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It is very hard for me to believe
that Sue has died. When I walk by the little, impromptu
shrine at Loyola and see her photo, I expect her to tease me. When I see the photo of her in her wheelchair reading to children,
I can hear her voice. When I see her photo in the obituaries
in the Seattle Times, I catch myself asking what is it doing
Sue is one of those very few people
who we will expect to see for a very long time at her van on the
upper mall, or on the stage at commencement, or offering a comment
in a Deans Council meeting, or delighting at a Martinez Foundation
banquet, or bragging about Carlito, or rolling in a procession into
a church. Some seem to continue to inhabit our campus to
greet us: a Fr. Bill LeRoux, an Anne Carraghan, an
Al Mann, a Sue Schmitt. I'll never pass Loyola
early or late and not expect to find her and to allow her to lobby
me for something!
Now why is this that many-even our
most beloved-we remember, but others we continue to expect to be
there, not disappearing, unquenchable? I believe it is
because Sue Schmitt-like only a few others-had a very unique
spirit, a spark and life which was gathered and concentrated by
overcoming disability so that it flamed up, a concentrated courage
and compassion, a childlike playfulness and delight in others, and
a generous giving of gifts which is more than a memory, that is so
unique a spirit of life that it lives on and will continue to be
among us. Today we remember her and those who knew her best
will tell her story. But I believe that long beyond this day
she will continue to tell her own story, to share her own life with
us, to encourage us-whatever our disabilities-to live our own lives
fully, freely, courageously, compassionately, lovingly, lastingly,
in a good way and in God.
God's word to us today is a word of
revelation about Sue and as an ongoing lesson to us from Sue the
continuous teacher. Paul the Apostle says about himself but
could it not also be said about Sue:
"I am already being poured out like
a libation,and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
Move over St. Paul, for that's
Sue! Poured out in service, one who outdid anyone in fighting
her good fight against all obstacles, finishing and winning the
race rolling right on by the rest of us, keeping the faith of her
family and her church, so that at any time, even at a most
unexpected time, she was not caught unprepared or half-way toward
her life's goals when the time of her departure came.
I love the next bit from
St. Paul too as quite appropriate to Sue. It's about
when God establishes his kingdom:
"From now on there is reserved for
me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge,
will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who
have longed for God's appearing."
Sue is asleep in Christ; she will be
awakened in the Kingdom of God, and we with her. I can only
imagine her still rolling around, not in a wheelchair, but in a
chariot, and waving as she wears that crown. I think she will
like that bit very much, and it will be a very well deserved crown
of justice, goodness, and faith.
Someone the other day told me that
everything we say about what happens after death is poetry, not
prose. As poetry it evokes what might be, alludes to it,
gives an image, stirs a feeling, rather than delivers it in prosaic
fact. Here's a poem by Anne Porter which is perfect for Sue
and for us about what might be beyond death.
A NIGHT IN IRELAND
Our steamship docked at night
In Cobh, an Irish seaport
A small one in those days
Not an inn, not a tavern was open
And we had to wait till morning
For the train to Fermoy
But in the wooded hills
Up above the town
Nightingales were awake
All the dark thickets
Were rich with their songs
It was on that night
And in those woods
I dreamed that I found the door
Of all doors the most hidden
And most renowned
Overgrown with nettles
Rustic and low
Built as if for children
Or as a gate for sheep
In some back-country pasture
And through a chink in the door
I saw the marvelous light
That's purest of all lights
Neither sun nor moon
Nor any star I know of
Could give such light
And I saw the crowds of the blessed
From the greatest to the smallest
The smallest were running and laughing
And Christ the Lord was with them
And also Mary
But before I could knock at the door
Someone spoke to me
I think it was an angel
He said You've come too soon
Go back into the towns
Live there as love's apprentice
And God will give you his kingdom
I woke up just before sunrise
When the nightingales ended their songs
Dew gathered on the ferns
And the cool woods
Gave off a scent of earth
In the early morning
I was hungry and cold
And I started back to the town
At the first signs of day
Already a sunlit smoke
Was rising from the chimneys
And mist from the water
I heard a rooster crowing
And then I heard the whistle
Of the train to Fermoy.
