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02 Oct 2019

Know Your Neighbors: Meet Sandra 'Sandy' Skinner, a Palm Desert Retiree Who Can Change the Oil on Heavy Equipment—and Who Feels Like an Old Friend

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Sandra Skinner with grandsons Kaiden and Nathan. Sandra Skinner with grandsons Kaiden and Nathan.

Meeting Sandy Skinner was like getting together with an old friend: She is warm, open, candid, personable and vivacious.

Skinner, 65, has been in Palm Desert for about three years.

“When I retired,” she says, “I realized San Diego was unaffordable. I had a lot of friends here in the desert, and it’s a really nice place to live. I believe everything works out for a reason.”

Skinner’s mother was a stay-at-home mom who later worked for the Lutheran Church. “She was very spiritual, but also fun-loving,” remembers Skinner. “She always made time for me. Unfortunately, we lost her last year to Alzheimer’s.

“My dad owned a construction company dealing in heavy equipment. My younger sister, Paula, and I learned how to take out spark plugs and change tires. Dad would have parts laid out when we got home from school so we could learn how to do everything. He thought those skills were good for his daughters to know. My dad also loved sports. He played tennis and was ranked No. 9 in the senior league. He used to hit balls to us on the court as if we were playing dodge ball. I really learned about the work ethic from him. Unfortunately, we lost him young.”

Born in Inglewood, Skinner graduated from West High School in Torrance. “I regret not going on to higher education, but I’ve had a great career,” Skinner says. “I thought about going back to become a court reporter; then I got married the first time. I always thought when I got older I might go for classes in history, because I’ve always liked reading about it—although, I must admit, in high school, I hated it!”

Skinner’s career began in 1975 in a hospital lab. “My job was to pick up blood samples, things like that,” she says. “Then I started to study phlebotomy, learning how to draw blood. But I got a great job at GTE (a phone company) and stayed there for almost 25 years. I started in telephone repair, moved on to dispatch, then assignments, and then maintenance. I did have a very brief second marriage—a big mistake. My third husband, Gary, and I both worked at GTE.

“At one point, Gary had been reassigned to Hawaii, and I took a leave of absence for six months to see how (Hawaii) would work out. Our girls, Ashley and Brittany, were little then. I remember it seemed like it was all beach all the time; we lived near Waikiki. After six months, I realized I could only take being at the beach for so long.

“We lost our jobs within six months of each other when the downturn hit telephone companies. We moved on to Las Vegas, where I worked as an executive sales rep for Sprint Cellular. There was a lot of money to be made in that industry.

“Gary and I were married for 18 years (before divorcing), and I’ve always been glad I had my children with him.” Skinner’s eyes twinkle with humor: “Our relationship now is probably better than it ever had been.

“I now have seven grandchildren, and the hardest thing is to not see them very often. Getting together for holidays is especially hard,” she laughs, “since I’m spoiled and don’t want to go to Canada in the wintertime.”

Skinner elaborates: “Brittany had a great career at Bally’s in Las Vegas, and she always wanted to see part of the country, so she lived in Kentucky for a while, and is now in Indiana with her family. Ashley was working at a spa in Vegas. The man who is now her husband walked in one day, took one look at her—and that was it. She and her family live in Alberta, Canada.”

Skinner suddenly becomes quiet and somber. “Sadly, Ashley and her husband, Eric, lost a child, my second grandson, to brain cancer when he was only 2 years old. It hit us like a ton of bricks. I guess God wanted him for a reason. Now they have a little girl and another boy. Once again, everything works out for a reason, although we don’t always know it at the time.”

Are there things Skinner thinks people would be surprised to learn about her? She laughs. “I can do oil changes on heavy equipment, and I was a runway model for the Sears catalog, My mom sent me to charm school, and since I was 5 foot 9, it just worked out.”

Skinner loves to travel. She fondly remembers a trip with Ashley after the death of her grandson. “We went to Vancouver, British Columbia, for a couple of weeks, and it was good for my daughter to get away for a while. I love to travel. My sister, who works in San Diego, and I go up to Big Bear, and I’ve been all over Canada. I like to cruise; I’d love to go to Europe and see Italy and Greece. My sister just got back from Italy and Berlin, and I’m just waiting for her to retire so we can travel together. Although people are always saying it’s fine to go alone, I haven’t done that … yet.”

If money weren’t an issue, what would Skinner want to do? She answers immediately: “I’d move my whole family into one cul-de-sac where we could all live together. I’d have my grandchildren around me, and we could spend holidays together. That would be heaven.”

Skinner and I have so many things in common—a brief second-marriage mistake, a love of travel, working in telecommunications, and hating being far away from grandchildren. When Skinner confessed that she sometimes doesn’t remember things well, I shared my new mantra: “Aging sucks!”

I really relate to Skinner’s bottom line about life: “Everything works out for a reason.” After chatting with Sandy, I really came away feeling like I had spent time with an old friend.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

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