Obituary: Susan Marie Moegenburg, 1966-2020 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Susan Marie Moegenburg, 1966-2020

Shelburne woman left a tangible legacy of land conservation

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Susan Moegenburg - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Susan Moegenburg

Susan Marie Moegenburg, 53, devoted mother, avid nature lover and longtime member of the Natural Resources Committee in Shelburne, died on October 20 at the McClure Miller Respite House, finally at peace after years of declining health.

A loyal Green Bay Packers fan, Susan was born December 13, 1966, in Milwaukee, Wis., to Marilyn and Frederick Moegenburg. The youngest of four children, Susan was curious, loved to learn and often could be found with a book in her hand. She spent much of her childhood traveling around the country showing horses with her older sister, Julie. But while others raced around preparing for the event, Susan would find a quiet space and calmly groom her horse — caught up in the simplicity of the moment.

She liked to live life slowly and purposefully, taking the time to notice the most minute details of the natural world around her. Interested in nature from an early age, as a child she captured water fly larvae and raised them in shoeboxes. That early passion for nature blossomed over time and drove her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Wisconsin, followed by a PhD in ecology at the University of Florida. There she focused on tropical forest conservation in Brazil, studying the interactions of birds and wildlife with acai berry harvesting. Subsequently, she received a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation to work with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center investigating the nesting patterns of blackpoll warblers at high elevations of the Green Mountains.

It was at the University of Florida that she met her future husband, Toben Galvin, who was drawn to Susan’s love of birding, alligators and arugula. They were married in 2002 and settled in Shelburne, where they raised their two children, Reid and Chloe.

Susan quickly immersed herself in the Shelburne community, putting her career on hold to focus on her kids. She took them to the Pierson Library and the local Shelburne playgroup, served as a Hands-on-Nature teacher in their classes at Shelburne Community School, and helped form a babysitting co-op with a group of Shelburne moms.

Susan loved to Nordic ski, kayak, hike and bike, but what she loved most of all were Reid and Chloe. She biked them to school when they were young — towing them in a trailer that the kids affectionately called “the Big Rig.” She made popovers on every family birthday, channeled her creativity into Halloween costumes and special birthday parties, and hosted soup nights for family and friends to raise money for charitable causes. She served her kids kale chips and taught them to forage for edible wild plants and mushrooms.

She also joined a group of Shelburne women for an annual Nordic ski trip to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Skiing with Susan meant stopping frequently to listen to birds and to "the sound of nothing." After a day of skiing at Craftsbury, she loved to knit on the sidelines of the large-group community room gatherings and simply soak up the conversation and camaraderie.

There also were the big family trips to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and the Galapagos Islands. Costa Rica was perhaps Susan’s happiest place. Her family remembers that on a morning when hiking through the tropical forest, she spotted a rare bird and screamed with excitement, startling the rest of the family. An independent and adventurous spirit, Susan also did a lot of solo travel for research purposes. This took her to places like the Caxiuana National Forest in the Brazilian Amazon and to La Selva Biological Research Station in Costa Rica — a protected area in the country’s tropical rain forest.

Protecting the environment was one of Susan’s greatest accomplishments. She contributed her extensive knowledge and expertise in forestry, water resources and land conservation to Shelburne’s Natural Resources Committee for many years, helping to preserve several parcels of land forever, including land along the LaPlatte River, by the Zen Center, farm land on Pond Road, and the land that Bread & Butter Farm sits on. She also wrote the grant that secured funding for the rain garden at Shelburne Community School and did water sampling for more than a decade as a volunteer for the Lewis Creek Association, an organization that was near and dear to her heart.

Professionally, she was a lecturer at the University of Vermont from 2009 to 2016, teaching advanced classes on tropical forest ecology, conservation and non-timber forest products, and leading student trips to Costa Rica. She also taught online courses at Community College of Vermont for years and ran her own consulting business, Sustaining Traditions, which provided ecology workshops for a variety of audiences.

Susan made a difference; her legacy is tangible. Lands conserved. Nature protected. Open spaces carved out for the future. She will be remembered as someone who was undeniably human, who tried her best to overcome the challenges before her, and who sought to find peace and quiet in a loud and noisy world.

During the last years of her life, Susan struggled with a rare autoimmune disorder: antisynthetase syndrome. The progressive, debilitating physical symptoms of this chronic illness took a great toll on her mental and emotional health, and her well-being was further compromised by the challenges of alcohol-use disorder. An intensely private and determined person, she struggled hard for life and never gave up believing that she could turn things around and enjoy more good times with her family and friends.

Susan leaves behind her children, Reid and Chloe Galvin, now students at Champlain Valley Union High School. She also leaves behind her former husband, Toben Galvin; her beloved dog, Woodie; and a group of close friends in Shelburne. She is survived by her sister, Julie O’Halloran, and her husband, Hugh O’Halloran, of Jackson Hole, Wyo.; her brother, David Moegenburg, and his wife, Georgia Moegenburg; and her brother, Pete Moegenburg, and his wife, Laura Moegenburg, all of Wisconsin; and two nephews.

A private service will be held at the Charlotte Congregational Church. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made in Susan’s memory to Lewis Creek Association (lewiscreek.org/take-action) or La Selva Biological Research Station via the Organization for Tropical Studies (tropicalstudies.org/give).

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