Remembering Susie

Photos by John Mola

❤️ remembering my incredible mother Susie Sexton – I’m so grateful we got to send her off with show tunes, laughter, animal rights, love, family, and her own beautiful words. Thank you, Sharon Brockhaus and Randy L. Grimes and the DeMoney-Grimes Funeral Home team for your compassion and kindness.

Click here for video of the service, which includes my remarks: https://fb.watch/7kq-yNEJFy/

Excerpts from Susie’s writings formed the basis of Sharon Brockhaus’ and my comments – those excerpts are included below the following program write-up of her life.

Photos by John Mola

Program write-up …

Susie Elizabeth Duncan Sexton, 75, of Columbia City, IN, passed away unexpectedly Friday, August 6, 2021, at her home. Born on May 14, 1946, in Fort Wayne, she was the daughter of Roy and Edna (Lewis) Duncan, who, in her words, were “neither phony nor stereotypical … my parents disagreed often, attended church regularly for networking and spiritual rejuvenation with a minimal dose of dogma, quietly performed good deeds, valued and strengthened family ties yet at a reasonable distance, and maintained serious friendships throughout their lifetimes.”

She grew up in Columbia City and graduated 3rd in her class from Columbia City Joint High School with the Class of 1964. She played one of the lead roles “Rosie DeLeon” in the first musical ever performed at the high school: Bye Bye Birdie. Susie went on to attend Ball State University in Education and was very active with campus life, where “some diversity and free-thinking happened at last.” She was a member of Pi Beta Phi, President of Panhellenic, Secretary of the Student Body and participated in Theatre projects. She graduated 12th in her class in 1968 as an honor student and was awarded the John R. Emens Outstanding Senior Award. On December 28, 1968, she married Donald Sexton in Columbia City.

In her own words Susie stated: “Fortunately or unfortunately, I seem to have been, always and in all ways, inhabiting the observation position rather than leading the way, so I am making up for lost time by recording my thoughts such as they are and once were.”

Professional roles included actor at Wagon Wheel, First Pres and Arena Theatres; original faculty member at McMillen Health Center; English teacher at Marshall Memorial Middle School in Columbia City and NorthWood High School in Napanee; English instructor at International Business College; PTA President at Indian Village Elementary; curator at the Whitley County Historical Museum; columnist and feature writer for Talk of the Town and the Columbia City Post and Mail; author of two books – Secrets of an Old Typewriter and More Secrets of an Old Typewriter: Misunderstood Gargoyles and Overrated Angels; and contributor to several published anthologies including Dearborn Public Library “Big Read” series. She was a staunch advocate for animal rights issues.www.susieduncansexton.com.

In a nomination for the Whitley County Hall of Fame, Don Sexton wrote: “Susie’s vigor and animation bring life and vitality to our ever-changing community. Since 1987, with an extensive article in the Whitley County Historical Bulletin, regarding the history of Blue Bell in Columbia City, Susie has been writing articles extolling the Columbia City/Whitley Country spirit. Today, Susie is still ‘selling’ the Blue Bell building by gathering and writing historical information for a Chicago architecture historian to place the building on the National Register of Historic Places.” This was a crucial step in bringing back to life the Blue Bell building and led to the Blue Bell Lofts opening successfully in 2017.

“Susie’s writings have also challenged current leaders to seriously weigh their decisions with their impact on future generations.”

“All this has been done with humor, grace, and the excellent structure only an English teacher can muster.”

All of these are examples of insights from the brilliant mind, soul, and life’s work of Susie Sexton. She will be remembered most for her dynamic, inclusive, and honest spirit by those who loved and knew her so well and who held her dearly in their hearts.

Susie is survived by her husband, Don Sexton; son, Roy (John Mola) Sexton; and many nieces and nephews.

She was preceded in death by her sisters, Shirley Jagger and Sarah McBride; and brothers-in-law, Eldon “Guy” Jagger and Charles “Mac” McBride.

Memorial donations may be given in memory to Whitley County Humane Society.

Visit www.demoneygrimes.com to send Susie’s family online condolences or sign the online guest book.

Susie on her career …

As I consider myself nothing nor nobody more than Peter Sellers in Being There or at my liveliest as Inspector Clousseau, it is difficult to make “Susie” sound interesting? I am proudest of being the Mother of Roy, whom I consider the person I would most wish to be. I grew up in a very small town, and after having ventured briefly out and away, returned to my roots, be that what it may, and I shall discuss that aspect of my life some other day? I love to rhyme, and I always have time…for stray animals and causes which involve “innocents” being victimized by our self-centered society.

