If These Walls Could Talk

“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing,”
George Bernard Shaw

How do you find out who you used to be and how you got to be who you are? Why listen to the little voice that tells you, “this part is interesting–pay attention!”

What is your story?

Perhaps your story is for your great grandchildren, or maybe it’s just for you, to read your life the one and only one you own, on clean white paper. It may make you smile, or cry or jump out and shout, “when did all this happen, and how did I remember it all?”

Nancy Kessler is a writer of memoirs.

She started her company Memoirs Plus this year to assist in telling life’s stories.


Kessler grew up in South Orange, New Jersey and clearly remembers Mrs. Blanchet, her neighbor. “She was well into her 80’s at the time and she used to give all the neighborhood kids butterscotch candies right before dinnertime,” Kessler remembered. “I used to sit and listen to Mrs. Blanche’s stories for hours.”

Kessler graduated Skidmore and went on to study at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, one of only two programs in the country located on a museum campus rather than a university campus, where students study how to be a museum professional. Upon graduating Kessler worked at the Museum Of The City Of New York. She stayed seven years and moved on to work for “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz the Commissioner of Transportation.


“I knew I wanted to go back and work with Seniors,” she said. “As much as I loved the museum and Mr. Schwartz, my heart was calling me back to a different place in time.”

Kessler went on to become the Program Director at Atria a senior living community in Rye Brook. “I think I have always had three loves — history, art and stories from the elders.” she laughed.

Kessler spends a good deal of time with the person she is helping write their memoir and sits with family members as well. What she gives back is a completely bound book with a story and photos provided by the family. The whole process takes a few months.

Kessler’s Mom, an extremely active 80 something — and whose memoir Kessler is also writing — always loved museums and now volunteers at a museum. When I asked if that was where Kessler found her passion as a young person she said, “No, she has always loved history as well, but I think she copied me!”


Ready, Set, Decorative Paint

Part of the main house at The Carey Mansion, a sprawling mansion in Newport Rhode Island designed in the French Renaissance Revival Chateauesque style, was leased to Salve Regina University until 2009. The exterior was used as the fictional Collinwood Mansion in the television series Dark Shadows.

In 1977 Susan Strange, a young student at Salve Regina University, snuck into her dorm, the day before classes started, and painted her room a nice rose color with a beautiful cream trim. One day later, she was expelled from college for trespassing.

“From the time I was five years I have been obsessed with color,” Strange admited. “My father would take me to the paint store where he worked and I would get to match all the paint chips. How could I not paint my dorm room before class began?”

Strange along with her business and romantic partner Joe LeBlanc own Real Faux, a decorative painting business.

Strange studied Art History at University of Rhode Island and later was a district visual manager for Bed Bath & Beyond and a wardrobe stylist for Jerry Lewis Telethons. LaBlanc attended SUNY Maritime and received a degree in Meteorology and Oceanography and really wanted to search for buried treasure at the bottom of the ocean. A self taught landscape photographer, LeBlanc’s Uncle is a fine artist who also started a decorative painting company back in the 80’s.

The two artists met on a singles hike in New Paltz. “Joe was in a red shirt, my all time favorite color,” Strange remembered. They began the business together in 2004.

LeBlanc is the production end of the business with Strange acting as colorist and designer. Strange has taken numerous classes with World-renowned decorative paint master Mike MacNeil whose clients include Charlie Sheen, Steven Spielberg, Casey Kasem, and George Clooney.

Real Faux shot a pilot for HGTV in 2007 where the couple taught two couples how to produce a venetian plaster effect on walls. “We were terrible on camera!” Strange cried. “The series was never picked up, maybe because of our on camera skills but the producers said there were just too many competition shows.”

When on an estimate, Strange takes in the entire environment of the home. She visually sizes up what colors the potential client wears, colors of cars in the driveway, hair colors, how many children and pets are around and very much comes to color and technique conclusions in a very holistic approach.

“If your children are young, walls may take a beating, we take that into account.” she said.
Real Faux can also transform old furniture into new and vibrant parts of any room décor and has done work as far as Miami Florida and Amagansett New York.

“We really love painting restaurants too,” LeBlanc offered. “We designed the entire feel and color scheme at the Flying Horse in Mount Kisco and other businesses in and around Westchester and Rockland.”

A new part of the business model coming soon is paint by numbers on old barnwood tables.

