Susee Engdahl, 1932--2013

Susee Engdahl died at home on February 23, with family and
friends nearby. She had been fighting an undiagnosed illness for months.  Born and raised in a small Oregon logging town on the banks of the Santiam River, Susee did a lot in eighty years. She taught elementary school in Windsor, raised five children and traveled the world, from the Great Wall of China, to the top of Mt. Fuji, to the pyramids of
Egypt to the Louvre in Paris. She was a prolific painter, leaving behind hundreds of spectacular works of art.

At eighteen, Susee left home and headed off to college at Oregon State University, only to have her college career cut short the following year when she was diagnosed with TB. Consigned to the Oregon
Tuberculosis Hospital in Salem, she spent  nine months watching friends die and learning to crochet. In 1953 she married Don Engdahl and left the hospital to live with his sister after he was drafted into the army. She had her first child at Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco. Eventually, they ended up in Santa Rosa, when Don got a job as a reporter at the Press Democrat.  By 1962, they had five children and were building a house with a concrete roof on Chalk Hill Road outside of Windsor. The house was very much a do-it-yourself project, and Susee learned to conquer her fear of heights as she plastered the 20' high ceilings, dug a septic tank with a pick and shovel, painted the walls, grouted tile and worked with the only labor force available (her children) to landscape 3 1/2 acres of hillside.

She returned to college after her divorce in 1971, needing a
way to support her five children. She graduated, and then went on to get a teaching credential at age 40. During her two years at Sonoma State, the family qualified for welfare, which was the only thing that made it possible to put food on the table. Even into her first year of teaching, her income was so low, they still qualified for food stamps. This experience turned her into a lifelong advocate for those in need. One of her great pleasures in recent years was writing checks to 'her charities'.

Susee taught for 29 years in Windsor, in 2nd, 4th and 5th grades. Everywhere she went in later years, former students would come up and say, 'Is that you, Mrs, Engdahl?  I had you in fourth grade!' Famous for insisting that all her students learn to love reading and memorize their multiplication tables, Susee also brought her love of theater into the classroom. Her students performed plays,  bringing to life everything from Rosa Parks' famous bus ride to Christopher Columbus' voyage. She always said that even the most unruly students could be encouraged to do their work with the suggestion that they might lose their part in the next play. Indulging her own dramatic bent, she participated in local theater, including featured roles in
"Little Mary Sunshine".

During summers off from teaching, Engdahl traveled, bringing her experiences home to share with her students. Stories of her solo trip across country by Greyhound bus, as well as trips all over the world, always included encounters with friends she managed to make even without speaking a word of the
local language.

After retirement in 2001, she found herself at a loss. Going from days filled with teaching, correcting papers and making lesson plans, she found that she wasn't meant for a life of leisure. Eventually, she pieced
together a life filled with reading to preschoolers, a weekly painting group, and trips to San Jose to take care of her son Chris' daughters, Robin and Haley Stephan Engdahl. Every summer, she attended the Fair, serving as cheerleader for her daughter Jane, Special Events Coordinator at the Sonoma County Fair.
"She came every day, and for years she never missed a contest. She was the Special Events Department's strongest supporter", says her daughter. "I'm not sure if it is possible to hold a Family Look-Alike Contest
without her."

In addition to her daughter and granddaughters, Engdahl is survived by four sons: Lee of Abu Dhabi, Eric of Chicago, Chris of San Jose and Garth Engdahl of Eugene, Oregon. A memorial gathering is planned for Saturday, March 9. For details, send an email to Memorial donations may be made to the Redwood Empire Food Bank or 4-Cs Community Child Care Council.

Published in the Press Democrat March 2013


1 comment:

  1. It's hard to believe you've been gone a year. You were the best mother-in-law and the best Grandma on the planet. We miss you.