The low door built as if for
children, the marvelous light, purest of all lights, the crowds of
the blessed the smallest running and laughing, with Christ, with
Mary. Poetry about what's beyond the door. The school
bell has rung and Sue has been told to come in through the
door. The train whistle sounds for us and we are told, "Go
back into the towns, live there as love's apprentice, and God will
give you his kingdom." "Love's apprentice", isn't
that what Sue's life was all about and what ours is invited and
inspired to be by her?
To the end and in all circumstances
and occasions Sue was above all the teacher. Loyola Hall and
our whole campus, and our city and community and country were all
classrooms for Sue the teacher. How right then that the
Gospel, the Good News, chosen for this Memorial Mass is of Jesus
sitting down, teaching his disciples. And what an unusual
lesson plan he follows:
Blessed are the poor in
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and
for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted
for righteousness' sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These lessons turn upside down all
we think makes for blessedness: poor in spirit, mourning,
meek, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, persecuted for
justice. Yet, such we are told are the ones who are
comforted, filled, inheritors of the earth, recipients of mercy,
children of God, citizens of the Kingdom of God. Once again,
it's the prose of our lives as love's apprentices, and the poetry
of God's blessing. Each lesson speaks so clearly of Sue and
her spirit, commitments, and life. They are the lesson plan
from which she unceasingly taught. They teach us about our
own call and the promise beyond the door.
As I conclude the remarks I am
privileged to make as priest and president in Sue Schmitt's
Memorial Service, and as we turn to the memories of others, allow
me to paraphrase the teaching of Jesus addressed now more
personally to Sue the teacher.
Blessed are you, Sue, for your
for you enliven others.
Blessed are you for all you suffered
for you show us to make light of our woes.
Blessed are you for being both
courageous and meek,
for you have won the rights of many.
Blessed are you who strove for
for thousands live fuller humane lives because of you.
Blessed are you for your mercy
and compassion for the young and the blind, and the disabled, for they know God's compassion.
Blessed are you in your purity of
heart (with just a touch of the devil in you),
for we have been purified by you to see God better in our
Blessed are you as peacemaker in the
College (no easy task!),
in schools and community, for you are indeed a peaceful child of God.
And blessed are you for all you have
stood up for and stood against for the sake of others, for they and you shall ride in chariots and wear crowns in the
Kingdom of God.
Sue, I still can't believe you have died, but now I
know that I will never really need to believe it.
Good Afternoon. My name is Steve Milam; I am Margit McGuire's husband. Margit and I were Sue's friends and a couple of her many "go to" people. I speak for us both and on behalf of Sue's family and some of my remarks are those of Sue's sister Sylvia, who is in Wisconsin helping with a new born grandchild. I am honored to have the privilege to speak about Sue.
As we know, Sue was born in Caledonia, Minnesota, now I don't know how close that is to Lake Woebegone, but I do know that at least one of the children born there was way above average.
In her youth Sue loved to swim and ride horses. In 1966, she was 19 and a sophomore at Creighton University majoring in the science of pre-pharmacy. She was struck by a then unknown illness that was sudden and devastating. The paralysis began in her toes and rapidly climbed her body stopping at chest level. The physicians did not know what caused it or why it stopped where it did. She was airlifted from Omaha to Rochester, Minnesota where she had immediate surgery and the surgeons determined that a virus had destroyed her spinal cord. We now have a name for the illness - Acute Transverse Myelitis.
Sue was told that her life expectancy would be to age 35. She was encouraged to go home and live with her family and let them take care of her. Well you can imagine how well that advice went down. All you have to do is to look at her (pointing to the picture of Sue that was present) and know that she said; "Are you kidding me!?"
After over a year doing rehab in Rochester, she started to look for colleges; after several rejections, Viterbo College (now Viterbo University) in LaCrosse, Wisconsin accepted her, but the family was expected to make the campus accessible. Several cousins who were carpenters descended on the campus, built ramps and a lift so that she could go from her dorm to the classrooms. Classes scheduled for the second floor were moved to the first floor. Because science classes had labs and she could not access the laboratory tables, she had to change her major and graduated in 1969 with a BA in English.
