The news of Cheryl's passing came early last month. Though long expected, the ache in my heart and the tears in my eyes evidence my deep sense of loss. This woman was a powerhouse and gave more of herself to others and this industry than any one person will ever know. Please allow me to reminisce about what this dear lady did for me in my life.
Back in the late ’80s or early’ 90s, I began reading Cheryl's articles in Draperies & Window Coverings. She wrote about things we needed to know, particularly workroom things. Then I saw that she was speaking for D&WC. I confess that I was a little resentful because she was doing what I wanted to do—write and speak. I had no training for either and didn't know how to get started if I did.
When I went to a trade show in April 1993, I happened to catch Cheryl demonstrating the Parkhill Swag system with Tony Varny, its inventor. She was ad libbing her presentation, and she was a natural comedienne. I was totally in awe of her. As I watched her, I realized she was a truly gifted speaker and very sincere and knowledgeable. Right there my resentment changed to admiration.
I did not take any of her seminars at that show, but for some reason I felt like I needed to tell her how wonderful I thought she was from what I did see. I had also bought her book and wanted to tell her how wonderful I thought it was. So I wrote her a letter. And, shock of shocks, she didn't just write back, she called me on the phone! As we talked, I admitted I had been resentful until I saw her perform. Then I only had respect and awe for what she was doing.
We decided to meet in person at a workroom show in Nashville, TN, in 1994. One morning at the show we had breakfast together and I will never forget that first meeting. We clicked immediately. We shared dreams. I wanted to write articles and books and speak. So she told me everything she could about her experiences. She told me about her newsletter for workrooms and that she wanted to start a school! I immediately volunteered that I would love to teach at her school.
What she told me that morning was to go ahead and do all the things I wanted to do—writing, speaking and books. She was not at all concerned about competition. Cheryl was all about sharing and this is what she taught the industry. Thanks to her, workrooms started talking to other workrooms in their hometowns. This is what helped this industry accelerate its growth. That day I told her that she was my mentor. I didn't ask her. I told her. She didn't seem to mind.
Cheryl started her newsletter, SewWhat?, in 1993. She readily accepted articles from me beginning in 1994. Then, in 1995, when she was ready to launch the first class of her school, she asked me to be there to observe to learn how to teach the class.
Did I say observe the class? In the middle of her teaching, I would offer up my own thoughts on the subjects. Did she mind? Not in the least. We were more like two crazy sisters bantering back and forth and having a ball doing it. The students loved it. Could I have done this with anyone else that I was supposed to be learning from? Never!
It was when Cheryl moved the school to Swannanoa, NC, that we got to be really close friends. It is also when I learned how deep her faith was. It was part of who she was.
Of all the people I've known, Cheryl taught me more about faith than any other person. Was she perfect? No. And neither is anyone else. She was joyous in her faith and let it be known. The last time I talked with her, I asked her if her faith was still strong. She replied vehemently that it was.
I believe it has been almost five years since Cheryl was first diagnosed with cancer. Her doctors never thought she would live nearly as long as she did, but she did. Cheryl tried everything to fight this enemy: exercise, diet changes, supplements and likely more. She once told me that her doctor said she was the picture of health, but her efforts had not slowed the cancer. She was also feeling very good at that point. She was a strong person, a fighter, and gave everything she tackled her all and more. Regardless of what her own personal struggles may have been, she always had a cheery, bright persona with a big smile.
Over the years, Cheryl and I shared many of the same seminar venues and often shared hotel rooms. She could never quite understand why I had to work so hard to prepare and practice to present a seminar. She was a shoot-from-the-hip kind of person. Preparing ahead of time was not part of her personality and neither was it to put things back for the next time.
There was the time, I walked into my classroom to teach a class on shades and all my samples were with her on a speaking engagement! She could get up and present a seminar for the first time with absolutely no preparation and you would walk away with valuable nuggets of knowledge as well as a joyous heart. She was definitely an entertainer.
Cheryl Strickland, more than any other person in this industry, did more for education in general and specifically for the drapery workrooms. She brought workrooms out of the basement and taught them how to make treatments the professional way, how to manage their businesses, how to share, and instilled them with self-confidence that they had never known before.
What exactly is Cheryl's legacy to us? Entertainment! Education! A dreamer! A beacon of light! Christian values! Enthusiasm! A risk taker! Sincerity and love! All of this and more! I implore all of you who knew her or knew of her to do everything you can to keep her name alive in this industry. She deserves that!
Kitty Stein is a well-know workroom industry veteran who has owned drapery workrooms as one person and as a company of nine. She has taught classes at Cheryl Strickland’s Professional Workroom School, has led seminars at industry trade shows, has authored several books for workroom owners and was a monthly columnist for Draperies & Window Coverings, writing “Workroom Operations” for more than 10 years.