their board. They videotape the life stories of the elderly or seriously ill so that families left behind will have a living memory. Sharing friendships with so many seniors, Sandy saw the value of preserving those illusive and instructive bits of life experience that vanish with a person’s passing.
Every Christmas, she organized LifeChronicles’ gift-wrapping fundraiser at area malls, but she never thought to make her own life chronicle. Sandy leaves a legion of friends. She made a difference and left a large imprint on many lives. Still, we would have liked to have seen that videotape, heard her voice making light of all she’s done, laughing at our seriousness, mentioning the next ambitious project, a light in her eyes as she gazes into the future to see what’s next, what’s next.
A memorial gathering will be held Thursday, March 12, at Garden Court, 1116 De la Vina Street, from 6:30-8 p.m. A celebration of Sandy’s life (the big party she would have wanted) will take place at noon on Saturday, April 11, at Manning Park in Montecito.