Remembering Sandra B. Cross – A Life Well Lived
There is a saying that beautiful things do not demand attention. Now in her absence, a little attention is required for this beautiful person. She wouldn’t want or ask for it, but it’s deserved. For almost nine decades Sandra quietly went about doing her business. And boy did she ever deliver the goods. Among her many job titles are mother (arguably her most demanding with five boys), educator, artist, gardener, collector, volunteer, Mrs. Claus (an honorary title), and finally, wife (second most demanding, if you know Russell).
Our dear friend, mom and wife left us on Friday, May 7, passing away peacefully at home in Missoula, MT, with her husband Russell at her side. A woman in full, Sandra loved life through her passions, friends, and family. It was a life filled to the brim each day; a life of purposeful, humble service; a life lived in genuine love and compassion for others. With an infectious smile and twinkle in her eye, she made a lasting difference in the lives of many. While the memories of all Sandra did may fade over time, her lasting impact will be how she truly touched those around her. In the words of Maya Angelou, “people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Note, some of you may know Sandra as “Emma,” a nickname bestowed on her by a son’s fraternity brothers. It fit, with its meaning of grandmother and quality of being nurturing. Appropriately, it’s associated with the scripture verse “He who is generous will be blessed” from Proverbs 22:9. Change “he” to “she” and you get the picture.
Born January 6, 1933, in Lansing, MI, Sandra Blymyer Cross was the only child of Frank and Pearl Blymyer. With moves to Detroit and eventually Chicago, she finished high school in the western suburb of Clarendon Hills. Sandra attended Drake University in Des Moines, IA, receiving a degree in Fine Arts and a minor in Retailing. She chose Drake because it was the only school which allowed her to take art classes in her freshman year. An artist at heart, it came out in everything she did over the years. Her tradition of having guests at her Michigan home paint stones is still carried on by her family. While in college, she parlayed her talent into running advertising for all the Younkers department stores in Des Moines. Drake is also where she began her years of involvement her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta. Years later, as an active alumnus she presented her granddaughter Megan with her pin when she joined KAO.
Most importantly, Drake is where Sandra met the love of her life, Russell, whom she married on September 4, 1954. If you don’t know the story yet, it’s a Cross classic. After dropping his girlfriend (another Sandra…) off at the train station, Russell passed Sandra on his way out. She blew by him at her usual fast pace, so he had to call the next day to ask her out on a date. What was supposed to be coffee turned into her first legal beer. A few months later when Russell offered his fraternity pin, Sandra showed her moxie by saying, “Russ, I’m honored you’re offering, but if it’s not a forerunner of the future, I don’t want it.” He got the message, and you know the rest.
Through her poem “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver challenges all of us with the question “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Those familiar with Sandra know she sought to make the most of every day. A whirlwind of activity, she only slowed down to eat or sleep. When switched to off, she shut down wherever she was, which could be her living room chair at the end of the day. It wasn’t just busy; she put her whole heart into everything she did. And what may have seemed like chaos was really purpose. Every night she wrote in her journal, recording the day’s activities and then planning out the next. Even with age as she lost the feeling in her fingers, was in constant pain, and struggled with her sight, she was never content to sit and simply longed to be doing. So, what all did Sandra do? Top of the list for her was family, friends, and faith.
Nurturing five boys into men put Sandra on the road to sainthood. Through her ingenuity, drive, and gift for making a lot from a little (think loaves and fish…), they never were in want for anything. Her passion for gardening meant incredible fruit and vegetables during the summer and fall, with plenty of canned food for the rest of the year. Her apple sauce and grape juice were big hits. Never afraid to try new things, she learned to downhill ski, tearing straight down the hill, and cross-country ski, going for hours but always in the lead. Her kids are a testament to who she was. A long line of Crosses will carry on after Sandra. She is survived by four sons, including Russ Cross III and his wife Beth; Dr. Andy Cross and his wife Mary; Eric Cross and his wife Jenny; and David Cross; and a daughter-in-law, Kate Cross. She also has fifteen grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.
A networker long before social media made it easy, Sandra maintained relationships that stretched back to friends from high school. Daily walks or talks with dear friends such as Kathy Betterton and Jean Veasman made her whole. Playing bridge with friends brought out her competitive spirit. When not in person, postcards were her weapon of choice. It’s likely the Postal Service suffered a noticeable decline in volume since Sandra stopped writing and sending packages. For whatever reason, she couldn’t write in the morning, only in the afternoon. As a result, her delivery boy, Russell, always made it to the Post Office just after the doors were locked. The Postmaster would always open, however, because he knew it was for Sandra. Rumor has it that even on her honeymoon, she was busy writing postcards while sitting in the Brown Bottle at the Schlitz brewery in Milwaukee.
