No journey is ever a straight line, but one thing that has grown exponentially for Dale Montelione Grust is her skill and acumen as a massage therapist and female business-owner in New Paltz for more than three decades.
After completing her studies in massage therapy in New Mexico in 1981, Montelione Grust moved to New Paltz, where she reentered school and became a licensed massage therapist in New York State in 1983. “One of my first clients was Dr. Herb Weinman,” Montelione Grust recalled. “Ryan [her son] was a toddler and I was working out of my house at the time, and Herb suffered from terrible sciatica and asked if I might be able to help relieve it, which I did.”
As a young single mother, Montelione Grust worked when and where she could as a burgeoning therapist in the healing arts. “In the beginning I worked out of my home, out of a rented room in Fitness & Sport [a gym in the Cherry Hill Plaza] and with two other therapists at Some Like It Hot,” she said, referring to the trendy 1980s hot-tub spa on Academy Street in downtown New Paltz, across from Barnaby’s restaurant.
From the get-go, Montelione Grust’s healing talents were in demand, and soon she had enough clients to start her Center for Therapeutic Massage, now in its 35th year. “My business kept growing, and I was always proactive about finding more space and bringing in talented therapists to work with me,” she said. In 1987, she pursued renting space at the Times Square building on Route 299 near Lowe’s. “I had to bring in other therapists to help me with the workload; and when I think about it, I’ve probably been the starting point for more than 25 professional massage therapists who either still work with me or who have gone on to start their own businesses.” Some of these include Marissa Pileggi and Jennifer Hunderfund. “They’re all amazing women and incredible massage therapists.”
As the Center for Therapeutic Massage began to grow its client base throughout the region, Montelione Grust was approached by a chiropractor who had heard her on the radio and asked if she wanted to join him and some other healing arts practitioners to create a health and wellness center in Hyde Park. “I helped design the Wellness Center, which included myself as well as a chiropractor, nutritionist, psychotherapist, esthetician, reflexologist,” she recalled. Never one to shy away from more work, Montelione Grust said “Yes,” and soon she was managing and running two centers.
Asked what it was like to be a woman running a business in a mostly man’s world, particularly back in the 1980s, Montelione Grust said, “I was very aware that I was a woman. I met with a group of retired businessmen whom I was strongly encouraged to talk to when I wanted to start the Wellness Center. They basically told me that I was foolish and don’t bother. Telling me ‘No’ about pursuing a business or a dream only makes me that much more determined,” she added.
Despite the good old boys’ dismissive attitude towards Montelione Grust’s desire to start her own business, both the Wellness and the Therapeutic Massage centers not only were successful, but continued to grow and thrive. At one point, Montelione Grust had more than a dozen therapists working for her.
Having bought her home on Plains Road in New Paltz, she and her then-husband had thought about building a center on their property. This would create less time in the car, focus her energy on one business and create a commercial space that was a stone’s throw away. While it sounded good, in the midst of her busy work schedule, she didn’t really give herself time enough to consider it — until one fateful day when Montelione Grust, who loves all kinds of outdoor endeavors including gardening, landscaping, hiking and biking, was engaged in another one of her favorite activities: alpine skiing.
She said that she had a thought, right before the accident happened, that something was trying to stop her in her tracks — and then she took a massive fall. She had been going full-speed down a steep slope on Copper Mountain in Colorado when she was turned upside-down and inside-out. The accident was so bad that it caused a compound break in her tibia and completely shattered her fibula. “There were no bones attaching my foot to my leg,” she said. “Just tissue. When they had to get my boot off, I went into shock.”
The accident required two surgeries, lots of hardware and months of recovery. While she still managed both centers and even found ways to hobble around on one leg and still give massages, she did pause to think about the future. She made the decision to get out of the Hyde Park Wellness Center and begin to design and build the Center on her property at 99 Plains Road, which has been a haven for massage-seekers for two decades.
Walking into the Center is like walking into a warm, silky cocoon, surrounded by the smell of essential oils, white sheets, ethereal music, water features and bouquets of fresh flowers that Montelione Grust’s clients often deliver to her as a way of saying “Thank you.”
Another one of her first clients, who asked if he could be her last before she retires, is Bobby Delay. “I met Bobby’s brother-in-law when I was at SUNY New Paltz taking Anatomy again, so I could brush up before my New York State exam,” she said. Delay, a talented local carpenter, was struck by a drunk driver while driving his pickup truck home from work one day many years ago. Montelione Grust remembers it like it was yesterday. “He broke his back, among other things, and I would go to the hospital where he was and massage his shoulders just to relieve some of the pain he was in, which was unimaginable.”
