By Buffy Calvert
Stroll into the old bank building on Main Street with its two arched windows and plain, classic lines. Inside, the proprietor of Ron Guichard Realty will greet you with a big smile, eagerly show you the old vault and point out the many paintings by local artists that line the walls. Here is a people person who counts as dear friends many of his former customers, an artist whose love of architecture blossomed into Ron Guichard Restorations, and a bon vivant-turned-caterer who can still smoothly supervise a baked ham or ziti church dinner for hundreds. His Queens accent marks him as a flatlander, but he speaks happily of his years at ACS and knows everybody. How did this happen?
Ron came to Andes at three months when his mother, Helen, and older brother, David, came up to help his Aunt Bea and Uncle Al on their farm on Weaver Hollow. His father, David, was at sea with the Coast Guard. This was the start of many golden summers as well as winter holidays on the farm. A city kid, he was amazed at the transformation of the landscape after snow. He credits farm life and the warm support of the community with giving him the security and flexibility to take on the many roles he has played. Besides doing the myriad daily chores of a chicken and dairy operation, he helped Aunt Bea feed and house the summer boarders. At school, after he had persuaded his parents to let him attend high school in Andes, the faculty and students were like a caring family. The strong creative arts program fostered by Principal Red Johns gave him tools he used in a couple of later careers.
From his French great-grandfather, whose mother sent her son first to a three-year training and apprenticeship in cabinetry and then to a school of culinary arts he inherited an artistic nature and the firm conviction that you should have a second string to your bow.
Even in high school, Ron was the family house painter, agile as a steeplejack on a 40-foot ladder. Urged by his parents to return to Queens for his senior year and paint the family homestead, he dreamed of a career as an illustrator. Instead, he joined the Naval Reserve and went to work for Howard’s Fine Foods Market where he did anything and everything. He even moved in with the proprietor’s family, the Kristyensens, and eventually took over and expanded the catering end of the business. It grew from a simple selection of fresh salads to all kinds of hot dishes for crowds of 300 guests.
He took classes at Poppenhausen Institute, a rubber factory workers’ school that included a free kindergarten and evening classes in sewing, machinery and fine arts. Reaching back to his ACS training, Ron took over the ceramics classes.
In 1970, he married Diane Volini, a petite young lady who came into the store every morning for a cup of tea. They took an apartment in College Point. Juliana was born in 1972, followed by Christina in 1975 and Michael in 1979.
In 1971, on a weekend visit to the farm in Andes, the young couple took in a square dance at the Hayloft (where Cole’s Equipment is now). The owner leaned across the bar and said, “You should own this place. You know everyone in here!” Ron leased the building with an option to buy, but complications in the sale led him to give it up in November that year.
Back in College Point, he and Diane both worked for Saldiere Publications, but by spring he was drawn into a rescue operation of an animal shelter called Animal Haven. After getting the physical plant in shape, he became managing director. The Guichards bought a home in Flushing.
Diane noticed that managing a shelter proved to be a lot like working a farm. Seven days a week, no weekends, no holidays. She prevailed upon him to switch to something else. Well, he knew painting and papering. How about Ron Guichard Restorations? He liked being his own boss, even if the hours were long and irregular.
Fortuitously, their faithful Prudential Insurance man dropped by to collect.
“How’re you doing?”
“Ron, you’re smart. You believe in insurance. There’s an opening in our office.”
Diane lit up. Regular hours. So Ron was an insurance agent until he had a chance to buy Howard’s Fine Foods where he had started out so long ago. The long hours on his feet led to phlebitis. His doctor said, “Sell your business. It’s dangerous.”
The next years found him working for a delicatessen, then back to Restoration, which led to building maintenance, and exterminating. He set up a maintenance program for a big meat packing plant at Hunts Point (the enormous wholesale produce market in the Bronx). Night time work. The government sent him CETA workers, a training program for young dropouts. In a constant flux of workers arriving and quitting, he found one steady quick study who spoke Spanish: George Smith from Harlem. He got the company to hire George as crew chief.
And Ron went back to Restoration. And then Animal Haven, which was in crisis again. He appeared on Pegeen Fitzgerald’s show on WOR and contributions poured in. The Haven was back on an even keel but the work was unremitting. Mornings would reveal a dog tied to the gate, tagged: “My name is Gypsy. I’m 7. My family can’t keep me…” Or a box of kittens. Or an animal hit on the street.
He went back to Restoration. Summer 1981; Ron agreed to paint and paper the house of an aunt and uncle moving to Andes in the house where Blink is now. A neighbor dropped in to admire the job. “It’s a shame you don’t live here.”
“I would, but my wife won’t live on a farm.”
“Wait! I know a place. Don’t go away.”
Thirty minutes later Bill Hisman showed him his mother’s house. Diane said, “It’s a go!” They moved into the house next to what is now CitiHope and put the girls in ACS. Diane got a job with Delhi College where she still works 25 years later. And Ron papered and painted Andes, until a conversation with a local real estate broker made him realize that was the ticket for him. License in hand, he set up a realty office at the light in Delhi, then moved to Andes in the Ballantine bank building that he had bought several years before and painstakingly restored.
The real estate business feeds all his passions: people, architecture, and art, including the writing of exquisite come-on ads. Who could resist (under a slightly shabby Queen Anne) “Victorian Lady. Needs a little TLC.” (real estate speak for “tools, labor and cash.” or (under what appears to be a shed) “Cozy Bungalow tucked away in the mountains…” or under a gracious façade, “The porch of this gentlewoman leads to a door that will take you back in time with ballroom size rooms and flowing curtains right out of an Andrew Wyeth painting…”?
Ron came back to Andes out of gratitude for the encouragement that had turned his life around as a teenager. It left an indelible impression on him and spurred him to give back to this community. He served as a Village Trustee at the instigation of Helen Conrad Sanford.
“But Helen,” he protested, “I don’t have time to get signatures.”
“I’ll do the petition.” And she did.
At the Presbyterian Church he is an elder, a trustee, serves on the Search Committee and sings bass in the choir. His booming voice announces each band and float in the Memorial and Community Day parades.
In 1985, Ron bought the Bruce house next to the realty office with the understanding that Bayard Ludlum could stay on as long as he wished. Eventually Bayard moved back to New York; Diane moved with the children to Delhi; and Ron moved into the mansion. He and Diane still live separately, but according to Ron, “have both grown and grown closer over the years.” In 2000 he sold the house and now lives on Delaware Avenue.
Ron with his host of friends, multiple interests and talents and an unquenchable zest for life adds a unique sparkle to Andes. ~