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Annerose’s Symphony

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Annerose SymphonyIn 1966, a pair of newlyweds, Annerose and Tim Sullivan, moved to Rochester when he accepted a position at Nazareth College to teach music history. During their first year, they lived in the Bay Street area but spent a lot of time exploring other neighborhoods. They were quite taken with the Third Ward (the Corn Hill name was several years into the future). More than half a century later, Annerose still recalls some first impressions: Immaculate Conception Church—a very vibrant Catholic community; South Washington Street on a snowy day—magical. What she saw, in her words, was “the inherent promise of a neighborhood.” “I turned to my husband and said, ‘You know what? If we have to put up a tent, I want to live here.’”

As they walked past 97 South Washington Street, they saw a sign: Apartment for Rent. They found the superintendent who said it was upstairs and that the people had already left. But when she and Tim moved in, “It was as though they had not left at all. There was a rocking chair and there was a pipe stand. And the pipe was still there. And huge closets with clothing from many, many, many years of college students, just leaving everything behind. The cabinets [were] full of spices, which I used for probably eight years after.” Then, she adds with a smile: “I probably shouldn’t have.”

On March 24, 1939, the former Anna Rosa Gasser, named for her grandmothers, was born in Altdorf, a picturesque village in central Switzerland. According to legend, this was where William Tell once shot an arrow through an apple atop his son’s head. To this day, there is a bronze statue in the town center depicting Tell, crossbow in hand, walking alongside his son. The town’s Swiss-German population was predominantly Catholic and very tradition-bound.

Annerose SymphonyAnna Rosa was the third of four children. “My parents had three boys and I was the girl.” Even after all these years, those last two words are spoken with some frustration as she remembers the path that was laid out for her from birth. At age fifteen, she was apprenticed into a household where she could learn cooking and other domestic skills required of “a perfect Swiss housewife.” It was home to four priests.

“The priests had books, book, books, and books and books in their libraries! And I found out if I did my dusting and made those beds quickly and emptied the chamber pots real fast, I could choose one of them and read. A whole new world opened up to me.” The writings of Carl Gustave Jung influenced her the most. An associate of Sigmund Freud, Jung was an inspiration for the teenage Anna Rosa. “The very first scientist that explored the human mind and the science of caring for soul and body…. And I said, ‘Oh my God, there’s something in there I don’t know about.’”

Anna Rosa began to question the expectations put on young girls at that time. She had grown up in a tension-filled household where her parents were sadly mismatched. Her father was one of eight children born into a family of “elegance and richness.” Her mother was one of twenty-four children born to a family rooted in “deep, deep poverty.” In her role as “the girl,” life began closing in on her. “I was needed. My brothers needed me; my mother needed me; my father needed me. And I became whatever everybody wanted me to be.” But she wanted more.

By twenty-two, Anna Rosa, certified as a kindergarten teacher, was ready to get away—“far, far away.” She signed up “with an agency that looked for teachers such as me who wanted to go abroad. Anywhere in the world, they had rich families who required Swiss nannies.”

On September 2, 1962, Anna Rosa boarded Swiss Air, flight #800 in Zurich. Hours later Annerose, “to sound more English,” stepped off that plane in America.
She became nanny for four children of a well-to-do family living just outside of New Haven, Connecticut. “They were educated, rich, but had a tremendous sense of social responsibility. If you had money, you made your money work for the good of those that didn’t have it. It was an ideal setting.” Life in the United States became a very heady experience. “I came to America and opportunity was at my feet. I was lucky to have access to Yale University’s International Student Society and that’s where my life bloomed. I got to know many students. And, of course, I fell in love and all that wonderful stuff.”

Timothy Michael Sullivan and Annerose Gasser were married in New Haven on November 5, 1966.

Annerose SymphonyWhile living on South Washington Street, they got to know many of their Third Ward neighbors who encouraged them to take apart in the neighborhood’s revitalization, just beginning at that time. They suggested a startling idea. “Wayne Frank and those people…said, ‘Hey, you could buy one of these houses.’ BUY?”

Soon after, the house at 36 Atkinson caught their attention. Its price was $9,500. They hesitated. “Nine thousand five hundred dollars. Can you imagine it? By the time we said yes, it was maybe nine months later, it was $19,500 and we bought at that price.”

The house was a financial challenge (“We were poor!”). They created three apartments in the house, each unit qualifying for a low interest loan, and began the daunting job of rehabilitation.

“This house was in such a horrific state. Everything inside it came down. And the only thing I was able to save was the moldings in these two rooms [dining room and parlor]. They all had square nails and I pulled each and every one out…. We had them painted…and put [back] up. But otherwise, everything was torn out.”

When the house changed ownership, the previous tenants had to move out. As they left, they purposely broke every spindle on the staircase to the second floor. Annerose can laugh about it today but acknowledges how upsetting it was at the time. “If I had had a gun, that’s when I would have murdered!”

Sometimes cost forced compromise. She points to an inoperable fireplace in the dining room. “We found this beautiful mantel here for the fireplace, down in the basement. But it would cost probably $20,000 to have the chimney flashed inside. We never had it, we never had it, you know, we never had it. But somebody after us will have a beautiful marble fireplace to install if they wish.”

The former Swiss nanny became the driving force behind the rehab. Tim Sullivan (ever the musician) called it Annerose’s Symphony. She smiles with pride. “I was able to literally choose everything for our new home. It carried my imprint. And that was such a wonderful experience as a woman to have something totally for me to envision, to create and then to live in it.”

This article first appeared in The Corn Hill Gazette – May 2020