Susan Ellisa MacConnie: 1952-2023


Susan Ellisa MacConnie, June 13, 1952, to Sept. 22, 2023.
  • Susan Ellisa MacConnie, June 13, 1952, to Sept. 22, 2023.

"Sue is one of the kindest, most accomplished and thoughtful people I've ever met. Everything she attempted she conquered with immense interest and ultimate mastery. She did this while always maintaining her genuinely nice and caring character."

"We've lost a brilliant friend, loving partner, dedicated educator, wood-working aficionado, amazing family member and thoughtful, caring and curious woman."

"Sue is a thoughtful, kind, compassionate and warm friend who is selfless and giving to others, but especially her friends."

"Sue taught me to not only smell the roses, but to feel them, really see them, and even hear them (adding you have two ears and one mouth); and not just the roses, but the mountains, the ocean, the rivers, the trees, the stars, the moon, the sunrise and the sunset — oh how she loved the sunset."

Sue, the first child of Annaliese and Walter, was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 13, 1952. Her family, which then included her brother, James, and sister, Betsy, moved to Commack, New York, in 1961. In her youth, Sue played the violin and was an active participant in the high school orchestra and played in their annual musical productions. She was also an avid and accomplished athlete playing on many of the high school sports teams.

Sue was the first to go to college in her family. She attended SUNY Brockport and received her Bachelor's Degree in Physical Education in 1974. At that point, she planned to get her teaching credential and become a high school physical education teacher. But a progressive mentor at Brockport University asked if she thought about pursuing advanced degrees so she could teach in higher education. That advice and encouragement changed her career trajectory. She enrolled at the University of Michigan and earned her master's degree in 1975.

Sue began her professional career in 1975 at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She was hired as an instructor in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. At the young age of 23 she started teaching Structure and Function of the Human Body, and Physiology of Exercise to students just a few years her junior. Sue was also hired as Whitewater's Head Women's Volleyball Coach and coached from 1975 to 1979. In addition to coaching volleyball, Sue served as the assistant basketball coach from 1975 to 77 and assistant softball coach from 1978 to 1979. Sue was an athlete's dream coach because of her knowledge and experience (she played in the volleyball national championships while at Brockport in 1973), plus her gentle and inspiring demeanor. She inspired many female athletes to pursue teaching and coaching careers. During the summer of 2023 her student-athletes from 1975 to 79 made a tribute video for Sue. They described Sue as: caring, inspirational, intelligent, professional, trustworthy, positive, respectful and a good listener who always made time for them.

Sue left UW-Whitewater in 1979 to pursue her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan (UofM), which she earned in 1985. While at UofM, she worked on a significant research project aimed at improving the health of elementary school children, the results of which were published in prestigious journals. At UofM she also studied male distance runners in collaboration with several Medical Doctors in the UofM School of Medicine. This area of study and research became her PhD dissertation, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Outside of academics, she played on a coed volleyball team with many talented former college players. And she took up bicycling, first riding all over Ann Arbor and surrounding farmland. After that she trained for and did several touring adventures in New England and the Pacific northwest.

After earning her doctoral degree, she worked as the athletic director at the employee fitness center for Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, Ohio. While she enjoyed aspects of that work, she felt her true calling was back in higher education. So, she moved to Humboldt County, California, in 1989 where she started the next phase of her career at Humboldt State University. She started as an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Recreation Administration, and director of the Human Performance Lab, later advancing to assistant then full professor. Sue loved and cherished her time at HSU. To her core, Sue was student-centered. She believed — and led by example — that faculty was there to teach, mentor and support their students in all ways possible. In her early years, she had several cohorts of very special graduate students whom she maintained friendships with over many years. She also enjoyed and excelled in "university service." She served as department chair of the Kinesiology and Rec Admin Department for four years, and served on numerous college and university-wide committees. She served multiple terms on the Faculty Academic Senate, and was voted by her peers to serve as chair, a high honor. Then President Rollin Richmond asked her as Senate chair to sit on the President's Advisory Council (at that time first faculty to be invited).

