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Sarasota Thursday, Jun. 29, 2017 2 years ago

Longboat resident reflects on life during the Great Depression

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For Arleane Stier, going through one of the toughest periods in American history instilled a lasting sense of gratitude.
by: Nick Friedman Managing Editor of Arts and Culture

Arleane Stier looks at her life with a deep sense of appreciation. She’ll be the first to tell you she has much for which to be thankful.

From the window of her Grand Bay condo on Longboat Key, the 94-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., native can see fish jumping in the bay below. The view is one of life’s simple pleasures, but Stier cherishes it. It’s one of the reasons she first fell in love with the area.

She’s lived a long, full life. Before retirement, she worked as a registered nurse in New Jersey, and in her 50s, she became one of the first female physicians assistants in the country, pioneering protocols for a position previously unavailable to women.

Stier is happy. Her secret? Gratitude.

She remembers a time when things weren’t so easy.

Born in 1922, Stier grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the Great Depression, the youngest daughter of Russian immigrants. Her father, Abraham Miller, came to the United States in 1909 as an accomplished wood carver, working on commissioned pieces for high-end clients like the Vanderbilts and the Mellons. His intricately detailed work is in the Frick Collection in New York City.

But big commissions didn’t necessarily mean big pay.

In her home, Stier displays a photo of her father, wood carver Abraham Miller, near some of his carvings.

“We were poor,” she says. “But everyone we knew was in the same situation. We didn’t know any different. We were taught to be satisfied with what we had. My mother instilled in me not to expect too much out of life, and you won’t be disappointed. She said, ‘Do the best you can, and be happy with what you have.’”

At 16, Stier’s family moved to Orange, N.J., where her father and brother opened a stationery store. She and her two sisters hoped to pursue professional careers. But without money for college, their options were limited.

“At that time, you could either be a typist, a secretary or a nurse,” she says. “Becoming a nurse didn’t cost anything, so I ended up with an RN degree.”

In New Jersey, she met her future husband, Carl Stier, who also came from humble beginnings. Carl Stier worked his way through law school and eventually become a judge in Bloomfield, N.J., where he served for 27 years.

Arleane Stier and her late husband, Carl Stier.

“When we started out in our marriage, we had nothing,” she says. “I can remember we couldn’t even share a hamburger — in those days, you could get a hamburger for a dime. They were tough times, but we didn’t brood about it. We did the best we could, and we were happy.”

Today, Stier is enjoying life on Longboat. On this day, she’s drinking sweet tea in the living room of her condo, surrounded by photos of her three children, five grandsons and two great-grandchildren. 

Her father’s artistic genes kicked in late in life, she says. She took up sculpting and watercolor painting in her 70s.

Stier is cheerful. She’s a great conversationalist and an even better host — quick to offer a slice of warm apple pie. She’s not one to dwell on hardships endured, but her early life experiences no doubt shaped her sunny outlook. It’s a trait she hopes to pass on.

“My advice for younger people is to appreciate what you have,” she says. “Don’t look too far afield. Our generation came from nothing, so we were grateful for everything.”

Stier finishes her tea and glances out the window. It’s storming, and the normally serene view is a dreary gray. But she’s quick to point out the positive.

“Soon the sun will come out,” she says. “If we’re lucky, we’ll see a rainbow.”

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