By Andrew “Drew” Mihalik
Susan had a lifelong and deep commitment to children. She was director of inpatient pediatric psychiatric occupational therapy at the University of Texas medical branch Galveston before she went on to University of Chicago to get her masters in early childhood education. Her thesis explored the possibility of integrating autistic preschoolers into the public school system.
When she perceived a need in the San Lorenzo Valley, Susan would respond, especially if it involved children or the disenfranchised, and since actions speak louder than words, she became a foster parent.
She worked with Anne Gulliver to make the Boulder Creek library a reality. Now she is contributing to the Felton library.
She, a book, three dachshunds, a golden, and a Rottweiler would spend time among the roses, the honeysuckle threatening to collapse the fence, the hummingbird and butterfly plants.
Before that restorative, however, there was always the community.
4-H in the San Lorenzo Valley in the 70s was inclusive, high energy, and very grassroots. Adults gave generously of their knowledge, children learned skills, responsibility, and even public speaking: at the end of the year every child gave a speech designed to teach some aspect of their area of interest. There was never criticism. There was applause.
Susan and her daughters taught 4-H dog training, at the same time dealing at one time or another with sheep, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, cats, and a total of five guide dogs and three canine companions for independence. County Fair was two weeks of camping for the horse and sheep kids who were showing their charges and were responsible for them 24 hours a day. The 2 week 4H camp was bare bones and manned by family: bring your tent, bring your sleeping bag. Kids helped with meals and dishwashing, adults taught the usual camp skills. Susan did the leather working classes.
She volunteered at Boulder Creek Elementary. I think she had the most fun at teaching and the third-grade boys’ cooking class. They were very enthusiastic: possibly because they got to eat what they cooked.
Her volunteer work was very hands-on. School backpacks for those who needed them. Christmas meant gift barrel collection and present wrapping and delivery and talking Les Couvillon into being set to close for the children’s party. The weeks after the earthquake, donations poured in. Somebody had to deal with waist-high piles of clothing and blankets. Somebody had to separate and fold or hang them.
She was a fixture at the Highland Park Senior Citizens Center. Wednesday was bridge day. Weekends meant the bake sale. Her contributions: cowgirl cookies, peanut brittle, lemon bread, banana bread with that great, caramelized pecan topping.
Now, because of her love of books, children, growing things, and the delightfully quirky denizens of the San Lorenzo Valley, there is this space to be shared by all.