Meet Sylvia (McLaughlin) Varney, born in the last month of 1932, a permanent resident on Lake Lashaway since 1984, and a long-time enthusiastic member of the Lake Lashaway Community Association since its founding. When thinking of Sylvia Varney, two qualities easily come to mind: passion and compassion. Mrs. Varney is proud to say that, at ninety years of age, she continues to deeply appreciate these beautiful waters!

What drew you to Lake Lashaway?

Sylvia’s husband, Don, was instrumental in their move to Lake Lashaway. Don’s grandfather, Charles Varney, Sr., founded Varney’s Garage in East Brookfield, where originally Mobil Gas was sold to motorists and boaters alike. While Don was still in high school, he worked there for his father, Carroll Varney. He had the opportunity to meet many of the residents while filling gas cans for the boats at the dock across the street. Don had grown up in and on the waters of Lake Quaboag, so It was natural for him to gaze on Lake Lashaway and hope to live there one day.

Where did you live prior to this?

Sylvia had grown up in Worcester, but at the age of seven, she and her family moved to Rochester, NY. The next move came two years later when they relocated to Mt. Vernon, NY, a suburb of New York City. In 1944, during World War II, her father was transferred to Mexico City, Mexico, where he was assigned to lead a company that manufactured aspirin, named “Majoral”- “the best!” She grew up in an open-minded family in which there was no room for prejudicial treatment based on race, ethnicity, or religion. She and her family learned the Spanish language, as her father thought it disrespectful to live in a country and not attempt to learn the vocabulary and customs of that nation. She attended La Es-cuela Americana and studied the history of Mexico, among other subjects. Education was highly valued. During WWII, many stars of the silver screen vacationed in Mexico City, and Sylvia’s mother was thrilled to talk with one of them, Erroll Flynn!

What was it like to move to the Brookfields after such international experiences?

Sylvia quite plainly states that it was a bit of a shock to leave a cosmopolitan lifestyle to move to a countrified life; nevertheless, she and her family arrived in North Brookfield in 1945. Eventually, Sylvia met her future husband. Donald Varney asked his friend John Carey to extend an invitation for Sylvia and her friend Helen to ride in his rumble seat. That bumpy ride eventually led to Sylvia and Don’s marriage at the ages of 18 and 20, followed by the births of 6 children over the next 14 years! They welcomed Dick, Dane (who passed away in 2020), Gene, Lex, Pam, and Dianhn (Dee), who still live nearby.

Both Don and Sylvia were (and she still is!) diligent workers. Don inherited and managed the Varney Garage, Inc., which included the Bus Co. Sylvia was trained at Salter Secretarial School as an Administrative Assistant. When the secretary at Varney’s had to leave to care for her mother, Sylvia was “hired.” It became necessary for her to take additional training in automotive record keeping. She traveled to Waltham for a full week of intensive instruction. Her determination to master the new skills can be summed up in this remark: “Even if I had to use a dogsled for transportation, I would get there!” Storms did not deter Sylvia Varney!

How would you describe life on the lake?

While Sylvia was enhancing her skills and then working full-time at the Bus Co., there were 6 children to care for. During the summer months, the Varney kids enjoyed waterskiing, canoeing, and swimming. Sylvia related that there were many young families on the lake at that time, and the waters were always remarkably busy. Her and Don’s children were supervised but would probably be referred to as “Free Range” kids today, raised to take responsibility for their behavior.

There was a Ski Club, Sunday afternoon sailboat races, and boat parades sponsored by Bogart Marine. Life was really lake-centered at the time.

The previous owners of the Varney home on Maple Way kept a logbook, as was the custom, of the many visitors who arrived to spend quality time on Lake Lashaway. One of their guests as Al Banx, the cartoonist for the Worcester newspapers. His signature is enhanced by a cartoon drawing of a boat that he occupies with his host. When you see Sylvia, ask her how her husband was characterized by Mr. Banx in the Worcester Telegram & Evening Gazette. Don apparently had a slight mishap while traveling with a free piano in the bed of his pick-up truck……Famous last words: “Should you tie that down, Don?’ His reply: “Nope.”

Spoken as a true lover of Lake Lashaway, Mrs. Varney feels it is extremely sad to not see as much activity on the lake as had been in the past. She mused about the possibility that today’s youth are more engaged in technology than exploration of the natural environment. Are some attending Computer Schools rather than being outdoors? Are there fewer young families on the lake?
She definitely has been disappointed to see so many of the shoreline trees, which filter the waters and the air, cut down and cleared.

Mrs. Varney is incredibly happy to have been and continue to be a member in good standing of the Lake Lashaway Community Association. She is most appreciative of the care that is being taken to keep the waters clean and healthy. She enjoys the activities that do take place within the Association and with the town-sponsored events at the Town Beach.

What would you like to say to your fellow LLCA members?

“First, it’s the best place on earth you could live. I just wish everybody would have the respect for the shrub-bery and the trees and the natural flora of this lake because that’s what’s going to keep it clean, and just to keep it lovely, and a lake!”