Julia Morgan's original drawings for our Clubhouse, Courtesy of Cal Poly Archives

Sally Koch, A Life Well Lived by Lisa Guy

May 13, 2015 1:29 PM | Linda Wilson (Administrator)

When I think of Sally, in my mind’s eye I see a tiny woman, full of determination and kindness, making her way across the main hall of The Monday Club in high heels to find her Sally at about 20seat at one of our monthly meetings.  

Sally joined The Monday Club 49 years ago, in 1966.  She has had a life full of trials and even more blessings.  These she so graciously shared with me this past Wednesday evening from her big, king-sized bed with her beautiful Persian kitty named “Missy” curled up beside her.

Sally was born in San Luis Obispo, California, on September 28, 1917.  She was an only child and lived with her mother and father in a little house, she called it a "hovel", on Mill Street.  Her father worked at the brickyard for fifty cents an hour and her mother did house work to help pay the bills.  Sally worked with her whenever she could.  When she finished high school Sally took a secretarial job, working for Mr. Hensen at the Railway Express, a moving and storage company.  Sally enjoyed this, and described Mr. Hensen as a “nice old gent”.

When Sally was nineteen, friends introduced her to a young man named David Caserra, and in 1938, when Sally was twenty years old, they were married at Mission San Luis Obispo with a beautiful wedding reception held at the Estrada Gardens.  Shortly after, the couple moved to San Jose to find work.  Fortunately, Sally was able to find another secretarial job; as she said, “in those days during the Depression, if you found any work you had to grab it”, and her husband secured work as a day laborer.  And then WWII came along and David went to serve in the army.

During his absence, Sally continued to work wherever she could – cleaning houses, taking any work she could find -  all the while, waiting patiently for David’s return. Finally he came back from the army and found a job working for the gas company, and they lived together in a little house in SLO.  And in Sally’s words, “time marches on".  The couple made the best of a bad situation – times were tough and there was no money to be made.  They were able to “make their own fun” by gathering with friends on weekends for potlucks and barbecues.

Sadly, David passed away in 1945, when Sally was just 28 years old.  She decided to leave the United States and traveled to Stuttgart, Germany where she was fortunate to find a job working for the American Embassy.  She made good money and was even able to save some over the next couple of years.  Sally was determined to learn to speak German, and according to her, “When I first moved to Germany, I didn’t even know two words of German. The Germans were "putting on the dog" and I decided I was going to fix their wagon.  I went to school to learn German and I can speak it now!”

Sally with BrianSally eventually returned to the states and came back to her hometown of San Luis Obispo.  She was alone for a long time, doing whatever house and office work she could find.  In 1966, a friend of hers, a doctor’s wife named Margaret Boland, invited her to attend a meeting at The Monday Club.  Sally remembered that, at the time, the Club had very little money, and the members had to be creative when decorating and planning events.  “We did the best we could. There was a lot we did at home.  We made money with garage sales, just the poor way. People would pay a couple of dollars to come and watch our Hi Jinx.  We made soup and had dinners where we sold wine for a couple of dollars per glass.”

Hard working and resourceful as she was, Sally decided to open a dress shop in Pismo Beach, with her friend Doris Fissori. The name of the shop was Ida Jays and she remembered it fondly.  “We had the shop for about 24 years.  We did things the honest way – hemmed, pressed and delivered clothing to our customers.  If one of the ladies really wanted something but could only make payments, we would let her take it home.  Otherwise by the time she finished paying, it would have gone out of style.”

Years passed and then Sally met a man named Brian Koch, who was “wonderful and artistic”. The couple fell in love and were married. Brian designed a fantastic hotel in Morro Bay called the El Morro Lodge (now the Masterpiece Hotel) which they later sold for a great deal of money.  Brian also designed, built and decorated their lovely home in Pismo heights, overlooking the rolling hills and Pacific Ocean.  In addition to his talent for building and design, Brian was a wonderful cook, and he often made German food for Monday Club events.  Sally fondly remembered his help with the soup dinners and the time the two of them won a Monday Club dance contest.  The couple had a passion for travelling and together they toured Europe, visiting Berlin, Frankfurt, and  Switzerland many times - a favorite of Sally’s.

The happy times would come to an end when Brian developed a growth on his foot, which turned out to be melanoma.  He put off going to the doctor for quite some time, continuing to tell Sally “it is getting better”, until finally he made an appointment to see a specialist.  Surgery was conducted immediately but unfortunately two years later, the cancer came back on his shin, and then after another two years, it appeared on his knee cap, finally traveling to his chest.  Brian Koch, Sally’s beloved, wonderful and artistic husband, died at age 68, leaving Sally alone once more.Sally at Hearst Castle at 80!

Sally cried as she relayed this last bit of history.  She said she had been by herself a good many years, but was so thankful for the wonderful family and friends that she had.  It brought her a great deal of joy to host a traditional family dinner at the holidays with a “big turkey and all the fixin’s”.  Sally was so proud of her nieces and nephews and grateful for the many friends who had shown their concern for her recent illness, calling her and stopping in to bring food, plants, flowers and gifts.  She made it quite clear that she did NOT want anyone feeling sorry for her, as she has had a wonderful life with a great many blessings.  “I’ve never had to borrow money and I’ve made it through thick and thin!”

When asked what she has enjoyed most over the years, Sally replied, “The best time is to find little people that don’t have anything and give them something. This makes me happy”.

And as far as things she has learned in the past 97 years:  “Never give up – get in there with both feet and make something of yourself! Try to help people if you can.  Life goes on.”

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