“My Dad designed furniture using old barn wood,” LeBlanc explained. “We have all his contacts and will be purchasing old barn wood tables, finding images and projecting them onto the tables to paint. The new line of tables should be available starting this Fall and will be called Real Faux Tables.”

The two laugh and have a really good time while they work. They love when kids and dogs are around and LeBlanc admits that Strange is his own one woman variety show. “She makes me laugh everyday and that is her gift to me.”

Real Faux Website: http://www.realfauxco.com/index.html

Want to Become a Master Gardener?

Annie Christian-Reuter has been the Horticulture Community Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland County for a little over a year. Christian’s office, along with many of her colleague’s offices, are housed in Stony Point in a former Letchworth Village building.

Christian-Reuter lived in and around New York for the last ten years and attended the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture. She worked for a landscape designer in Brooklyn and as a Fine Gardener in Boston.

We spoke about the Master Gardener Volunteer Program and the many other programs at Cornell.

Master Gardener Volunteer Program

What is the exact process of the Master Gardener Program?

The mission of the program is to provide Rockland County’s youth and adults unbiased gardening information that is based on research and/or reliable experience through a “neighbors-teaching-neighbors” type program.

My office provides potential participants’ with a printed application form. There is a $300 fee for the training programs.

In addition, the applicant will be asked to meet with a staff member of Cornell Cooperative Extension Center for an interview.

Once accepted into the program, the “intern” must attend approximately twenty training classes. They are usually held on Thursdays from 9am to 4pm. This year the training is partnered with the Hudson Valley Master Gardener Program with offices in Middletown, New York.

The program is only offered every two years and it is being held this year. If you are a qualified participant and still wish to fill out an application, we will be viewing applications until August 15th.

The training takes place September through February.

Once an intern completes the training they are asked to donate at least one hundred hours of volunteer time over a two-year period. There are many opportunities to volunteer including teaching classes through the Speaker’s Bureau, working with children, teachers in school and after school programs, assisting in community garden projects, horticulture therapy programs, working in the Cornell offices in Thiells, answering questions at community events and other activities determined by CCE.

What happens after two years?

After two years the interns are officially Master Gardener Volunteers and need to volunteer at least 36 hours a year to keep their status up-to-date.

What other things are happening here at CCE?

There is a horticulture lab run by Michael Wilson. He takes many calls throughout the day and anyone can bring in insects or plants for identification purposes. There is a small fee.


We also have an Eat Smart Program, a 4-H Program, an Environmental Educator, an The Institute for Non-Profits.

What is the School Garden Network?

The School Garden Network (SGN) is Rockland County’s educational resource network for schools with gardens or “growing windowsills” that use garden- based learning activities to support curricular goals. A collaboration of CCE Community Horticulture, Environmental and Youth Development Educators and Master Gardener volunteers, the SGN provides valuable information on teaching subject areas relevant to New York State Curriculum.

What is the Speakers Bureau?
Master Gardener Volunteers as part of their training and volunteerism go out and about and speak about a variety of subjects involved with horticulture.

A few topics are:
Planning and Planting an Herb Garden Landscape Design for the New Homeowner Growing Roses
Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Herbs and their Uses
Gardening with Children
Xeriscape Gardening
Shade Gardening
Taking the Mystery out of Growing Orchids
The Art of Bonsai
Starting Plants from Seed
Decorating with Houseplants
Making New Plants through Propagation
How to Start a Community Garden
How to Start a School Garden & Keep it Growing
Eco-Friendly Landscaping
Organic Gardening

Many presentations can be tailored for your group and the group does not have to be a non-profit.

There are also tours of the gardens here in Thiells. Next tour is August 31 at 1pm.


Please feel free to contact Annie Christian-Reuter with any questions.
10 Patriot Hills Drive Stony Point, NY www.rocklandcce.org

Hello Richard Skipper

I was announced by Horace, a slightly overprotective and immensely curious Yorkshire Terrier. The house was filled with rich history, comfy hominess, beautiful antiques and a fresh pot of coffee. Outdoors in back, a cascading pond, mature plantings, a small vegetable garden and a perfect seating area awaited us.

“When I was thirteen,” began Richard Skipper “I read a book about creative visualization and placing your mind on a goal in order to achieve it. I did just that and later told my parents, and anyone in earshot for that matter, that I was moving to New York in five years.”


