Saying Good-bye to Sandi

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We are deeply saddened by the passing of Sandi McArthur on May 9. Sandi was a long-time employee of Oryana who retired in 2017, and who embodied the very spirit of our co-op. Sandi touched hundreds, if not thousands of community members through the years with her extensive outreach and education efforts based on cooperative principles and healthy eating.

Sandi first started at Oryana in 1996 as a volunteer, and then was hired on as a cashier. “I met Sandi back at the Randolph Street store,” said Heather Neitzke, Oryana’s Flow of Goods and Information Coordinator. “She was a super dedicated volunteer. She was a nurse at the time. I remember when she decided to come to Oryana as an employee. She was so passionate about the planet, nutrition, and health, she was awesome!” From cashiering, Sandi moved into managing the bulk section of the co-op. While she worked tirelessly keeping those bins filled with grains, beans, and flour, she started down the road of her true calling, education. She began creating educational materials and spreading the message about the relationship of food to health. Sandi and Joan D’argo began working together and building Oryana’s Education and Outreach programs.

With her keen interest in natural foods and background in health care, Sandi was the perfect person to launch this new department at Oryana. She led the creation of Oryana’s strict buying guidelines and initiated numerous educational efforts for both staff and Oryana shoppers & members. She wanted to influence younger generations about healthy food and where their food comes from and created a series of school classroom lessons with topics such as healthy snacking, a day in the life of a cow, how food travels, and more.

If anyone had a question about something in the world of natural foods, they turned to Sandi. Was agave syrup a good sweetener? Is there too much arsenic in rice? She wrote many an article answering questions like these for her series, “Ask Sandi” in the Oryana newsletter. She planned a popular in-store cooking demonstration series called “What’s for Dinner?” Sandi was a passionate advocate of organic principles and taught the staff about the importance of organics. She traveled to schools, attended health fairs, and manned booths at many local events to represent Oryana and help spread the word about healthy food and the power of co-ops.

Sandi loved children and babies and spent some of her retirement time taking care of a newborn. When Heather brought her toddler Logan to work, Sandi spent quality time with him, walking around the store and shopping with him. “Aunt Sandi was a wonderful person in my son Logan’s life. Logan grew up around the co-op from the time he was born. She kept him entertained but she was also influenced him about healthy foods and nutrition,” said Heather. “Sandi had such a kind way with kids. Logan would always bolt upstairs to the offices to see her when we were shopping. They would chat for long periods of time. He loved his Aunt Sandi.”

One day (in the mid 2000’s) Joan D’Argo and Sandi dressed up as genetically modified organisms and walked around downtown Traverse City to educate people about the harmful nature of GMOs. Joan is dressed as a hybrid of a fish/tomato and we can’t remember what Sandi was but her costume looks like a cross between a potato and a chicken!

Sandi was very busy and involved in everything from leading groups of kids through the store and letting them taste things, to manning the voting table at the general membership meeting, to being on panel discussions following Oryana-sponsored films at the State Theatre, to enjoying time with her fellow Oryana employees.

Eldon Horner, the grocery manager at the time, and Sandi work on Oryana’s Canstruction project in 2013, a collaboration with Father Fred’s event.

It’s hard to imagine our co-op world without Sandi in it. She cared about everyone and was a great listener, always willing to help out or offer support. She inspired others with her consistently upbeat attitude. “Sandi was truly one of the most caring, compassionate and humble people I have ever known,” said Steve Nance, former Oryana CEO. “She was always thinking about how to serve others, improve our region and planet, and was action oriented; she always walked her talk.” (Read more thoughts from Steve HERE.) 

As much as Sandi enjoyed the bustle of working at a busy co-op, she also loved relaxing and recharging in the quiet beauty of her home, which she shared with her husband Jeff, and their (community-owned) land in Leelanau county. She loved being outdoors and going hiking and cross country skiing or swimming in Lake Michigan, some of her favorite activities.

“Sandi was so enthusiastic, positive, and always smiling,” said Heather. “She touched our hearts and we all will miss our friend.”

Here is our 40th anniversary video that features Sandi talking about the co-op.