In 1994, Sue purchased a 5-acre labor-of-love property in Fieldbrook. Sue and her partner and love of her life, Carol Rische, spent the next 25-plus years cleaning it up, making improvements, landscaping, and creating an amazing shared vegetable garden (with tenants Dennis and Tim).

In 2014, Sue and Carol were married in Mendocino on their 20th anniversary with family and close friends. Mendocino was very special to them; they went every year and celebrated most anniversaries there. Over the years, Sue and Carol traveled extensively often times with family and friends. Favorite international destinations were New Zealand, Europe numerous times, Iceland, and a very special trip to South America and Antarctica with Carol's mom Shirley. Sue and Carol also enjoyed much travel in the U.S. and Canada, including numerous trips to the east coast, the San Juan Islands and Pacific Northwest, two trans Canada trips with visits to Canadian Rockies, as well as numerous trips up the Oregon coast, to Utah and the Southwest, and Pacific Northwest in their Leisure Travel Van RV.

Sue had many talents and interests. She learned how to build things — woodsheds, arbors, gates with beautiful arches, decks, fences and garden beds on the Fieldbrook property. Later in life, she turned her attention to fine woodworking. After retiring from HSU, she enrolled in College of the Redwoods' Woodworking Program. She took the entire cabinet-making and furniture-making series, and made stunningly beautiful furniture, wainscotting and a kitchen island for their Fieldbrook home. Sue also loved music and was a member of the Humboldt Light Opera Company (HLOC) for many years. She performed in several plays, and was part of the set-building crew for Pirates of Penzance. But her true love was HLOC's women's choir (aka the Babes). She especially loved and cherished the Altos with whom she developed very close friendships and bonds. Sue was also an avid reader. She recently joined a well-established book club. She was welcomed in with open arms and hearts, and immediately made new friends. She was an avid and accomplished bar-b-quer, too, mastering not only her gas grill but her extra-large Big Green Egg. And perhaps her deepest and most spiritual interest was nature. She loved the outdoors, especially mountains and lakes, and our magnificent coastal redwood and fir forests – which she often referred to as her cathedral. Above all, Sue loved her family. She always showed up and was engaged in all aspects of their lives.

Sue passed from our world, peacefully and at home as she wished, on Friday, Sept. 22, with her wife Carol, sister Betsy and niece Courtney by her side

In addition to Carol, her brother Jim and sister Betsy (with whom she shared a very special bond), she leaves behind beloved family members: her parents (whom she recently helped celebrate 75 years of marriage); brother-in-law Henry Bos; adored and adoring nieces and nephews Courtney (Mike) and Ryan (Danielle) Bos; Jayna (Allen) and Brian (Jessica) Haas; as well as three great nieces and nephews; sister-in-law and brother-in-law Diana and Al Sturla; aunts and uncles, as well as tens of younger cousins (many of whom shared that they were inspired by her); and countless friends who showed unwavering support and love over the many years Sue and Carol shared together.

Carol and Sue would like to acknowledge and thank, from the bottom of our hearts, the many health care professionals who guided and supported us on Sue's two-and-half year cancer journey... Dr. Joel Neal, Stanford Thoracic Oncology and his team; local oncologists Drs. Hardy and Shayeb who partnered well with Dr. Neal and offered competent and compassionate care up here; her nurse navigator Stephonie Zwald; and perhaps most importantly, the most committed nursing and medical assistant staff at St. Joseph Cancer Center who cared for and treated Sue (as they do hundreds in our community each week) — they are truly angels. We thank the ER and hospital staff, and especially surgeon Dr. Trui, for their competent and compassionate care during her hospitalizations. We also thank Hospice of Humboldt and their amazing staff for the most responsive, kind and compassionate end-of-life care and support. And finally, we would like to acknowledge and thank the Humboldt Breast and Gyn Project's Stage 4 Cancer Support Group — Sue joined shortly after she was diagnosed; the guidance, support and friendship she received was invaluable on her journey.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Sue's name to Hospice of Humboldt, Humboldt Breast and GYN Health Project, or the Humboldt Light Opera Company. A Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, Oct. 28. Details are not yet available. If interested in attending, please e-mail [email protected]

Godspeed and happy trails, dear Sue. You will be missed by so many and beyond measure.

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