I graduated third in my high school class and happily moved onto college days where some diversity and free-thinking happened at last.  I graduated 12th in that university class and won the first ever JOHN R. EMENS award for THE most outstanding senior.  Then, I taught for a few years, until Roy was born.  I have served as a publicist, a health lecturer and a Sunday School coordinator, and now I am an unpaid columnist sharing nostalgic trips to the past as I have achieved such an old age that no one remains who can question the authenticity of definitive, distinct memories of places, people and events which were very much never what they were ever cracked up to be. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, I seem to have been, always and in all ways, inhabiting the observation position rather than leading the way, so I am making up for lost time by recording my thoughts such as they are and once were. Recently having engaged in the wifely capacity of cheering on a male for a mayoral contest, I may finally develop my very first ulcer. I had to hush all my independent thinking and gaze lovingly into space while the world of human nature spun eerily and manically all about myself!

As you can tell, fitting my persona (-ae) into pigeonholes is impossible for me ever to accomplish. Thus, I present to you my biography (RESUME ME ;D ) which has always centered on family…and, by association, watching everybody else wave good-bye to me as those members fly off … proms, vacations, reproducing themselves right and left, marriages, and the occasional puzzling affiliation. 

My favorite play would, of course, be Carson McCullers’ Member of the Wedding (from her novel of the same title) as I have searched for the “We of Me” since toddler days and always come up wanting. In my next life, I shall finally have figured out how to make this world a better place full of tolerance and inclusiveness and understanding for all forms of life—the only prayer I ever pray.

Love you for considering my thoughts important…Susie, In a Sense…a Broad!

Photos courtesy Nancy Myrland

• Susie on writing …

Writing heals my soul. It has offered me a safe harbor from which to reflect on a life fully lived, on the influences and history of living in Columbia City, Indiana for the bulk of my life, on my appreciation for my kind and gracious parents Roy and Edna Duncan, on my love of movies and theatre and animals, and on my interests in the environment and political life and the intersection of the two.

I’ve been fortunate over the past twenty years to have others take an interest in my thoughts, to be able to publish across a wide spectrum of outlets, and to have the support of my son Roy Sexton. I’ve dubbed him “Maxwell Perkins, the editor and sometimes muse of my beloved Thomas Wolfe.

Susie on her childhood – excerpt from her column “LITTLE HOUSE ON … the back lot!” …

Tab Hunter, Lyle Bettger, Alec Guinness, Doris Day, Audie Murphy, Curt Jurgens, Sessue Hayakawa, James Whitmore and Gloria Grahame all lived in my back yard in the early fifties.  So did Johnny Lillich, Craig Langohr, Jill Whiteleather, Steve More, Lester Gaff, Jane Ann Morsches, Mary Ann and Martha Squires.  Still wishing that Bobby Morsches mighta dropped by once in awhile, too!

My surrogate grandpa whom I nicknamed “Uncle Jim”, so as not to imply his elderly status, and my daddy built a 10 ft. by 10 ft. imperfectly square playhouse crafted from discarded Blue Bell button boxes and equipped with an inter-office phone system.  Uncle Jim Elliott, spelled with “two Ls and two Ts”, not only served as a Presbyterian deacon but also as master of all trades thus rating as THE accomplished architect if the truth be told.  My dad probably held the ladder steady and handed up the tools much like a surgeon’s nurse.  My mom often advised that we never ask Daddy for the “stars” since his talent for climbing ladders seemed non-existent!

Childhood’s assignment? Play house! As well as airplane cockpit, grocery store, tea party, army barracks, New York Madison Avenue advertising office, recording studio, Wimbledon “Croquet” Cup headquarters, and mostly movie set.

Exhausting! Young imaginations ran rampant. History got made. Popularity belonged to the Duncan sisters for approximately a half dozen summers.

