Outdoorswoman Sylvia Bosse lives life with an open heart

Sylvia Bosse enjoys her grandmother's salt and pepper shaker collection and the gift that commemorates her 30 years at Vishay Sprague. (Photo by Pamela Chodosh)

Born in 1942, Sylvia Bosse believes in self-sufficiency. She and her younger brother grew up in Mechanic Falls and on Tripp Lake where she often hunted and fished with her father.

A mother of two, Bosse spent 30 years working for Sprague Electric. She earned a college degree along the way.

Bosse now serves on the board of the Norway-Paris Fish & Game Association and was their president for four years. She is the secretary at the Minot Historical Society and has recently become involved with the Mechanic Falls Historical Society. In addition, she sits on the board at the Sportsman Alliance of Maine.

She and Fren will be married for 58 years this June. They have a son Mark, a daughter Carol Ann, six granddaughters, five great-grandsons and four great-granddaughters, most of whom live in Maine.


I was born in Lewiston late at night, on the 4th of July during a raging thunderstorm. That probably accounts for a lot of my personality. I was brought home to a cottage my father had rented on Tripp Lake. He bought it that next summer. I spent time there for the next 67 years.

We lived in Mechanic Falls in the winter and in the cottage in the summer. Father worked for the town. He was their highway foreman. Everybody knew him. I was just Warren’s daughter.

My mom Lillis was a stay-at-home mom most of the time. She opened and closed cottages on the lake and worked at Poland Spring Hotel in the summer. I had a brother John, who was four years younger. He passed in 1978.

My brother and I were fortunate in that we could go out first thing in the morning and stay out all day. My mother had a bell which she would ring if she needed us. Other than that, we were just out. We played ball, collected night crawlers, fished, water skied, did all those outdoor things.

Neighbors felt like they belonged to other neighbors’ families. Everyone looked out for each other. It was a different time.

Some of the people I grew up on Water Street still come here for coffee. When you can say you have been friends for 75 years, you are pretty fortunate.

My grandmother Annie Willey lived next door. She was my father’s mom. Everyone on our street and in the town called her Grammy Willey. Her house was always open.

She spent time teaching me to knit and crochet and to make molasses cookies. I ate molasses cookies with her every afternoon, even after I had my two babies.

The knitting didn’t stick. I was better at fishing and walking in the woods with my father. He was an old Maine Guide and an educator. He showed me how to fish, hunt, and target shoot. He taught me about animals and their habitat, the designs on tree bark, the music in the brook. I was fortunate to be raised like that.

We were subsistence hunters. Except for the mink and beaver my dad trapped, we were raised to eat whatever we caught, shot or trapped.

If we had money we had red hot dogs. Red hot dogs were a special treat. It meant things were good. I love them so much I still have them on my birthday. Our children and grandchildren know.

I met my husband Fren when I was in high school. He came his freshman year. I liked him right away.

I graduated from Mechanic Falls High School in 1960. We married right after that. I was 17. He was the only boy I had ever known.

I turned 18 right before my first child was born. I had my daughter, 11 months later. They were about as close as you can get. When I went to work at the Mechanic Falls IGA as a cashier, my mom and dad babysat. They did that at the lake in the summers too.

In 1966, Fren got a job at Sprague Electric in Sanford. We moved. My father, who was the greatest grandpa, was upset. He thought moving should be against the law.

Fren worked at Sprague for three years. I worked at Sampson’s Supermarket as their produce manager. Then I went to work for Sprague, too. I went in as a welder even though I did not know how. Sprague made capacitors. Welding was part of that.

I worked in manufacturing for three years and then in 1985, I started working in Research and Development (R&D). Before I was hired, an engineer asked me to say something about how mechanical I was. I said, “I can change spark plugs. I can change shear pins. I am sure I could do your job if you trained me.”

I was the first female technician they ever had. That was groundbreaking in Sanford and for their whole company. It was exciting and difficult. Men don’t think women can do mechanical things, but we can. I had grown up with boys. I was lucky there.

I stayed in R&D for 17 years. During that time, I worked and went to York County Community College.

When I left R&D, I went into manufacturing as a lead operator. Eventually, I became a general foreman. I was responsible for all three shifts and had eight supervisors who reported to me. While I was foreman, Felix Zandman bought the company, and we became Vishay Sprague.

When a vice president in Concord, New Hampshire wanted to create a certified trainer program, an engineer who I had worked for in R&D said, “You want Sylvia.” The vice president hired me. He told me I could have anything I needed to build the program. He gave me an office and a year.

The training involved how people learn and what they needed to know to do a particular job. It doesn’t matter if you are bulking capacitors or filling a salt shaker. There are materials, steps, and measurements of success. It’s simple.

It was a 15-hour course spread over three weeks. To graduate you had to do a presentation in front of the rest of the class.

My model presentation was how to make a fluffernutter sandwich. I showed them the materials and explained the steps, things like “be careful to go all the way to the edge with the peanut butter.” After that, I would say, “If that first bite is bread, fluff, and peanut butter, and if there is a little bit of peanut butter in the corner of your mouth, you have been successful.”

I still get Christmas cards from people who say, “I still eat peanut butter and fluff.”

When the training program was put on hold, I was asked to travel. I went to Toronto, Concord, New Hampshire, Juárez, Mexico, and Florida, where my husband and I worked for a year. I also went to Israel for a month at a time to set up a new facility in Dimona.

That was an experience I loved. We were free to travel on Fridays and Saturdays. We sailed on the Sea of Galilee, went to Tiberius, and swam in the Dead Sea.

Felix Zandman, who was then the owner of Vishay Sprague, was a holocaust survivor. He built the facility in Israel to employ Russian Jews who were moving to Israel.

I speak only English. Being a tantalum facility there are words unique to the industry. The training was hands-on. Though a lot got lost in translation, you could always show someone where a screw was. I trained a concert pianist to do welding. I loved listening to people’s stories.

One of my granddaughters was born while I was there. The Russian ladies gave me a baby shower and all these hand knit and crocheted things. It was just like being at home.

I worked in Bennington, Vermont writing specs for Vishay and getting them ready for their international, military and ISO audits after that.

When the company closed the Sanford facility in 2002 and moved their operation entirely to Israel, I retired. I was with Sprague for over 30 years.

We didn’t have high expectations of retirement, which meant we could do it. We stayed at the Tripp Lake camp, which was year-round by then. Now we just have a camper in Wilson’s Mills. We keep it at Blackbird Cover Campground on Aziscohos Lake. It’s low maintenance. My husband guides fisherman—he doesn’t do bears anymore—and we spend most of the summer. We come home for meetings and to pick up the mail. My son comes with his camper and our daughter tents. There is no getting away from this family.

When people say they have lived a rich life, that’s what I lived. I have been truly blessed. I have always felt that I was loved. I was lucky to be exposed to people who took the time to teach me and who wanted me to be successful. All of that was important.

My mother told me when I was very young that it was my choice to be happy or not. It was no one else’s job. I chose to be happy.