Some stories take longer to tell than others. Twelve years ago, Anne Sarcka, a community organizer and artist who has lived in Montpelier since 1978, published the autobiography of her father, Wayne Sarcka, “Giving a Lift in Time: A Finnish Immigrant’s Story.” A wide-ranging tale of war, adventure and service, he dictated it to his wife, Elizabeth, before he passed away in 1968.
When Elizabeth Man Sarcka died in 1992 at age 98, she also left behind a remarkable story.
“I always wanted my mother to have a book of her own,” says Anne, “for she had an extraordinary life as well.”
“Strong Spirit, Steadfast Heart: The Life and Times of Elizabeth Man Sarcka” was published in October 2018.
“Strong Spirit, Steadfast Heart” is part memoir, part remembrances of family and friends, and part biography as narrated by Anne Sarcka, supplemented by letters, poems and artwork. Laura Jinishian, Elizabeth’s great-niece and Anne’s cousin, collaborated with Anne in creating the book. Anne and Laura compiled what is a celebration and documentation of a life that Anne describes as “remarkably purposeful.”
In the autobiographical section of the book, Elizabeth writes, “I was born Oct. 11, 1893, and grew up in my grandfather’s and father’s village, Richmond Hill, in Queens, New York. My earliest memories are of the building of the village and of the Italians who built it.” Anne reflects further in the forward of the book saying, “My mother grew up at a time of enormous change in New York City and the nation. She was the daughter and granddaughter of lawyers who were engaged in many aspects of New York civic life.”
Elizabeth graduated from Barnard College in 1917. She describes her college experience by saying, “Barnard was a revelation. It was exciting to find that I could speak on my feet and enter into vigorous discussions of every conceivable subject.” An active leader in the Girl Scouts, League of Nations Association and The College Settlements Association, she went directly into social work after graduating.
She met her future husband, Wayne Sarcka, when he was fundraising for the Girl Scouts. “I think my father was struck by how determined she was,” says Anne. “I don’t think he’d met other women like that.”
Elizabeth and Wayne’s courtship was drawn out for years, and she didn’t agree to marry him until after she worked as executive secretary for the League of Nations Association of Greater New York, which took her across the country twice, and after a trip to Africa with friends. The book includes the letters between Elizabeth and Wayne that tell the story of how they finally came together.
When Elizabeth and Wayne were hiking along the Long Trail for their honeymoon, they discovered Spring Lake. Enchanted, they returned in 1932 to buy a small farm property in Cuttingsville, Vermont, where, as Anne says in the forward to her mother’s book, “They brought their combined talents to create Spring Lake Ranch, a residential therapeutic community they carved out of Vermont wilderness.” They spent nearly 30 years running the ranch and, alongside their staff, worked with hundreds of residents over the decades. The ranch continues with its mission to help people regain their health to this day.
In the book, Elizabeth expresses gratitude for the many ranchers and staff who, over the decades, helped convert an old farmhouse, surrounded by swamp at the end of an often impassable road, into a place of healing for the families who had faith in the ranch and for the friends and neighbors who pitched in and supported it in difficult times. Grace Brigham, artist, teacher and longtime Shrewsbury resident says, “I remember Elizabeth and Wayne as gracious, welcoming, vigorous and extraordinarily encouraging to ranchers, kids and the neighbors who helped keep things running.”
Judy Elkin, former rancher and trustee, and current advisory council member, says of Elizabeth, “I remember her hearty laugh, and how she engaged me in meaningful conversations which I was so hungry for. Her energy and spirit were contagious.”
Returning to New York after Wayne’s death, Elizabeth worked for peace and disarmament and was recognized for her contributions well into her 90s, earning the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the Brearley School’s Frances Riker Davis Award, and recognition from the United Nations Association and other organizations. Former ranch director Michael Wells wrote of Elizabeth at her death, “She was a citizen of the world, a thoroughly modern woman until the day she died.”
For the ranch’s 85th anniversary, Anne began to compile Elizabeth’s autobiographical writing as well as pieces written about her. A year and a half in the making, “Strong Spirit, Steadfast Heart” was designed by Brian Prendergast, of Worcester. It is available at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, Aldrich Library and the Vermont Historical Society. Readers can learn more about Spring Lake Ranch at www.springlakeranch.org.
Michelle A.L. Singer lives in East Montpelier and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.