Celebrating our Local Women's History
Stories from Women Living in the Southeast Valley as told by CGCC Students in partnership with Gilbert Historical Museum
Oral History of Sandra Yachnin Schmalzbach

Oral History of Sandra Schmalzbach
Interview conducted by Shelly Boshes April 1, 2008

Sandra "Grandma Max" Schmalzbach was born a world traveler in Suffix, New Jersey on July 11, 1934, to Harry and Naomi Yachnin. Her only living brother, Stanley Yachnin, who is 8 years older than she, was a role model for Sandy when she was growing up. Her father was a stockbroker before the 1929 crash and a clerk for a company that made dental equipment. Her mother worked as a stay-at-home mom until Sandy was 6. From the time she was born to the time she graduated high school, Sandy went to ten different schools but only studied six grades.

Her mother and father divorced when Sandy was six years old, which made the family move more than they really wanted to, and forced her mother to leave the kids at home and get a job as a sales lady. In Sandy's junior year of high school, her mother married Eddie Hill, and the family moved to Chicago, where she graduated high school. Since she moved so much, Sandy graduated high school when she was only 16, which was extremely hard for women to do at the time, because of the segregation of women in the work force and the popular thinking that women should only be barefoot and pregnant at home.

After graduation, Sandy started working at The Toning Company in Chicago. They had an education program, which paid for Sandy to go to night school and study journalism. Sandy really wanted to go to Northwestern University in Illinois. The bad thing about women going to college in 1951 was a lot of colleges, like NWU, had a quota for the number of women who could attend. It was worse for Sandy because she was also Jewish. Since she didn't want to be taking night classes, she stopped going to school and started to work.

On January 4, 1959, Sandy got married to Edward Levy in Chicago, Illinois. During the first five years of their marriage, Sandy gave birth to Debra Sue Levy on March 19, 1960 and Elizabeth Levy on November 9, 1962. Married life for Sandy was extremely difficult, but the only thing that mattered was that she brought two wonderful girls into this world.

When her daughters were younger, Sandy and the girls made an ice skating rink in the backyard when they lived in Chicago, Illinois. When the girls were a little older, Sandy went back to work at VISTA and OEO as a secretary. Since her work was across the street from the girls' school, she could see them play on the playground and even have lunch with them at work. Since she had the luxury of this, the girls did not turn into "Latch-key Kids" who were left at home by themselves, while their parents were away at work.

In 1970, Sandy, Edward, and the girls moved to Arizona for better weather, job security and better schooling. Debbie and Beth both graduated high school; Debbie went to ASU and Beth went to Northwestern University, which ironically was the college Sandy wanted to go to. In 1984, Sandy and Edward got divorced. She moved to Kansas City, Missouri for three years before moving back to Arizona in 1988.

On October 22, 1988, Sandy and Richard Schmalzbach got married in Las Vegas. They met each other at a Jewish single's dance and knew they were meant to be together. Both Sandy and Richard had grown kids from previous marriages, which made it much easier for the families to get along. Sandy and Richard worked for the federal government; through her work, Sandy was introduced to the group called Federal Employed Women. She became the chapter president, which helped women rise up and also break the glass ceiling regarding equal paychecks and equal rights.

Sandra is 73 years old now, and she has been retired for 8 years. She has five grandchildren, goes to college everyday, and resides in Bluffton, South Carolina. Her favorite thing to do is travel around the world with her Shalom Club friends and play mahjong on the weekends. Hopefully she wants to sell her house this summer and move back to Arizona to be with her children and grandchildren. Although she has buried two husbands, she keeps living strong and is the best grandmother a grandchild could have!

Photos courtesy of the family.

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Bizare grandparents

Naomi Bizare

Harry Yachnin

Harry, Sandra, and Naomi

Sandra Yachnin

Sandra Yachnin

High School Graduation

Naomi Hill, Eddie Hill and Sandra Yachnin

Sandra Levy and Debra Levy