Diaries from the Decades: Sarah Forbes, fearless philanthropist, loving renaissance woman

After a conversation with Sarah Forbes, she may not remember who you are, but you won't be able to forget her.

Sarah is 90 years old. She lives in Morgan Estates Assisted Living Facility in Geneseo and experiences short-term memory loss. This, however, is the outside, the skin. The skeleton of her past is intact, but missing some bones. The muscle that holds them together is Forbes' positive outlook; each of her memories is recalled with a smile.

Within her lifetime, Forbes was engulfed in flames, worked in an airplane factory, taught children and adults how to use the first computers and opened her own salon.

When she was 5 years old, Forbes' curiosity led her into a brush fire. Her dress ignited and she spent the next 33 days in a Rochester hospital. When she recalls this time, she doesn't focus on the pain, but the candy and special attention the nurses showered on her. "They finally had to put a stop to that - I was getting too much candy … I survived [the burns]; I was a brat," she said.

During World War II, she performed secretarial work for the Curtiss-Wright airplane plant in Buffalo. She was in her early 20s, working any available overtime shifts to help support her family. She sent the money back to her parents and eight siblings in Cuylerville, where she grew up.

Forbes said she enjoyed the feeling of helping with the war effort, especially because her boyfriend was overseas. "You felt like you were helping the boys," she said.

Forbes married. She had no children of her own, "But I had everybody else's," she recalled with a smile.

With the coming of peace, Forbes moved to a quieter but no less significant career. When computers hit the mainstream, it was necessary to teach students and adults how to use them. Through BOCES, Forbes became one of the first computer teachers in her hometown while she attended Rochester Institute of Technology for her degree. Her students still visit her, as does her loving sister, who lives nearby.

After teaching, Forbes went to beauty school and opened her own salon. It was the only one of its kind in town. She was a renaissance woman. "No matter what I was doing, I loved what I was doing," she said. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have done it!" Forbes also went on to travel, visiting Europe, South America, Asia and all 50 states.

"I've had an interesting life," Forbes said. "Thank God for that." And to students who wish for the same, she says, "Pay attention and grasp all that you can."