“I was king of impersonations. I would stand outside in the schoolyard and make my fellow students laugh, doing little acts and impersonating many of the current stars including Carol Channing.”

The mindful relocation announcement came in 1974, exactly five years later, almost to the day on August 5, 1979, Skipper arrived in New York.

Skipper, who now resides in Sparkill, with his husband Daniel Sherman, is an actor, entertainer, producer, blogger, coach and theater public relations expert. He has interviewed the likes of Tommy Tune, Debbie Reynolds, Morgan Freeman and other Broadway and Hollywood luminaries.

Originally from Conway, South Carolina, Skipper grew up on a tobacco farm and worked many summers on the land. Florence Epps, the town theater teacher, lover of literature and tireless proponent for children’s theater, told him that he did not belong in Conway—you have a career ahead of you, she said, but you must get rid of that accent.

“She was my mentor,” he explained. “She and her sister lived next door to one another but did not speak since her mail order husband ended up marrying her sister instead of Florence!”

Skipper, at eighteen with five hundred dollars in his pocket, began his life in New York on 86th street and Second avenue. “I came to New York to be an actor,” he recalled, “I grew up on variety shows, unfortunately that world was dwindling about the time I arrived.”

His parents did not take Skipper’s dreams seriously. He was the oldest of four with a Mother who was the oldest of sixteen and a Father who was one of ten children.

“When you grew up in Conway, you never left.” he said. “Nobody really understood me, I knew I had to leave.”

Skipper began playing at piano bars, perfecting his act. Shortly thereafter he heard about an audition for All American Boy and arrived for auditions. A few fellow actors recognized him as the Carol Channing impersonator and the musical director decided to write a Channing part into the show.

With no costume, wig, makeup or any idea of how to dress as Carol Channing, Skipper begrudgingly took the part. “I did not want to be pigeonholed as a female impersonator,” he explained. “I wanted to be an actor, but this was work so I had to say yes.”

The first night the audience was screaming in laughter. “They asked for an encore,” Skipper remembered. But this was an off Broadway show, not a nightclub act, there are no encores. The producers were not happy with Skipper stealing the show and cut his part.

The Channing costume went into storage for about ten years and did not come out other than every Halloween when Skipper would dress and act as Carol Channing.

Ikenna Benéy in Las Vegas - The Entertainment Network - Show Of Shows 2006 in Las Vegas

Then in 1990 John Glines, a playwright and producer, called Skipper. He wrote Men of Manhattan and told Skipper he wrote a part for him. The character was obsessed with Carol Channing. And so, it turned out the character in Men of Manhattan would not be the only one.

Skipper began acting as Carol Channing from New York to Atlantic City to Las Vegas. “I never thought this would be my career for twenty years!” he said.

Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for 25 years, he called Skipper’s act– 95% dazzling perfect impersonation, plus 5% shrewd but loving impersonation= 100% hilarious, I certainly had a good time.

“I’m an actor and no matter how hard I work I will never be Carol Channing”, he commented. “Most drag shows are over-the-top and can be mean. My show was never that. I grew up loving Carol Channing. I wanted people to get as close as they could to Carol.

In 1994 Carol Channing was planning on performing her last revival of Hello Dolly. Skipper had never met Channing. His friend, Lee LaForge who was playing at the event tried to persuade Skipper to arrive as Channing. “I didn’t want to do it but I knew that if I didn’t, this would be one of the biggest mistakes in life I ever made.” said Skipper


I arrived and my friend Lee was waiting for me. Cameras were flashing all over the place. He took me to where Carol was seated and said,

“Carol meet Carol Channing.”

The first thing she said was “where did you learn to do this?” On queue and acting entirely as Carol, Skipper told her that he learned in Seattle Washington (where Channing is from) and on it went. Channing was then 78.

She asked where she could catch him perform and he answered, “upstairs in five minutes.”

The rest is cabaraet history. The two became wonderful friends from that moment on and Channing gave Skipper her blessing to act as Carol whenever and wherever he wished.

“I never made fun of Carol as some have.” he said.

I really love her.

At 93 years young, it appears that Carol Channing also loves Richard Skipper, the kind boy who came to New York with a dream to act, and did just that.

Skipper continues to perform and is busy writing a book about the 50th Anniversary of Hello Dolly. He can be reached on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RichardSkipper?fref=ts or on twitter: https://twitter.com/RichardSkipper

Website:http://www.richardskipper.com and http://www.callondolly.com