After a detour into motherhood — “Raising four boys was a career in itself,” she says, laughing — Sondra got the opportunity to reignite her passion. Ultimately, she acted in films alongside greats like Patty Duke, winner of multiple Emmys and Golden Globes, and The Sound of Music’s Christopher Plummer.
“Better late than never,” Sondra says in her New York accent. “Life is only fulfilling when you fulfill it yourself.”
It was then that Sondra decided she was ready for the new role of drama teacher. And at Vassar College, Sondra quite literally taught the best of the best: Meryl Streep.
“Of course, she taught me everything I know!” Sondra jokes. “Teaching Meryl Streep was sheer joy, and you didn’t know what she would do when you gave her an assignment. You didn’t know she could sing until you asked her to do a scene from Shakespeare where she had to sing ‘The Willow Song,’ and by God, she could sing it!” Sondra smiles as she recounts a story of Streep being asked to perform a voiceover for the French dub of the 1982 film Sophie’s Choice. Just for fun, Meryl decided to perform the dub in French with a Polish accent, to boot!
As her reputation as a drama teacher grew, Sondra drew the attention of actors, CEOs and politicians alike, all seeking help with something many Americans fear: public speaking. One politician in particular reached out to her for help with his presentation skills, citing his thick Brooklyn accent as a hindrance to his success.
“Listen, babe,” Sondra says, the light leaping in the actress’s eyes as she perfectly mimics his Brooklyn accent, “I’m running for assemblyman, and I need a little spit and polish. Can you do that for me?” But Sondra refused. She pointed out to him that he was running for office in Brooklyn and told him he was fine just the way he was, and she instructed him to call her when he ran for governor. And, sure enough, when the man was elected, he sent her a dozen red roses with a note that read: You was right, doll!
Years later, Sondra and her husband made the decision to move to Brookdale, and they lived there happily together until Sondra’s husband passed away. This happened just before the COVID-19 pandemic began and social-distancing and self-isolation became the norm. But Sondra says she didn’t feel isolated at all.
“The kind of support I’ve gotten from the staff and the residents, you can’t buy,” Sondra explains. “I feel that at this stage of my life, I could not be in a better place. I’m happy here. I’ve made some good friends.” Sondra now holds a regular talk space for women at her community.
“We take care of each other,” she says. “And I think that’s how life should be — that you take care of yourself, so you can take care of others. You believe in yourself, so you can believe in others. You love yourself, so you can love others.”
At Brookdale, Sondra has carried on teaching drama and public speaking to new clients, one of whom was preparing to present a new method of purifying water in Africa to investors. She’s also exploring new interests like Japanese flower arranging and meditation.
Sondra has spent her career instilling confidence in her students, teaching them how to present themselves with poise while also encouraging and protecting their authenticity.
When asked if there were any tricks to this kind of confidence, she had this to say:
“No tricks,” she shook her head and grinned. “No tricks. You simply have to have a certain amount of self-worth. You have to have a certain amount of courage. There are certain innate fears we have … but have faith in yourself.”
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