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Tribute to Sally Roberts, a Jaffrey Center treasure

Community fetes longtime resident, volunteer in recognition of 36 years of service

This summer, in recognition of Sally Roberts’ 36 years of service to the Jaffrey community as owner and operator of the Monadnock Inn during the years 1977 to 2001 — and as volunteer extraordinaire for the Jaffrey Center Village Improvement Society, the Jaffrey Historical Society, the Monadnock Garden Club, the Thorndike Club and others — the VIS and the Monadnock Inn held a celebration in her honor under a tent on the inn lawn.

More than 100 people attended on July 28, and applauded the presentation of a cake with a photo of The Monadnock Inn. The cake was inscribed, “Like the Inn … Sally Roberts is a Jaffrey Center Treasure!”

Sally came to Jaffrey with her husband, Herbert Roberts, in 1977, when they bought The Monadnock Inn from Maynard and Violet Dunham, who had owned it since 1961. The Monadnock Inn dates back to the 1870s, when Sarah and Benjamin Lawrence began taking in summer visitors at The Fairview, then a smaller building than the present inn. The building was operated as an inn by Carl and Esther Spofford from 1920 to 1950, then by Harold E. and Mary Brown Davis from 1950 to 61.

Sally’s path to Jaffrey began in Cleveland, Ohio, where she was born Sally Johnson on Nov. 13, 1929, two weeks after the stock exchange crash of Oct. 29, known as Black Tuesday. She grew up in Canton, Ohio. She went to Boston University in 1947, where she graduated in 1951 with a degree in physical education. The first summer after college, she worked at the New London Country Club on Lake Sunapee.

“I met my husband waiting table while he was bell hopping at the Soonippi Lodge, now gone, one of the big hotels on the lake,” she said in an interview in her home in August 2013.

She then got a job teaching at Bigelow Junior High School in Newton, Mass., while Herbert went to Miami. Sally taught in Newton for four years. One of the guests at her July 28 celebration was Barbara Athy, a golfing friend who was a junior high student of Sally’s in Newton.

In 1953, Sally and Herb married. Their first house was in Boxford, Mass., where Sally also taught for a while. Herb was a district manager for Donahue Sales and Talon Zippers. He was transferred to New Jersey in 1962, and they bought a house in Branchburg in central New Jersey. Their daughter, Robin, lives in the same town now, and Sally plans to move back there before the end of 2013. Their other daughter, Kim Roberts Buba, lives with her husband, John, and children, Camilla, 17 and Diana, 14, in Marblehead, Mass. Sally’s son, William, lives in Jacksonville, Fla.

In 1977, Sally and Herb bought The Monadnock Inn. “The first thing I did was to put the bar in, much to the initial disgust of many who feared the inn would become just a bar. Helen Krause was a convert later.”

Herbert Roberts died in 1981. Sally operated the Inn by herself from that point on, with the help of several chefs, most of whom are still in the hospitality business: John Crow, now working in Atlanta; Tom Ponticelli, who went to the Four Seasons as a pastry chef; James Corbin, now a caterer in Boxford, Mass.; and Toby Butler, who came to the inn at 17 out of High Mowing School in Wilton and now runs a large catering business in Los Angeles. Sally said another former chef, Jim Mitchell, the father of the current Inn owners, Max Mitchell and Noel Pierce, now lives in Dover and plays piano at the inn his second wife, Gail, runs in Durham.

“The Tuesday men’s group helped Jim Mitchell who was legally blind. They helped pay for his operations so he could see — they were very generous,” Sally recalled. She said that Herb Grant started that group around 1982. She said the members in the early years included Bill Arthur, Herb Bixler, John Bliss, Charlie Hamilton, Ray Kruse, Glyn Millard, Tom Raleigh and Fran Woods. The group, known for years as ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out) or The Old Farts, still meets Tuesdays in Peterborough at Brady’s American Grill.

Mary Day Robinson Batiste and her husband moved to 10 Thorndike Pond Road in Jaffrey in 1977, virtually across Main Street from Sally Roberts at The Monadnock Inn. Sally and Mary discovered they had both graduated from college in 1951. They immediately became friends and got involved with the Jaffrey Center Village Improvement Society.

Mary’s husband of 28 years, Col. John Batiste, died in 1979. In memory of Col. Batiste and another friend, Sally and her daughter gave two crimson maple trees that were planted on the Blacksmith Common adjacent to the Batiste house on the corner of Thorndike Pond Road and Main Street.

Sally recalled the many events held at the Inn to benefit the Village Improvement Society and its causes. “The first one [in 1984] was for the windows in the Meetinghouse, which has since been done again.” It raised $8,000. All the fundraisers are chronicled in “Marshal The Willing Forces, A Centennial History of the Jaffrey Center Village Improvement Society,” written by Jaffrey’s Robert Stephenson and available from the VIS.

In 1985, William Payson and Mary were married. In November of that year, Sally and Mary put on a pig roast fundraiser — “A Swell Swill for The Swale.” In 1989, after Mary Payson became president of the VIS, she and Sally put on a Turkish dinner that netted $1,200 for the Horsesheds. Other fundraising dinners included five annual Robert Burns dinners, a vaudeville show, a Village Tea, a New England Clam Bake, a Brazilian dinner, a French dinner and a Greek dinner. The events raised thousands of dollars for the Horsesheds, The Swale and other VIS causes.

“Mary and I did special dinners on Monday, when the inn wasn’t open,” Sally said. “We’d cook all on day on Monday, go home, get dressed, then entertain all evening. I don’t know how we did it but we had great fun.

“Mary called me every morning to tell me she was on the road, ready to walk. We’d walk four miles, up Harkness, Proctor and Bryant roads. As the years went on, we shortened it a bit. I talked to her every evening before I went to bed. She went with me often to my son Bill’s boat in Fort Lauderdale. We went to Italy, Quebec, Hawaii. I knew her as well as she knew herself.

“You only have one or two good friends in your life,” said Sally. “There was one, 33 years worth.”

Jaffrey friends and family said goodbye to Mary Payson, who died July 7, at her memorial service at All Saints Episcopal Church in Peterborough on Aug. 17. Sally Roberts lives on.

Kenneth D. Campbell of Jaffrey was president of the Jaffrey Village Improvement Society from 2007 to 2012.

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