Our side-yard served as a tennis court located somewhere akin to Malibu where PAT AND MIKE withstood re-enactment minus Hepburn and Tracy but instead starring a couple of sweaty seven year olds chasing badminton shuttlecocks!  World War II AND Korean War victories emerged from a command center supervised by some kid posing as a tough general, impersonating John Wayne at his highest and mightiest!  POW camps a la STALAG 17 maybe occurred when we were at our grimmest.  BATTLE CRY! …

Two phones, one in “mama’s kitchen” and the other entirely ours, provided the highlight of “hit-of-the-neighborhood” revelry emanating from the playhouse—for a brief time. Bunches of squealing, mobile, neighborhood kids rushed frenetically about the real house and our outback house just to call one another repeatedly. In and out. Pressing each mother-of-pearl button, we gleefully initiated two-way incessant ring-ring-ringing; conversations began non-stop. How miraculously odd that an unnoticed “freakish” lightning bolt eventually established one-way, out-going messaging from a more relaxed, coffee-sipping mom instructing that all drama must end for the day and kids should return to their own homes before sunset. Time for supper! Her credo, from that fateful day forward: “Don’t you dare call me; I’ll call you!”

Full video here: https://www.demoneygrimes.com/obituary/Susie-Sexton

• Susie on her family – excerpt from her column “This Happily Haunted House” …

Now, back at the computer to write of an elopement on September 18 of 1930 and a young couple of individuals starting life together in the Carolinas, I reach out to capture two frisky, feisty, plucky ghosts named Roy and Edna. On the fingers of one hand I calculate the number of times I clashed with either one or the other or, worse, that instant united front which they masterfully conjured up when faced with the sassiness of an errant child. And contrary to the views of some rotten publicists, I do not answer to misguided identifications as either “spoiled” or “brat”. I am — always have been — one respectful kid who enjoyed a very special relationship with my parents. The three of us — for 10 years joined at the hips (my married sisters in their own houses) — had an absolute ball! I was blessed to realize that fact in real time. All mine!

My “folks” — an apt, quaint, typically Southern reference –really still should be alive to preen for their 82nd anniversary picture…but “posing” did not fit their style. My mom detested corsages, tore up pix of herself, and possessed the talent to have outwritten Margaret Mitchell, Lillian Hellman, or Dorothy Parker. She preferred to remain unnoticed yet occasionally penned perfect poetry for which she once received a personal, hand-written “thank you” note from Jacqueline Kennedy. My dad died at the exact age that every Duncan dies…from a cerebral hemorrhage which is an appropriately rugged Scotsman’s usual adieu to this world. Endure what life hands you; think independently; live with gusto; never back down; laugh often and exit quickly one fine day, with little fanfare, singing, “…And Ah’ll be in Scotlan’ afore ye…”! (“Loch Lomond”) Kind, beautiful individuals.

Neither phony nor stereotypical, my parents disagreed often, attended church regularly for networking and spiritual rejuvenation with a minimal dose of dogma, quietly performed good deeds, valued and strengthened family ties yet at a reasonable distance, maintained serious friendships throughout their lifetimes, and only neared divorce court when my dad bought a new car without permission or “adopted” pets without consultation or engaged in small downtown store ownership/co-management with “Snooks”/Edna which lasted about ten minutes. The “Corral” may be remembered by many of you. My dad paid dearly for offering Wranglers at an affordable price — small town retailers do not enjoy competition no matter what they say. Our store paled in comparison to the Wal-Mart empire we all know and love presently. To this day, I borrow a treasured tip from my old man; when human beings behave like jack-asses, I simply diplomatically refer to such types as “damned peculiar” and move on with my life, brushing off my jeans while celebrating my genes!

Video courtesy Nancy Myrland

• Susie on life – excerpt from her column “Fiddle Dee Dee, I’m Thankful for Russell Crowe”

My name might as well be “Maximus Decimus Meridius”, and I am here to explain myself and my family and how we classify as GLADiators. Sure, we count our blessings every November and then give mighty thanks for…stamina!

Personally, I defend spider monkeys as I chastise NASA, who brought manKIND Tang, for daring to consider radiation experiments on those sentient darlings with the prehensile tails. Courageously, I embrace the “Vegan” community. I chat with foreigners long into the night and learn about other cultures and beliefs. I praise free-form poetry efforts by budding writers, young rock-stars’ home-made music videos, or slide-shows of somebody’s grand-kids. Facebook serves as my “ham radio”, a glittering hold-over from the ’50s when families gathered into basements and sat around some old codger friend as he spoke, ignoring annoying static, with disembodied voices lord knows where in the universe. I am now that solitary, persevering codger hovering over the newer plasticized Dell version of “wanna communicate with the world?” And I do. Don’t you?

