Phyllis Le Tart has given me the opportunity to put into writing something I've been saying for years when a deprecating remark is made about Cleveland, and let's face it, they are, "That person has never been to Cleveland."
Once upon a time, I lived in Cleveland. Admittedly, as a snob from the New York, my attitude toward moving there wasn't all that positive. However, I soon discovered I'd been dropped into one delightful surprise. Not only did Cleveland have some of the loveliest neighborhoods I'd ever seen, but also some of the nicest people I'd ever met.
Phyllis Le Tart was born and raised in Cleveland and her story is one of love, brains, and an against-all-odds determination to persevere.
Phyllis Le Tart
Phyllis Kucharski and big brother Tom, lived with their parents Walter and Bernice, in a modest, little neighborhood on the South side. Phyllis was a typical nine-year-old at Saint Leo's Catholic School when her father died. His illness and death changed the family situation considerably. Then, when Phyllis was being a teenager at James Ford Rhodes High her mom had a stroke. Tom was grown and newly married and this left Phyllis as the sole support and caretaker of her mother.
Her first job was secretarial, at the Charles A. Peterson Company, where she was a shining example of what a fast learner with a can-do attitude can do. Unfortunately, Bernice continued to have stroke after stroke, and her loving daughter to stepped up efforts at home, in school and at work.
After two years with Charles A. Peterson, Phyllis landed a job at the US Bankruptcy Court in Cleveland as a clerk/secretary or "clerk of the court" where she worked for Judge Paul Gnau and Judge Jerry Patchin and as Deputy Clerk for Judge Herald White. "It sounds better than it was," she laughed. "It was purely an administration function." Let me remind you here, this girl was a teenager. Four years after she went to work for the courts, her mother died.
Phyllis was twenty three.
Tim Perry was a young operations manager at the May Company when he and Phyllis fell in love. They were soon married and still logging in time and knowledge at the bankruptcy court, Phyllis helped put her new husband through the University of Akron.
"I always thought the best thing in the world was to be able to go to college," she said. "My parents never graduated from high school and I thought a college education was a dream come true. I felt bad that I didn't have one."
So, after Tim graduated Phyllis said "It's my turn." In 1976 she quit her job at the court and at the age of 29 became a freshman at the University of Akron. It looked like her dream was indeed coming true. Six months later, Tim died of a burst aneurism, shattering Phyllis world for the third time.
"The Courthouse offered me my old job back but as my grandmother told me, if you look back things will never be different. You have to keep looking ahead."
Phyllis graduated from Akron in two-and-a half years and decided not to stop.
"Did I think I could be a lawyer? Yes, I did." She went on and took the LSATs. "You can't think long range you just have to keep moving forward. Going back to school was the first thing I'd ever really done for myself."
Lauren Le Tart came into Phyllis life as a friend of Tim's. He was an executive of the May Company; and when Tim died Lauren helped Phyllis navigate the mess of omnipresent red tape encountered when a spouse dies and your mind is on anything but red tape. "Lauren was great and I don't know what I would have done if he hadn't been there to help me."
Phyllis began sending in applications to law schools and Case Western Reserve came up the winner. In 1979 she took another step forward. She was going to be a lawyer. Meanwhile her friendship with Lauren had grown into love. They were married in 1980 as Phyllis finished her first year of law school.
Two years later, the bar-passing, sworn-in, full-fledged attorney, Phyllis LeTart became an associate at the Ohio law firm of Weston, Hurd, Fallon Paisley & Hawley.
Lauren left the May Company in 1984 and the Le Tarts moved to New Jersey, he as an executive at the headquarters of Spenser Gifts and she as Assistant Corporate Counsel at the Sands Hotel in Atlantic City. "I had to obtain a Key License from the Casino Control Commission to get the job." She laughed but was pretty proud of the rigorous procedure which included a scrupulous background check and a 60-page application, not only because she made it though, but also that her industry demands it.
Working her way up to General Counsel, Phyllis was always hands-on perfecting celebrity contracts for the Sands and has some good memories of meeting and working with Cher, Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston, Jay Leno, Billy Chrystal and the list goes on. One of her favorites was Cher. "Cher was just great," Phyllis said. "She insisted that dress rehearsal be an all-employee show and she couldn't have been nicer to everyone." She remembers watching Willy Nelson sitting on the steps of his bus chatting it up with the employees. And, when Sammy Davis Jr. was dying, Phyllis drew up a contract for him so his agent could tell the legendary entertainer, "Sammy, I booked you at the Sands."
Four years ago, at the recommendation of the former president of the Sands now with Penn National Gaming, Phyllis was offered the Vice President Legal and Business Affairs spot at Charles Town Races & Slots.
"Lauren and I took a historic tour of this beautiful area. We went all over Harpers Ferry, Antietam and when we stopped in this charming little university town and had dinner at the Bavarian Inn, we knew Shepherdstown was it." And that is how these nice folks from Cleveland became Shepherdstonians.
Phyllis put her efforts toward CTR&S support of the community and when Shepherdstown Day Care Center needed refurbishing she obtained approval to bring a team of employees over on Day of Caring to repair and wash the windows and paint the trim. She's on the Board of the Day Care Center and CASA and "When I need something, if it's available here, I buy it here." Shepherdstown has everything.
Two years ago the Le Tarts moved into their wonderfully sprawling, party-friendly and quite magnificent home with three working fireplaces, overlooking the 7th fairway at Cress Creek. Their time together is spent reading, golf - he plays, she tries - and entertaining their ever growing group of new friends. At the 2008 Jefferson County Fair Phyllis took second place for her Pickled Water Mellon Rind, her mother's recipe. Note to Phyllis: I ate the whole jar for lunch. It was delicious.
Lauren is "retired" but he's been teaching HR courses and giving seminars for years. It began at Notre Dame in ROTC, then Drexel U., now Shepherd U. and Jefferson County Community College. Hes an affable guy who goes out of his way to make you feel comfortable, just like his wife.
Completing the family Le Tart is Hillary, a 4-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. "I waited for years for Hillary and she's perfect." She's perfectly adorable and very lovey. Now you might think her name has a political leaning. Nope. "Every puppy in the litter was named after a movie star." said mom. "She's Hillary Swank."
Of all of her accomplishments, of what is the Vice President Legal and Business Affairs of a world-famous organization most proud? No contest, she's most proud of being able to get a college education. It's her dream come true. When she was just a girl, Phyllis Le Tart asked herself "Can I do this?" Her answer was "Yes I can," and against some pretty horrific odds, she did.
- Sue Kennedy is a former public relations executive and Emmy Award winning screenplay writer.