Silvia Hamilton delivers with style for 50 years
Like a bright yellow rose, Silvia Hamilton is a beacon of business success and community service in Cambridge City.
“She is indispensable,” believes Beth Leisure.
“She’s just a terrific person. She’s willing to do anything for the city,” says Alan Austin.
Leisure and Austin are both business owners and active civic leaders in Cambridge City.
Renee Doty has discovered how involved — and appreciated — Silvia is by her peers.
“She is a really funny, warm, engaging person,” says Doty, the manager of community affairs for the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County: “Her life story is pretty amazing.”
Silvia told that story at the recent Cambridge City Chamber of Commerce annual dinner, where the attendees listened closely to the businesswoman who epitomizes small-business economic development.
She was presented with diamond earrings and a special cake at the event to honor her 50 years in business — and her amazing community contributions.
She was hugely disappointed when historic Cambridge City suffered for years with empty buildings and storefronts: “I hate to see things deteriorate.”
Now, she is thrilled that restaurants and antique stores are flourishing, that there is a new library, a new community meeting hall and much more. “We have young blood that’s put money into these buildings,” Silvia says. “It’s like seeing a rebirth.”
Her enthusiasm and hard work helped pave the way for that rebirth.
She does so many behind-the-scenes things, agree Leisure and Austin.
“You can’t put a price on that. She is so dedicated,” says Leisure, who is president of the chamber and owner of National Road Antique Mall and The Archive, a new meeting space in the former library building.
Austin owns Waskom Capitol Hill Chapel funeral home.
He and Silvia meet over breakfast every morning during the community’s signature event — Canal Days — to plan and set up the popular parade.
As a beautician and owner of the flourishing flower shop Roses & Rainbows, Silvia deals with many residents’ lives from birth to death — and every celebration in between.
The businesswoman who values longevity and staying power still works each Saturday morning with the first customer she had as a beautician — at age 19 in 1965. Appropriately, that woman’s name is Rose Rybolt.
Silvia deals with customers the way she learned from her World War II veteran father and her war bride mother from Italy: cultivating strong families and communities, working long hours, treating everyone with respect, being conservative — yet open to change and opportunities.
One of the behind-the-scenes services she provides is hairstyling for deceased former clients. She didn’t want to do it at first, when a funeral home director said to her: “I need you to do Myrtle’s hair,” he said. “Make her look great.”
Now, she sees doing that role as another form of personal service, just as finding the right floral arrangement for a funeral: “It’s the last gift I can give to them.”
It’s another form of doing things right — from beginning to end. “If everybody in business would go by the Golden Rule, we’d be better off,” she says.
For Silvia, doing unto others means heaping personal attention onto them. It means matching their desires with their favorite flowers and colors, with their price ranges. Midwestern customers expect good value for whatever they pay: “The more information I know, the more I can please them,” Silvia says.
It means delivering things that last — and a lasting impression. “(The flower store) is truly a service business. You don’t have control over your hours, your demands,” she says. “They need you today when there is a death or a wedding.”
Silvia was born in war-ravaged Italy to Milton native Donald Helmsing and his wife, Iola.
Silvia and Iola sailed to the United States among 1,800 women and children aboard a Red Cross ship in 1946.
They learned many things together. “When you came here, you learned our way. There was no pasta, no olive oil (to cook with in western Wayne County),” Silvia recalls.
It wasn’t easy on her mother. There were language and cultural issues as well as new culinary tastes.
Silvia helped with cooking and conversation at a young age. Her family — that included two younger brothers — was frugal out of nature and necessity. They fixed everything that was broken. No food was wasted.
Silvia started working at age 13. “I’ve never been without a job,” she says.
Iola Helmsing was very particular about appearances, about looking good.
She passed that on to Silvia, who was fascinated with beauty shops and dreamed of being a beautician.
She started her beautician education in 1962 at the age of 16.
Within about three years, fate gave her the opportunity to run her own shop: The woman who had hired her died just six weeks afterward.
Silvia hadn’t finished her apprenticeship for a license in Indiana, so a retiree who did have one volunteered to sit in the shop for an hour a day so she could qualify.
She bore a son and a daughter as she worked out of a new wing in her home.
Silvia moved her beauty shop into her current location — a former bank at 118 W. Main St. — in 1974, then combined with the florist business in 1989.
Silvia learned as she went along in the latter business: “I just always liked to mess in flowers,” she says with a chuckle.
So she educated herself by attending adult floral classes at Richmond High School. She enlisted the aid of a mentor. She learned from another florist and by “watching everybody,” Silvia says. “I really didn’t want to fail. I am driven that way. I wanted to prove I could do it.”
That she has done. Her shop is filled with flowers, greeting cards, ornaments and other bright items. The thick former bank vault is used as a cooler.
She is serious, but knows how to have fun: She once colored her hair pink for a show in the mid-1960s. “She’s a special, unique person,” Leisure says. “She does a whole lot of little things that turn into big things.”
Silvia loves Cambridge City and Cambridge City loves her.
That was obvious at the ceremony, recalls Doty of the EDC. Silvia overcame many challenges “in order to make her dream come true,” Doty says.
Silvia offered appreciation for the appreciation she received from her chamber peers in a special way, too. “She brought flowers thanking us about that,” says Leisure. “Can you believe that?”