Obituary: Suzanne Kusserow, 1932-2024 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Suzanne Kusserow, 1932-2024

Underhill Center woman was a beneficent force of nature who loved this Earth and loved people even more

Published May 9, 2024 at 6:00 a.m.
Updated May 9, 2024 at 9:09 a.m.

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Suzanne Kusserow - COURTESY
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  • Suzanne Kusserow

“She was a giant.” So said Sue Kusserow’s nearest neighbor on the hill in Underhill Center when describing her life and passing on April 19. And so she was, a gentle giant in the lives of family, friends and the community beneath Mount Mansfield where she lived for more than 65 years, beloved by all. Warm, kind and giving, a loving wife and supremely devoted parent, a compassionate caregiver, an accomplished teacher and writer, Sue was a beneficent force of nature. She will be dearly missed by the many and varied people whose lives she enriched.

Suzanne Margaret Kienholz Kusserow was born on May 16, 1932, in New Haven, Conn., where her father, A. Raymond Kienholz, was a researcher at the Yale School of Forestry, and her mother, Pearl Armstrong Keating Kienholz, ran a Montessori school. Following her father’s appointment as professor of botany at the University of Connecticut, she moved to Storrs, Conn., and spent summers in a cottage in the rural northwestern part of the state, surrounded by woods. Sue attended the Gilbert School in Winsted, Conn., and later graduated from UConn. At Yale’s School of Nursing, where she received a master’s degree, she met Bert(hold) Karl Kusserow, a medical student, and the two were married in 1954. They soon moved to a hilltop farm in Underhill Center, when Bert, a pioneer in the development of the artificial heart, became professor of medicine at the University of Vermont.

Three children followed: Paul in 1961, Karl in 1963 and Adrie in 1966. During these years, Sue helped found the Visiting Nurse Association of Vermont and volunteered throughout the community, memorably as the guitar-playing leader of the Underhill Congregational Church’s junior choir — a role she reprised decades later as “Gramma Sue” for the young students of the Underhill Central School. Life was idyllic until Bert’s tragic death in a car accident in December 1975. Left alone with children and in the prime of life, Sue bravely reinvented herself, working locally as a school nurse, in part to keep an eye on her children — and soon on others’ as well; later as state inspector of nursing homes, to which she traveled on her favorite back roads; and eventually as professor of nursing, first in Vermont, then in West Virginia, Oregon, in Zimbabwe as a Fulbright Scholar and ultimately back at the University of Vermont, where she earned her doctorate in her sixties.

She remarried in 1978, to William J. Lewis, a longtime UVM professor, and together they shared many good years, especially annual summer stays at Yellowstone National Park, where Bill was a renowned interpretive naturalist and Sue proudly donned a ranger’s uniform and helped staff the Museum of the National Park Ranger.

Sue spent her last years with her beloved daughter and her family, on the same land where she lived throughout her years in Vermont. She rediscovered her love of writing and, during the last fifteen years of her life, contributed hundreds of columns to the local newspaper, the Mountain Gazette, about family, nature, community and caregiving — the poles of her existence — some of which reappeared in the 2017 compilation Under the Mountain.

Sue loved this Earth. The flowers and the trees, the mud and the frogs. She loved people even more, and she engaged generously and joyously with all of them. She knew the names of just about everything that grows in northern Vermont and most of the people in Underhill. Above all, she loved family — her children and theirs: Maude, Marina, George, Ana, Francesca and Willem, as well as her children’s spouses, Serena, Robert and Nicola, all of whom in turn loved her deeply.

In an essay written years ago in memory of another pillar of the Underhill community, Sue wrote, “We can cry that she has died, and we can smile that she has lived.” Yes to both. Thank you, mom; thank you, Sue.

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