Montelione Grust said that it’s often pain that drives people to come to her Center. “They’re usually suffering from some sort of dysfunction in the body. It could show up as knee pain or back pain, shoulder pain; but once they come, they often become regular clients, and it can move from pain relief to more preventive care. I’ve had some clients, like Bobby [Delay], for more than 30 years, but I have many people that I’ve treated and worked on for 10, 15 and 20 years. It’s wild to me.”
Once they get to know Montelione Grust and have experienced her work, it’s no surprise that people would follow her anywhere. They have and they do. Her inquisitive nature and desire to help people has led to a lifelong pursuit of learning about human physiology and becoming trained in all forms of massage therapy, including orthopedic massage, craniosacral therapy and spontaneous muscle release technique (SMRT). She’s also a certified infant massage instructor who has worked with premature babies and newborns with varying medical complications.
“I’m a continuing education junkie,” she said with a laugh. “I honestly feel like that’s what makes my work really good. I can never learn enough, and I am able to take something from each course and integrate it into my work. That way I can pull out different modalities when a client presents with a unique condition that requires a different type of work.”
Montelione Grust remembered being in Costa Rica on a beach where massage therapists were working on clients. “I walked up and down the beach watching them work so I could pick the right therapist to get a massage from, and then I saw this woman who worked with her feet. That gave me the idea.” She studied and took courses on ashiatsu, which is a form of deep-tissue release using feet to apply the appropriate pressure. She had her partner put bars on the ceiling of her massage room so she could practice, “because I’m such a massage nerd!”
In her first attempt at providing an ashiatsu massage, she hadn’t realized that the massage table was too high. “I climbed up on the table and held onto the bars and started to work on the client with my feet, and suddenly felt this sharp pain.” She had impaled herself on the light fixture, with “blood dripping down my face. I was so embarrassed!”
For every setback, there have been a dozen advances for Montelione Grust, including becoming the founder and owner of CoreStones, which are heated and cooled to apply deep-tissue massage. She sold that business last year, after it took off, and she provided courses and instruction to dozens of massage therapists on how to do a CoreStone-based massage.
She currently has five therapists working with her, two of whom have been with her for two decades. “Everyone who works here is warm and caring. That sounds trite, but it’s critical. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by such amazing women. We’ve created a real sisterhood at the Center.”
Asked what it is about massage therapy that has kept her engaged all of these years, she said, “Being able to help people and provide them with some relief. We have people that come in here who are in tremendous pain, or are going through a divorce or loss. Touch is so important, and when you think about it, doctors don’t touch their patients. They prescribe and operate, but they don’t really have a sense of their patients’ anatomy.”
Montelione Grust said that in her line of work, she has found blood clots in a client’s leg, a tumor when palpating someone’s abdomen, suspicious moles that needed checking, even ticks. “I’ve had people tell me that I helped save their life, which is hard to accept but I guess it’s true.”
She said that she lets her hands lead her. “I follow the patterns of the body with my hands and try and find where and what might be causing the dysfunction in the body. I feel like my hands have an intelligence to them, and they know how deep to go and when to back off. I may start off in an area that the client has said is problematic, but that leads me to another area, and then I’ll come back.” While there are learned techniques and skills that are taught to therapists, there is also that element that exists within the person to be able to intuit and hear what the body has to say.
Montelione Grust has taught classes her entire career, and has been the president of the New York State Chapter of the American Association of Massage Therapists. “I even learn when I’m teaching a course,” she said.
By the end of this summer, Montelione Grust will retire those precious hands from the therapeutic massage field. She will still manage her Center, which is going strong; but after four decades of digging into other people’s pain and tension and helping them to heal, Montelione Grust has decided that it’s time for her to do some serious adventuring – whether it’s in her backyard, the Mohonk Preserve or far-flung places.
“I’ve been working for a long time, and it’s time for me to play,” she said. “If a friend asks to go for a hike, I want to be able to say ‘Yes.’ If there’s a place I’m dying to visit, I want to be able to go. I might just want to hop on my bike and ride, or create walkways and more gardens in my yard. I just love being outside and active and feel like it’s time to give back to myself.”
That said, Montelione Grust admits that it’s going to be difficult. “It’s definitely going to be an organic process. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like yet, but I do know that I’m so full of gratitude. I’ve felt so supported by the people of New Paltz throughout my career. I feel so blessed that I’ve been able to help people and that they’ve trusted me and followed me as I moved, and to all the therapists that have worked with me. This community has been incredible.” Montelione Grust has been a gift to this community as well.