Church and spiritual growth were always part of Sandra’s life. In Michigan, she attended retreats with WinSome Women, an interdenominational fellowship of women with a shared desire to better know Jesus Christ. Not surprisingly, her greatest contribution to all the churches she attended was through her artistry. The steady hum of her sewing machine at home usually meant she was working on another banner for sanctuary at the Presbyterian Church in Indianola. It was pinecones and nuts for the holidays at the Methodist Church in Pentwater. She started her long role as Mrs. Claus at the Methodist Church in Indianola. Whatever the task or season, her goal was to bring greater joy and meaning to those seeking God’s presence in the church.
In Sandra’s mind, she never held a job and wasn’t officially employed like many of her friends. Reality tells quite a different story. She held many jobs, most without title or recognition, but all focused on enriching the lives of others. All natural outlets for her God-given creative talents and unbounded energy. Many organizations benefited from her involvement, including elementary schools, P.E.O. International and Meals on Wheels, to mention a few. Impossible to slow down, when her beloved Corvair convertible started having problems, Sandra didn’t miss a beat. Instead, she attached metal baskets to her single-speed bike and hit the road, logging more miles than a professional cyclist.
Sandra’s work with the Humane Society meant an endless rotation of dogs going through the house until they were adopted. Growing up, her sons waited with excitement (and maybe a little dread…) to see what kind of dog would show up next. Her commitment ultimately led to a new family member when Duchess, a gentle Irish Setter, stayed on permanently.
Her involvement with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary started with her family. After Eric attended a safe boating course, he came home fired up and told his parents the Coast Guard desperately needed new members. Heeding the call, and her son’s enthusiasm, Sandra plunged in. Twenty-one years later, she had taught her own enhanced version of the safe boating course to thousands of kids in Iowa. She particularly loved working with younger children because they were like “sponges” with the information. Keep in mind, she did all this while living in Indianola, with no substantial lake or river nearby.
After finishing a tour of Sandra’s home, a new guest once declared surprise that she seemed to be highly proficient in at least fourteen different areas of interest. Fascinated by their beauty and process of creation, one of her more unique interests was collecting shells. True to form, she didn’t just collect shells. She was all in with display cases in her homes and a road show she created to educate kids about shells. For an interesting story, ask Russell about the time they were stopped at the Canadian border for trying to bring fish bones into the U.S.
Many friends experienced Sandra through her cookies. Every holiday was marked by certain cookies made and decorated a certain way. Ever resourceful, she found that Pringle cans were just the right size to send her ginger snap cookies to family and friends. Away from home one Christmas, she still spent an entire afternoon in the kitchen baking cookies because she had to get them out. It was her way of giving and making the season even more special. A neighbor in Michigan still remembers Sandra stopping by to drop off her hand-decorated turkey cookies for Thanksgiving.
At this point, you may be thinking ‘Wow, this was one amazing woman. Was she superhuman? Had she any limitations?’ Yes, the human condition applied to Sandra, and she was not perfect. One area where she lacked talent was her singing voice. When joining her sorority, she was instructed to learn the words to the pledge song and lip sync, but by no means was she to sing. True to her character, however, she never stopped trying. Shortly before she passed, Russell found her singing “Yes, Jesus loves me.” She looked at him and said, “I sounded pretty good.”
While no longer with us, Sandra, and the memory of her still lives on. As she said to Russell, “When I get there, I’ll be rolling round heaven all day.” It’s comforting to think about her going about her business with the same fervor, purpose, love, and compassion, but now without the pain and suffering of her later years. And she’s certainly loving her son, Frank Bennett, his son, Benjamin, as well as her parents and stepmother, Phyllis Jepson, holding them close as only a mother can do.
To cherish her memory, services will be held at Missoula Alliance Church in Missoula, MT, on June 4 (2:00 pm) and at Centenary United Methodist Church in Pentwater, MI, on July 9 (2:00 pm), each followed by receptions, both with plenty of cookies. She will be interred at Pentwater Township Cemetery on July 9.
Find your own special way to honor her memory, or support one of her passions with a donation to either the Pentwater Arts Council at www.pentwaterartscouncil.org or Communities Overcoming Violent Encounters (COVE) at www.callcove.com.