Susan was born in 1946 at the start of the Baby Boom and, in many ways, her life was typical of her generation. For instance, on the day she was born our dad hitchhiked back from the University of Minnesota where he was studying on the GI Bill.
In the early 50s, Dad and mom built a “prairie” ranch house on Mitchell Blvd. – our family home – just in time for Susan to begin kindergarten at Eugene Field grade school. Susan was a “good kid” all the way through high school. She liked school, behaved herself, and received high marks from her teachers.
The only time that I remember where she did anything that was the least bit out of line was when Mr. Baldwin, a town police officer, stopped Susan and her friends and told them to quit playing “homecoming parade” by riding up and down Main Street sitting on the top of back of the seat of Karen Lindekugel’s convertible and waving to people on the street.
After high school Susan went to Northern State where she got her bachelors degree in English and History and a certificate for high school teaching. As did many a product of the sixties, Susan had a great time both academically and socially in college… and then she and Jackie Larson went to teach in Canby, Minnesota for four years.
Susan left high school teaching to serve in the Peace Corps. Like many others of her generation, she wanted to make a difference in the world. Susan loved her years in Malaysia, and, in many ways, those two years transformed Susan from a South Dakota girl who never ate anything more daring than meat and potatoes to an adventure-loving world traveler.
She broadened her horizons by living in a hut with “house lizards” (to keep the bugs down) and no refrigerator. She rode her bike a couple of miles each way into the nearby village for meals – where she ate all kinds of seafood and vegetables she had never heard of – let alone tasted – and learned to enjoy them. She taught English to Malaysian high school students during the school year, and traveled to places like Singapore and Taiwan on breaks.
Susan also made two trips to Peru to visit our sister Beth and her husband Raul. While there, she especially enjoyed the raucous evenings – with the Duarte brothers and their friends – swapping stories, acquiring rudimentary Spanish and exploring the delights of Peruvian food, beer and Pisco sours.
After the Peace Corps, she wasn’t content to go back to high school teaching. She began work on her master’s degree in history at the University of South Dakota. Her thesis – Two Twentieth Century Mission Newspapers – was about Indian mission schools. During her years at USD she also researched and wrote a Bicentennial teaching guide with two USD professors. One of those professors, Herb Hoover, became her mentor and encouraged her to go on to Oklahoma State University to earn her doctorate in history.
Her interest in the role of the Catholic Church in the history of the American West – that began with her work at USD – became the springboard for her doctoral dissertation on The Presentation Sisters in South Dakota. The dissertation was expanded into Women with Vision, a book published by the University of Illinois Press. Her book detailed how the sisters started schools, did missionary work with the Indians and branched out into nursing. Ultimately the sisters established a network of hospitals and healthcare institutions across the state. It is fitting that she spent the last 10 years of her life in one of them – Avera Brady Health and Rehab.
After she completed her doctorate, Susan returned to South Dakota to teach history at Yankton College. She was happy to be back in her home state where she was able to reconnect with family and friends.
Susan was very much interested in the history and culture of South Dakota – an interest she shared with our father. She often spent long hours late into the night discussing history with our dad. That bond was very important to both of them – especially as her multiple sclerosis (which had been diagnosed in 1978) progressed. Although the disease slowly robbed her of her physical strength, her mind stayed active – alert, curious and engaged for the rest of her life.
When the offer came, Dr. Hoover encouraged Susan to take a professorial appointment at the history department of the University of North Dakota. UND was a great fit for Susan – in so many ways. One of which was that – if you have ever been to Grand Forks, you note that the topography of the campus is very flat – this was especially suited to the wheelchair that Susan used during much of her tenure there.
When the progress of her disease made Susan leave the campus, she continued to work with students on special projects from home for as long as she could. In the mid-90s she left North Dakota and moved to Minnesota where there were better facilities for people with MS. During those years, she spent a lot of time with our sister Christine and her husband Frank, who lives in Cloquet. She also reconnected with Tim Horman – a Mitchell friend from her USD years who made sure that Susan got out for an occasional evening out on the town.
After two years, she returned to Mitchell to live at Avera Brady so that she could be closer to our mother. Here in Mitchell, Susan became reacquainted with high school classmates like Vickie Brown, Jackie Austin, Carol Stiles, Susan McGovern and Jim Montgomery. They often stopped by to visit and helped her celebrate events like birthdays and class reunions.
Her sister Carolyn, who lived in South Dakota during all the years that Susan was a Brady, helped to decorate her room with lots of photos from our childhood and made sure that Susan had an ample supply of holiday sweets and Twizzlers candy that Susan loved so much. Susan, an inveterate liberal, also loved to argue about politics with Carolyn’s husband Kenny whose politics were of a much more conservative nature.
Susan enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with her sister Nancy when Nancy moved back to Mitchell to spend some time with mom. Susan also got to know and enjoy spending time with Nancy’s husband Matt and their three little girls – and Nancy helped Carolyn with Twizzler duty and took care of many of Susan’s other needs.
Susan made many good friends among the staff and volunteers at Brady. She loved hearing about their families and friends. And over the years, many volunteers helped Susan with her correspondence with family and friends. For these past months, special thanks (from the family) goes to Pam Thompson who helped a great deal with Susan’s correspondence and who made Wednesday’s a special day for her.
As I said earlier, Susan was a Baby Boomer. Like the others of our generation the 1960s were the decade that helped to define her life. The music, events, and the social changes made a permanent impression on her. The deaths of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King; the Vietnam war and related protests; and the Watergate scandal... all had an impact on her thinking.
She was a great supporter of liberal causes – especially those typified by Senator George McGovern. One of the delights of this past year was when Susan McGovern arranged for her to attend the dedication of the George and Eleanor McGovern Library at DWU and to have dinner with the McGovern family afterward. Because our Susan was such a fan of both education and George McGovern, we (her sisters) have decided to donate the memorials left in her honor to the McGovern library.
We thank you all for helping us celebrate the life of our sister Susan Carol Peterson.