Then she earned an M. Ed. in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. When she earned her Ed. D. from Mississippi State University, they constructed the first ramp they had ever built for someone to accept a degree.
After that, her professional and academic career was exceptional.
Sue blazed many trails. There were very few barriers that she did not overcome. She loved to travel.
In 1990, she traveled to Germany with her nephews, Chris and John. They visited Neuswhwanstein Castle and were told that there were too many steps at the castle for her to come in. Chris and John carried her up the steps and the keeper of the castle still didn't want to let her in, but John convinced them that they had carried her up and, indeed, they were coming in. There were fireworks that night and Sue claimed they were for her, but, alas, they were for King Ludwig.
Sylvia, Sue's sister traveled with Sue to several meetings. One was in Puerto Rico, and they had gone to an evening meal at a fortress. They had taken a cab there, but when they were to leave, no cab was available. With a martini or two on board Sue made friends with the caterer. They loaded Sue onto the caterer's truck and met Sylvia back at the hotel. Sue befriended an employee of the hotel, a Mr. Snow. He took Sue and Sylvia in his own car to see the sights of Puerto Rico. Sights Sue couldn't otherwise see, because she could not get onto the tour buses. They went into the steamy mountains and had coconut milk right from a farmer's cart. They went to see beautiful beaches and small villages. They spent the entire afternoon being shown the sights of San Juan by a stranger who was now their friend. Sue could just do that - make strangers her friends.
Look again at her picture - who could resist her?
Sue was undaunted by obstacles - she was never the victim.
After her elevator accident, Sue was far more restricted in her travel ability because she needed lift-assisted vans and could not withstand frequent transfers from her chair and back. But such vans were not readily available. Cruises became her main vacation format.
This August, Sue took her 12 year old grand nephew and 5 year old grand niece on an Alaskan cruise. Sue could not stop telling the story of 5 year old Sophia, who, after just two days into the cruise, came running up to the table where the family was eating and exclaimed "This is the best trip ever!" Sue said she thought at that moment - "Mission accomplished." It was indeed a perfect cruise for all, the weather was perfect; Sue was able to take all of the side trips, (which often she could not) even the train trip up the mountain; and 12 year old Adam was glued to the ship's rail with binoculars counting the wild species - Sue heard him say at one point he was up to 55 different kinds. Her smile and the twinkle in her eyes when she related these events said it all. That is the same twinkle in her eyes and the impish look on her face that she has in the picture before us at this memorial.
She loved her family dearly and on Friday night last week when Margit and I last spoke with her, she was showing us a full size computer printout picture of her newly born grand nephew. She was one very proud Great Aunt!
Now Sue did have her blind spots, as we all do. Sports were just not her thing. When she began working with the Martinez Foundation she mentioned that she thought it had a sports connection but was not sure what it was. If I explained it once, I explained it several times; you see Edgar was my favorite all time Seattle sports hero. Well she finally got that it was baseball and that Edgar was a big deal - but it lost a little in the application. For example, at one of the Martinez Foundation fundraisers she bid on and got a picture of Feliz Hernandez, an award winning pitcher for the Seattle Mariners professional baseball team. Well Sue had learned that players' autographs were prized items, so she asked Edgar to sign the picture. She knew it wasn't Edgar's picture, but she thought she should get it autographed. Being the ever gracious person that he is, Edgar signed it for her. So out there somewhere in her extended family is a very nice picture of Felix Hernandez, with an Edgar Martinez autograph on it. A real collector's item! How she ended up with an Ichiro autographed baseball and what she knew - or didn't know about Ichiro is another story.
Another note about Sue's character and persona:
Do you believe, as Margit and I do that animals know a kind person when they see one? We have two dogs - one a big black lab and a small 10 pound Havanese called Tipper. Tipper is quite standoffish and not a snuggler. But when Sue would visit, Tipper would jump up onto Sue's lap and just lay there and let Sue pet her, not even Margit and I can do that. Sue was the only person Tipper would let do that. Tipper barks when people drive up and come toward our yard, even if they have been to our home many times. But when Sue drove up, Tipper would just start whining and straining to get to Sue and onto Sue's lap. There was no doubt that the feeling was mutual as Sue would often say that she needed her "Tipper fix." I think that Tipper knew that Sue was genuinely kind at heart, and a fundamentally good and selfless person.
