BIO Index

Caroline McNamara


I was 18 when I graduated from high school and smarter than my parents. After a disagreement with rules I left home resisting any advice. I got a job at the Bay Road Animal clinic doing office work and clipping dogs. One day a fellow Doc knew thru Rotary Club came in ...Al . We started dating and after a short courtship married in June of 63. Al was 13 years my senior and had a 5 year old daughter Suzanne. His 1st wife passed away and he forgot to mention the 2nd one and the fact that he had not divorced her.

Daughter Gabrial was born in March of 64 in Sarasota, followed by Elizabeth in Dunedin, then Mara in Champaign IL and finally Damon in January of 69 in Elgin IL. By the time Damon was born we were living Crystal Lake IL near Chicago. All these moves were caused by job losses. Fortunately Chicago was big enough that when Al, a salesman and chemical engineer lost his job he could get another. I remarked one day that we needed money to fix the porch. Al told me to get a job. I went to all the sign shops and no one would hire a woman. The ERA had not yet passed. I kept returning to the employment agency and was told no one would hire me because I had 5 kids. Being persistent the agent introduced me to a building contractor in the office next door. I could do drafting, drive a dump truck, work in the office and clean up job sites. The contractor asked why I wanted this job so I told him I wanted to get a divorce and needed to make as much money as a man. He hired me and said if I worked for him for 2 years I could do that. I told Al I had a job, he said "You have to do everything you did before plus work." I got some counseling at a local church. I learned to rip out bathrooms, hang and tape drywall, set ceramic tile, cabinets and lots more. My boss told me I should sign up for the Armstrong Flooring School. There was such a shortage of vinyl installers they wouldn't care if I was a woman. He told me to use my initials when I applied so they wouldn't know I was a woman. I was 27 and 6 months after starting the job; my boss had a heart attack and died. I knew the office and the jobs so was able, with the help of the 2 carpenters, to get the jobs we were in the middle of finished. I applied for vinyl school and was hired by another contractor who was impressed with what I had pulled off. I ripped out and remodeled kitchens, roofed a church and was accepted into the vinyl school AND THE ERA PASSED.

I left for Lancaster, PA for the 2 week school. I was the first woman and they couldn't refuse me because of the ERA. My instructors said if I had applied under my girl name the school would have been full. I excelled and when I got back home, continued in general construction. I told Al I wanted to go back to FL. We moved to Bradenton in 73, unable to find an affordable home, I contracted and built a home with help from an old builder friend. While doing this I met Doug Knight at Custom Floors. I told him I was Flash Coving all the areas in my home and he said "If you can do that come in and I will give you a job." I went to work there and it was great, same money as the men, it was piece work. The more you did the more you made! I did custom hand cut insets, flash coving, walls, feature strips, I went to school for welded floors and did surgery rooms at the hospital. I went to wood school and laid nail down and glue down, parquet, and floating hard wood floors. I took the kids with me to rip up floors and see what I did. All 5 have college educations because of this I think. In 83 I divorced Al and won First Place in a hand cut vinyl custom inset contest sponsored by the Armstrong Flooring Company. Al tried to sue me for alimony because his total income for last 3 years we were married was $5,000.00. I felt like a 40 pound mill stone had been taken off my shoulders. I left Custom Floors after 9 years and worked freelance supporting any store that had difficulty, failed jobs that had to be replaced or jobs their installers couldn't do. I met Norman Gorn, and after observing my work told me I was in the wrong business and suggested I join him in his custom area rug company. I did and started making pen and ink and watercolor drawings to scale of the rugs we would make. Norm passed away about 3 years later and I bought his share of the business and in 93 purchased really nice commercial building at East Ave and 13th Street. My work table was 26 feet by 32 feet. The rugs were carved in relief and put together upside down like a giant puzzle. I would come to customer's homes, measure up and get ideas for the art work in the rugs I would draw up. We did freeform and installed rugs, stairways, boats, walls, commercial offices and so on. We also did 3 dimensional art work in carpet, florals, animals, people, borders, if we could draw it, we could make it although some were just carvings. We put fabric and leather borders on sisal and carpet, we did repairs on orientals and a lot of surging and binding. We worked with the interior design trade. I met Bill around this time. He found out he had Nonhodgkins Lymphoma and was given 3 years to live, so after spending a year fixing up an old Airstream Motor home, my son with a business degree stepped in, and Bill and I headed for Alaska. Bill is working on some kind of record for survival, 18 years now and the ole boy is still going strong.

I sold the business and I retired when I was 55. We have a motor home, travel about 6 months out of the year. I run the sign shop at the International Airstream rally (my dream job). About half the year we live in a little house of Bill's near the ball park. All my neighbors are Hispanic now, so I am getting pretty good with a second language. I sold the home in Bradenton that I built and live off rents from a home I bought for my retirement near Webber and Beneva and the commercial building. We have a neat old cabin in NC between Franklin and Highlands on the Cullasaga River and enjoy time there. I have taken up portrait painting and am working my way through the family doing their portraits. I take art classes at Vo-Tech (SCTI) and no one is more amazed at how I'm coming along than me. You can check out my progress on Facebook.

My children are productive and I am proud of the way they are handling life. I like who they married and their in-laws. I have 9 creative, talented, wonderful grandchildren ranging in age 23 to 4 yr. 2 are in college this year. I enjoy hearing their ideas and seeing their progress. I try not to be a busybody. I am a little smarter and less idealistic, but in my head I am still 18. I should probably send Al a thank you card saying "I am what I am today because of you!" He is on his 4th wife and I should thank her also. I remember my dad remarking "Caroline, you will always be doing something. It may not always be right, but you will always be doing something." He was right. I wish he could see me now. I haven't always made the best decisions but I am always really busy. Life is good!!!!!

Caroline McNamara Zimmer-Stone