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Sue Bush
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Berkshire Profile: Sharon Leary

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sharon Leary, community health adviocate with the REACH Community Health Foundation
Welcome to Berkshire Profile, an iberkshires weekly feature appearing on Sunday. Each week, iberkshires will highlight a Berkshires resident or entity making a contribution to the Berkshires way of life.

North Adams - When the conversation turns to music, Sharon Leary is energized.

A Love Of All Things Strait

"George Strait is my man," she said during a July 15 interview. "My favorite song of his is 'Blue Clear Sky.'"

When the country music legend performed at the New York-based Pepsi Arena in January, Leary and several friends were there to watch.

"He does in the round [performances] and we were about 10 rows back," Leary said. "I swear we were at eye level. My friends were laughing because I was so mesmerized."

One But Not The Only

Strait isn't the only performer to have earned Leary's admiration.

Tim McGraw, Sheryl Crow, Van Morrison, and groups including Creedence Clearwater Revival are high on Leary's favorites list as well, she said.

"And I'd really like to be able to go to SPAC [Saratoga Performing Arts Center in New York] next week to see Chicago and Huey Lewis," she said.

Time is at a premium for Leary, whose "day job" focuses on work as a community health advocate for the Northern Berkshire Healthcare REACH Community Health Foundation. She is also a part-time server at the Hobson's Choice restaurant in Williamstown, and she volunteers as a "big sister" with the region's Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America chapter.

Don't They Call That Western Mass.?

Leary, 40, is not a Berkshire native.

She came to North Adams from Springfield in 1992 as a student enrolled at the then-named North Adams State College, now known as the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Previous excursions to the area led her to investigate the education resources at the city-based college, she said.

"I had been to the Berkshires when I was younger. And we came up to the Clark [Clark Art Institute in Williamstown] once during October. It was a great ride and I loved the area. So when I was looking at going back to school, I looked into the [North Adams State] college a bit more, and ended up coming here."

As a child, she lived in the Forest Park section of Springfield and attended the Frederick Harris elementary school.

Back In The Day

"Back in the day, I walked to school," she said. "It was about a 15-minute walk and I walked it in the snow, sleet, rain, whatever the weather. I remember we would stop and pick lilacs for our teacher in the spring. And then there was this dilapidated house that we called a haunted house. We used to dare each other to go inside."

Her high school alma mater, Classical High School, no longer exists. Her 1984 graduating class contained over 400 students, Leary said and noted that the high school - one of four in the city at that time-hosted a student population of more than 1000.

"I remember my chemistry classroom had a hole in the ceiling and the rain would come pouring in," Leary said. "And there was one stairway that I would never go on because whenever people were on it, it would shake."

Of high schools that existed during Leary's high school days, only Commerce and Putnam high schools remain. Two newer high schools, the Science and Technology and Central schools, replaced the Classical and a technical high school.

Leary began working toward a degree in finance at the Springfield Community College after high school graduation. While a student, she worked part-time at a bank, which led to a full-time job. She was offered a summer job as a temporary worker hired by what was then the New England Telephone company and "I liked it so much I stayed on," she said.

The '90s: Work And School

During 1992, Leary was included in a New England Telephone company temporary worker lay-off, and she decided to return to college and finish earning a degree in finance. The move to the Northern Berkshires delivered Leary into the hectic world of classes and employment; she graduated from NASC in 1996 with a bachelors degree in finance.

While a student, she was employed at the former City Savings Bank, now the Legacy Banks, and after college graduation, she accepted full-time bank employment and was eventually promoted as an assistant manager of a Great Barrington bank branch office.

Leary then accepted employment with the Lichtfield Financial Services firm when the company was headquartered in Stamford, Vt., and moved with the firm when the company relocated its offices to Williamstown.

Employment at Lichtfield provided Leary more than a paycheck, she said. She met her best friend Billie Jo [Rogowski] Sawyer amidst a pool of co-workers.

"We both started work the same day," Leary said. "We didn't know each other when we started there. She is so great. Whenever I am with her, my whole point of view changes. You can't not feel good when you are around her."

"The Art Was Wonderful"

Textron, Inc. purchased Lichtfield in 1999; in 2001, Leary was among the workers the firm laid off. She spent some time that summer as a Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute volunteer during the Impressions exhibit.

The experience was something she will always treasure, Leary said.

"It was great," she said. "The art was wonderful, and I was able to see the exhibit. And I was able to see some of the celebrities that visited the Clark; Candice Bergen, Diane Sawyer, and Mike Nichols."

She was asked to return to Textron later in 2001 and she remained with the firm until September 2003, when she began as a post-secondary Charles H. McCann Technical High School medical assisting curriculum student. She was also working as a waitress.

Tough Choice Leads To New Job

She was about halfway through the medical assisting program when she had to face some tough financial realities that meant leaving the program to return to full-time employment, Leary said. She sent resumes to several local entities and the REACH foundation called her for an interview, she said.

She was hired as a community health advocate in 2004.

"I really like the job," she said. "I like helping people find services, I like the marketing aspect of the job. I really like creating the programs. And there is some freedom associated with the job. I'm not stuck behind a desk for eight hours a day every day."

A teaching career or a career in nursing may be in her future, Leary said.

"Nursing has always been there as an interest," Leary said. "I've had thoughts about being a nurse since I was 13 years old."

Teaching holds appeal as well, and Leary said she is considering enrollment as a student of a MCLA graduate program focused on education.

A Red Sox Fan

She would like to remain in the area, Leary said and emphasized that she and "Remy," a dog named for former Red Sox second baseman Jerry Remy- have made a wonderful home in the Northern Berkshires.

"I'm a huge Red Sox fan and I named my dog 'Remy'," she said. "We call her the 'Remdog.' I adopted her from the Berkshire Humane Society. I remember going down there and here she was in the kennel, just looking at me all wild, like a little red fox with pointy ears. So I ended up getting her and there she was, nine months old, running all around the place. We did have a rough patch with the chewing but she's great now. She's so loving."

"Remy" has made a few friends of her own; the little dog enjoys supervised "play dates" with "Molly," a German Shepherd used by the North Adams police department and owned by city police Officer Al Zoito, Leary said. Leary and Zoito and his wife are neighbors, she noted.

A Great Place To See The Stars

The city has brought some good things to Leary, she said.

"I was actually pretty shy and withdrawn when I came here," she said. "When I moved here, I kind of had to make connections and I am so lucky that the people here are so nice. I am comfortable here, so relaxed. When I go to visit in Springfield, I can't wait to come back. The people are so great here and I've made so many friends. It's a place where I can go out to walk my dog at 10 p.m. and not worry."

"This is a place where I can look out and see Mount Greylock. I can look up and see the stars. I think that makes it a pretty good place."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.

Your Comments
Post Comment
I've had the pleasure of knowing her since '84. I've seen her make it through trials and tribulations. Yes, she is amazing. -Newbury NH
from: Billon: 08-08 00:00:00-2006

I just would like to say that sharon leary is an amazing person. She has been my big sister for over a year now. She has taught me alot in the years time to. She is a very hard worker and a good person to run to.. I love her : )
from: Ali trottieron: 07-17 00:00:00-2006

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