Esther Snyder is just one of the people I love to write about. Full of contradictions and character, she has glamour, style, taste – and a sense of humor. She grew up on a 500 acre dairy farm -- before the advent of milking machines. Or at least before her parents got them. I got to write a profile of her for the local paper the Catskill Mountain News when she retired recently. She was their copy-chief but also their standards-bearer, and adjudicator in all sorts of matters.
“Restroom.” That word drives Esther Snyder crazy. So does “school teacher” when it’s spelled as one word or “fundraising” minus the hyphen. She also can be impecunious where dashes are concerned. Last week the Catskill Mountain News lost its “conscience,” as editor Dick Sanford describes her.
Esther Snyder retired. She was not only the paper’s typist and proofreader but she also kept the publication on the straight and narrow (and I have to say it’s thanks to her memory that I remembered to use a “not only… but also” construction in that sentence). “There was no swearing around her, and her presence created respect,” Sanford says.
Over her tenure, she worked for three generations of Sanfords at the paper. She first started there just after WWII and returned in 1986. She shakes her head, recounting her first stint serving as vacation cover for Clarke Sanford’s secretary. “I don’t know how he picked me. I didn’t know him. I was still in school when he called and asked me to work for him.”
She recalls how farmers would come in and visit with him in the office, and true to what a stickler and pack rat she is, she still has her pay stubs from that time. Now at a desk downstairs in the paper’s office, she laughs about them. Her hair is up in a net and pinned back in a swirl, and she still looks as she might have when she started at the paper in the ’40s. She wears a pleated skirt and bowed blouse with red dots under a pale blue cardigan, the same ocean shade as her eyes.
In 1946 when she graduated Roxbury Central School as Valedictorian, Snyder had no plans to stay in Denver. Let alone work at the Catskill Mountain News “My sister wanted to be a nurse,” she explains, “and my ambition was to work in a five-and-dime as a cashier.” She went to Kingston and got a job at Newbury’s, but got cold feet. She didn’t want to move to the city.
“I was a homebody,” she says and credits her change of heart to God. “I have a great faith in God and prayer, and He worked it out for me to come back.” Talk of religion peppers her conversation. She often says, “You’re not ready to live till you’re ready to die,” and she was relieved to be home because her father died soon after of appendicitis. She wanted to be home to help.
After the News, she went to work at Roxbury Central School as a secretary and clerk and even bus driver. She puts her hand to her mouth as she describes her first time driving. She was a substitute and it was in the rain.
“The principal came with me,” she shakes her head. “I had a desire to drive the school bus, so I took the exam. I couldn’t drive a bus now though,” she laughs. “There’s no way I could wake that early anymore, but I used to drive the Gilboa route.”
Snyder grew up in Denver on a 500-acre farm. “We didn’t have milking machines,” she recalls, “and my sister and me and mother and father and grandparents and the hired man, we’d all do the milking.”She tells stories of haying and threshing oats and skiing down the pastures in winter. She also credits milking with helping her learn French.“I’d pin the vocabulary words to my overalls to learn the words while I milked.”
That dedication to language shows her early promise for her duties at the paper. In 1986 she retired from RCS and returned to the News as typist and proofreader. True to form she can recall the exact date: October 22. A perfectionist and teetotaler, she served as the guardian of language and mores. About the proofreading she says it wasn’t “a natural skill” for her. “I worked myself into it.”
SHE WROTE THE BOOK
She has left behind not only fond memories but also a 20-page manual of words that are often misused like that “restroom” spelled as one word or the hyphen-free “fundraising.” She reports that it should only be used that way when it’s a verb, not a noun.
Sanford pays great homage to her and her abilities. At her retirement luncheon on Tuesday he said, “The world would be a better place with more people like her in it. She created a respectful atmosphere. She also represents the end of an era in newspapers. Everyone just uses spell check today. Even the great New York Times is now full of typos. We will miss her.” Sanford added, “We’re all living in mortal fear that next Wednesday or Thursday she’s going to come walking in the door with a marked-up copy of the paper, and all of the typos we missed will be highlighted in red ink.”