In 1962, Canadian natives Sharon and Garry Shuster crossed the border into the United States and headed to Arizona along with one child and another on the way. “We knew in our hearts that our future was limited in Canada,” Sharon says, “and there was a world of opportunity here, along with some family who had already moved.” Garry soon found employment with “a big electrical company,” she says, and they were instrumental in getting him a work permit. U.S. citizenship followed before too long.
“At some point,” Sharon notes, “Garry started his own business – and we both had our hands full – him with work and me with my growing family and involvement in the Jewish community.” With Garry’s backing, Sharon has been a strong supporter of Kivel, The J, Hadassah, Brandeis, “you name it,’” she says with a smile.
Their family grew – and grew. At last count, they are matriarch and patriarch to three children, eight grandchildren, and a soon-to-be eighth great-grandchild. “It is our pleasure to host family gatherings – any chance we get,” Sharon says. These include all Jewish holidays, Thanksgiving, birthdays – any reason to celebrate. A self-described ‘balabusta,’ she says her husband won’t eat anyone else’s chicken soup and matzah balls. “After seders, our kids take home containers of soup and more.”
Their spacious and gracious home and grounds in the Biltmore area can contain multitudes – and does. It has become a “go-to” site for Brandeis events, most recently a cocktail party on the eve of that organization’s Book and Author Luncheon. Guests can take in the memorabilia on display – as Sharon says laughing, “from everywhere.” Collectible Judaica includes a glass-encased 400-year-old Torah case and an antique silver hand-etched wedding wine cup that has been used at family weddings. They’ve traveled with friends throughout Europe, (they especially liked the warmth and beauty of New Zealand and Australia), and have gone to Israel on several occasions. Summers are mostly spent in Coronado, CA, where their condo happily and typically is overrun with family and friends.
Sharon and Garry have owned a home nestled in Sedona’s red rocks for more than a decade. They were among the founders of the Jewish Community of Sedona and Verde Valley. Now a thriving congregation with several hundred members, Sharon recalls that the late Rabbi Albert Plotkin of Congregation Beth Israel here in the Valley was its first spiritual leader and frequently commuted to lead services.
Some 15 plus years ago, appreciative of the success they have achieved in their adopted country, the Shusters expanded their philanthropic efforts “to do something that would benefit children in need – and more.”
They purchased an 80-acre property in Camp Verde with an existing ranch home on site. It was renovated and improved, with a large bunkhouse, lakes, baseball fields, an arena and a tree house. Named Jackpot Ranch, it now welcomes youth groups, children in foster care, women who have lost children and need counseling – and Jewish youth groups from Arizona schools and colleges. There is a staff onsite, “but Garry and I oversee everything that goes on,” Sharon explains.
Dark-haired with expressive brown eyes and a sunny disposition, Sharon decided, with the encouragement of a friend and former winner, to enter the 2017 Ms. Senior Arizona competition. “I didn’t win, but it was a great experience,” she says. She’s even thinking of doing it again. Her talent, “not dancing or singing,” was a dramatic reading from her books of poetry.
And about those books of poetry. “Since I was a pre-teen,” Sharon recalls, I have been writing ‘little poems and stuff.’ ” Finally, she says, she “got serious.” She had kept boxes full of poetry that she had written and stashed away. She was determined to organize and categorize them; she says, “while I still could,” and was inspired to scribble new thoughts, on occasion pulling over to the side of the road when inspiration struck.
Her three self-published, soft-cover collections are Life is Like a Tree, A Gift of Heart and The Winding Creek. The Circle of Life is due this season. Next up: A series of children’s books inspired by bedtime tales she crafted for her grandchildren.
“I am passionate about sharing my thoughts and feelings and having my words touch people’s hearts,” Sharon says.
From The Winding Creek:
(Excerpted from “Serenity of the Forest”)
Sounds at night of a hooting owl
Are silenced by a coyote’s howl.
In the moonlight, the forest shines
And mountains are etched in endless lines.
From Life is Like a Tree
(Excerpt from “Fulfillment”)
Take each moment one by one
And simply do what must be done.
A new beginning, a wonderful start,
A way to reach down into your heart.