By Chelsea Baranowski
If you have lived more than a day on St. John, you have most likely met Cid Hamling. Cid owns and operates Connections, a one stop shop for mail, Western Union, and most importantly, finding any and all information about the happenings of our tiny island home. Any newcomer will be immediately told, no matter what they are in search of, that they need to walk their butt straight through the glass doors of that purple building and get themselves acquainted with a simple bulletin board and a couple refreshing smiles.
Picture this, you’ve just moved to St. John. You need a place to live, a car, a cell phone… You need to set up your life. Where will the whole island send you? Connections. Because, while the internet and technology continue to take over our lives, St. John, and the Virgin Islands for that matter, still do things a little differently.
We still have a word of mouth system St. John. It is a quality that served us well after the storms when service being “spotty” was the understatement of the century. To this day, we rely on each other, person to person, to send messages to one another, to retrieve intel, to benefit the community through connection. And that has been Cid’s life work.
Cid has two masters degrees, one in counsel psychology and another in social work. It’s no wonder that every day of her life she is counseling and serving the public. However, like so many of us St. Johnians, her story here didn’t start that way.
It was 1981 and Cid was simply “taking a break” after her degrees when she decided to start working on boats. She traveled up and down the East Coast, taking people to the America’s Cup, drinking in the freedom of the seas. That year she hopped on the “perfect boat” heading to the Caribbean in hopes of heading to the Med thereafter. Once she saw that Caribbean blue sea sparkle though, there was no turning back. She was working on a boat in St. Thomas and every day off work kept finding herself on the quiet little island of St. John. After a year of commuting to her peaceful place, she made the move.
One afternoon during a casual conversation, she told Forest Fisher, the editor of the Tradewinds and a real estate agent, “I’m tired of working for other people and making them rich.” He replied with “well, what would you do?” She thought about it and said “I’d start a place where you could make a phone call.” Back then you waited over six months to get a land line from VITELCO, and you couldn’t get a post office box with all the pull in the world. Fisher, quite the “character” and free spirit, handed her the key to his office that day, located upstairs from the present-day Connections. That day Cid and her roommate found a card table, walked it down the very precarious Jacob’s Ladder, and opened their doors the next day. From there, things expanded. They continually added services and soon they attained the first fax machine on St. John.
“After about a year, I decided I should probably get legal,” she joked.
I have personally known Cid my entire life, so conducting this interview was far from conventional and far from easy, mostly because we kept getting side tracked with our own anecdotes and, of course, “connection.” I even told Cid we would have to do another interview because I just hadn’t got enough of her story. But after much thought, I realized our connection was ‘her story,’ rather, her connection with St. John, with the community, was her story.
If I had a dollar for every time I have said to various people “Ask Cid,” I would have a house in Peter Bay. The woman truly emanates the spirit of people who arrived on St. John in the ‘70s and ‘80s in search of a community just like this one. In 2015, Cid placed one of her cohorts in this ‘transplant’ group, Jenn Robinson, a 25-year veteran of Lime Inn Restaurant, at her secondary location, Connections East. Cid tells me developing this professional post for Jenn, for another human being, was her greatest accomplishment. If that doesn’t sum it up, I don’t know what does.
What’s more is she is currently the administrator for the St. John Revolving Fund, a non-profit generated to benefit St. Johnians with medical bills, who otherwise could not fund their medical expenses. She is on the board of the Friends of the National Park, and the board of the Long Term Recovery Group, groups devoted to recovery after our recent catastrophic events. These are just her current posts. This does not include the 37 years of petitions, rallies, fundraisers, drives, events, carnival floats, town hall meetings, and most importantly, her presence at every community event she has ever felt strongly about. So all of them.
What makes Cid unique is that she embodies community in her professional and personal life. And even better, she is constantly amazed, stunned even, by the beauty of her island and its people. She tells me, “If I ever quit smiling about the beauty of St. John, I’ll leave.”
We sure hope that time is never.
Chelsea Baranowski is a lifelong St .John resident. She owns the popular Lime Inn restaurant in Cruz Bay with her husband Richard. The couple has two sons.