For nearly everyone, Sue's stepping down from her deanship came as a surprise. But to her family it was not.
In 2009 on her annual visit with her family in Marshfield, Wisconsin, she began to look at property. She identified a parcel in 2010 and purchased the property in April of 2011 and began reviewing architectural drawings for a specialized home on the property shortly thereafter. At the same time 2010-2011, she was looking at property in Texas near an old college friend and had specialized architectural drawings prepared for a home in Texas - she did not like the Wisconsin winters. She also, had drawings sent to her modifying space in a new condominium in Seattle - she did like the Seattle climate best of all. She was going to visit Texas this year. Sue had a plan and a schedule and it was all going according to the plan until 10 days ago.
She had planned her resignation (from her deanship) for over two years and did not want to be a lame duck. She didn't want to tell anyone here and burden them with having to keep it secret, despite the urgings of her family to tell her Seattle friends. She wanted to complete the reorganization of the Doctoral Program, have everything settled with the NCATE accreditation review, and to get Middle College set up to come to campus. With those major projects completed and in place, she felt she could take her leave and then have time to prepare for the next phase of her life.
Well she is on to another phase, and I am guessing that when she arrived she said "God, it's Sue, lets get started."
Finally, I am going to paraphrase a quote that I think, and to which your presence here today attests, is a fitting descriptor of Sue -
"An educator affects eternity; she can never know where her influence stops."
Sue was a treasure and we are all enriched to have had her in our lives.
I am at Seattle University because Sue Schmitt hired me. There was a search, there was a committee, and, at the end, there was Sue. After the application process, after the interviews, and after the teaching demonstration, I talked with Sue and she convinced me that this was a place where I needed to be. As we negotiated the pragmatics of being hired, she showed me that the College of Education at Seattle University was a special place and that I belonged here. I needed to know that my work would matter, and she convinced me that it would if I came here. And she was right. Sue had that same discussion with many other staff faculty members in her 16 years, and the impact of those discussions is in the people who comprise the faculty and staff of the College of Education. We are a wonderful collection of 55 dreamers and doers, and the person who hired all but 12 of us was Sue Schmitt. She saw in each of us a building block toward her vision of a vibrant college that impacts our students, our region, and the nation. And then when she got us here, she made certain we had the tools and resources and support to succeed. In the past five years as a faculty member, and in the last two months as the interim dean, I’ve had the privilege of seeing Sue’s impact through the people she encouraged within the college. In my own work, I’ve seen her listen to my ideas, suggest ways to make them better, and then help me find ways to make the ideas real. Sue didn’t believe in barriers and she made certain that those of us who worked with her experienced that same sense of always changing for the better.Here’s an example: A couple of years back, I told Sue about a study that I was working on to look at how a community college had significantly increased its faculty of color. She replied that she had done something similar at the College of Education. I didn’t realize it until then. But, as I looked deeper, I found that Sue had hired all but one of the 15 faculty and staff of color who currently work in the College. And as I looked at how she had accomplished this change, I could see that she had taken intentionally strategic steps and worked to build the college’s awareness of the value of a diverse faculty. And then she supported the change that resulted as the College recruited a diverse faculty. What could had been a deficit changed to success through her vigilant efforts – it’s a pattern that defines much of what I know about Sue.Some leaders maintain an undeviating sense of direction and demand that everyone conforms to it. Other leaders know what’s possible and then work to bring people to act on an understanding of that possibility. Sue was the latter. She worked strategically, thoughtfully, and relationally to bring change. She was a visionary, a pragmatist, and a humanist – a rare combination among leaders. She infused the College with her own drive to remove the barriers that confront people and progress. Her support and advocacy meant that the College of Education is a place we can do the work that matters to us. We couldn’t have ever asked more from a leader.I will miss her.
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