At the Rose Ball recently, Sandy Kowalski, 70, of Placerville looked like a youthful, dainty and dignified Victorian lady. Her upswept hair, understated make-up and smooth, translucent skin seemed reminiscent of yesteryear.
In fact, someone was heard to say that Kowalski’s delicate features are reminiscent of the cameo brooches that were so popular back in the day. Usually blue and white or pink and white ivory cameo pins were de rigueur back in the day, symbolic of the idealized refined beauty of the times.
Nominated by the Hangtown Grange to become El Dorado Rose 2012, Kowalski has been a Lady of the Court since 2010.
Impressed by Kowalski’s volunteer service, her knowledge and feel for history, as well as her love for El Dorado County, the Hangtown Grange sponsored Kowalski’s candidacy in 2010.
Now in 2012, the Hangtown Grange is even more enthusiastic about its candidate. While knowledgeable and capable, Kowalski seemed somewhat timid and engagingly shy just a few years ago.
But since Kowalski became a member of the Rose Court, she has blossomed, now glowing with the pride and confidence that camaraderie with other Roses can bring.
“I really enjoy going to all the activities that Roses help to make special,” Kowalski said. “The parades, the chamber mixers, the Butterfly Concert … everything just seems so much more special when the Rose or the Rose Court attend with their vintage attire and wonderful hats. It is really fun. I really enjoy the ribbon cuttings especially, because I want El Dorado County to thrive and to welcome new businesses.”
Kowalski’s avid attendance at events has made her flourish as an ambassador and charming representative of the county she has embraced. Before she retired, Kowalski created maps of the county as part of her job. One of her favorite avocations now, besides the Rose Court duties, is her volunteer service at the Fountain-Tallman Museum in downtown Placerville.
“I really enjoy meeting people from all over the world and educating them about the historical impact that El Dorado County had and has on the world. I’ve discovered that the Gold Rush is rarely mentioned in the history books around the world. I ask people, especially young adults, what they’ve studied about the Gold Rush, and they generally hadn’t heard of it,” Kowalski said.
At the museum, Kowalski seems to open doors to new information and cultural understanding. Around the world, there is a “cowboy and Indian” image that excites children around the world, but “Gold Fever” created a new paradigm.
Kowalski appears to ignite a quest for knowledge, especially by pointing out historical artifacts and highlighting some of the hardships encountered by the 49ers during the Gold Rush. Crossing the country in covered wagons or rounding Cape Horn in ships, pioneers suffered many tribulations and deprivations.
In the meantime, El Dorado County’s original inhabitants, the Miwok Indians encountered a cruel new reality, so different from the rituals and abundant trade that provided for a peaceful existence. In any case, Kowalski enjoys triggering curiosity, leading to even more exploration of the county terrain and heritage.
If people don’t have time to enjoy the museum, Gold Bug Park, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park and other points of interest, Kowalski knows that they will visit again or at least tell their friends about all the El Dorado County attractions.
“Tourists and locals alike are fascinated by El Dorado County history,” Kowalski asserted, “and I really feel that we should study the past and apply that knowledge to the present and the future.”
Kowalski wanted to be a history teacher, but life and children intervened, and she ended up working for law enforcement agencies most of her life. With excellent computer and clerical skills, Kowalski worked for El Dorado County.
One special project was making maps. They may now be obsolete, she said, with GPS and innovative computer programs, but she enjoyed it immensely and still is fascinated by county geography. When she sees the maps she labored on, Kowalski has a sense of pride and accomplishment.
She also has integral knowledge of El Dorado County’s topography.
With her two daughters grown up (one whose wedding she attended just before the 2010 pageant) Kowalski was able to follow her California dreams. The bus ride cross country, she said, was hard. She can only imagine how much more difficult it was in a covered wagon.
Kowalski arrived in Placerville in 1998. She had an aunt in Placerville, a town and area that had always resonated with her. She fell in love with Placerville at first sight, and immediately felt at home, like she belonged.
Hoping to escape the brutal, snow-laden winters of Michigan, she was surprised to find it to be snowing when she disembarked from the Greyhound bus that brought her cross country.
During many of Kowalski’s activities, she is dressed au courant. But when she dons the outfits of yesteryear as a Lady of the Court, Kowalski really shines.
El Dorado Rose Mary Ann Harper and Lady of the Court Judy Muetz are among Kowalski’s “partners in crime” (or lack thereof).
Thus Kowalski is prepared for the rigors, fun and distinction of becoming El Dorado Rose. She also has assembled quite a wardrobe, so her ensembles to wear as El Dorado Rose are ready to go.
Not only does Kowalski thank her Hangtown Grange sponsors, including Muetz for her outfits, she seems pretty nonchalant about the time and effort it takes to dress like a Rose.
“It’s worth it,” said Kowalski, without stating the obvious: the outfits are becoming, and somehow perfectly apt for her classic demeanor and petite frame.
Like most Ladies of the Court, Kowalski would be honored to become El Dorado Rose 2012. At the Rose Ball, someone told Kowalski that if she became El Dorado Rose, she would be gifted with a cameo brooch since her face is so reflective of that image.
But since a Rose is a Rose, whether wearing the sash of the rose or a member of the Rose Court, Kowalski’s deep love for El Dorado County will continue to be her gift to the area in which she feels such a sense of deja vu.
The El Dorado Rose 2012 will be announced at the Rose Pageant at the El Dorado County Fair.
E-mail the author at [email protected]
Editor’s note: The profiles of Rose candidates Sharon McDavid and Rosemary Lewis will appear in future issues.