“No crying allowed” in the online arena, but sometimes in the wee hours of the morning, I sob. Continuation of carpal-tunnel-producing-typing prevails as I persist in posting photo albums featuring dejected, forlorn, homeless pups, kittens, dogs, and lactating cats with newborns scheduled for “heart-sticking” in every “shelter” (often a misnomer) in North Carolina and in Youngstown, Ohio while gassing’s the modus operandi in all of Georgia. Punishment for this sensitive soul…but someone has to do it and millions are! Facebook’s so highly populated that it qualifies as the third largest country in the world, and I am part of a legion of soldiers sustained by never-ending cups of strong coffee. Gonna keel over and die at this keyboard–all for the preservation of the animal kingdom!

In the offline arena, we consider ourselves rugged individualists, for instance golfing when we feel like it–no league play–or swimming at Burnworth after trudging three blocks through our neighborhood on sweltering summer afternoons. We volunteer unendingly, never travel, and do without nutty luxuries. I write a couple of nostalgia columns. Don answers questions about community developments and lends a sympathetic ear to his customers, whether those queries arise at work or out dining at which time I channel Lewis Black as I converse about the day’s activities–and politics! I am a book-keeper and an amateur veterinarian. We trip over our family of furry children forever underfoot. Our Himalayan cat named Dalai Lama once sent me to the emergency room. We respond to door-bells ringing and land phones and cell phones, too. At least one of us earned a Phi Beta Kappa Key, but that family member moved on to greener pastures.

Our home, except for its endearingly modest status, cannot be distinguished from that cinematic house in New England where jittery Kate Hepburn and perplexed Cary Grant chase a leopard all over the grounds of the estate only to be interrupted by a tiny pampered dog burying a valuable dinosaur bone which can never be retrieved. BRINGING UP BABY meets CHRISTMAS VACATION every day. Happy, contented exhaustion and confusion never cease. Something breaks…we figure out how to fix it or pay the huge honking bill. Over and over again. We mow our own lawn, rake leaves, and shovel snow–over and over again. We survive medical tribulations and the accompanying angst–over and over again. For fun, constant music emanates from our Bose system and spontaneous competitive card games pepper our days.

My dad, toward the end of his life, sighed, “Does busy-ness never end?” when I asked him to pick up some heartworm pills at Doc Waterfall’s clinic formerly beside the Presbyterian Church. After a lifetime of assuring that we kids had pets and that those vital, revered members of our family had wonderful medical care, Daddy thought those days were over–i.e., walking down the alley behind Smith’s funeral home to that little red building which smelled of ammonia and fuzzy critters. “Our Ft. Wayne docs charge more than C.C.’s vets,” I pleaded as my sporadically Bob Cratchitty, “ever a new bride on a budget” mind calculated the total bill. I suppose “life-styles” we have crafted, and furthermore seldom can crawl out of, will indeed end one day, but “In the meantime, all we’re given is this in-between time” and should relish each moment with gratitude.

Author Oscar Wilde believed that only dull folks recorded their thoughts or chronicled their activities in memoir fashion. Hey, Oscar, while one is living through all of this frantic cyclonic activity, the daily grind qualifies as anything but dull, buddy! A legitimate “De Profundis”!

For example, while playing House Frau, I once attempted to thaw, via a constant trickle from the bathtub faucet, and then roast my very first and last, dear, free, tiny turkey several seasons ago when Kroger issued bonus points in exchange for vital statistics about each customer which generated those pesky little cards on our keychains. A water main on our street busted for starters, and I felt so guilty. Never again! I harbor no desire to emulate Betty Crocker nor the fabulous young cook next door, at the time, who demonstrated the proper size blue speckled pan for my carcass which I truly felt I should name. Jeanne positioned herself as if hosting a cooking show, in her dining room across the driveway from my kitchen window, and held all the required “fixings” aloft as I leaned on my sink laughing at her rather than copying each move. My burgeoning credo at that instant: Why not just allow turkeys to live out their lives?

The final result a culinary and animal welfare disaster, I sulked and grieved while repeating Scarlett O’Hara’s remorseful melodramatic statement following her shooting down a Yankee intruder, “Well, I guess now I’ve done murder.” We manage, though, to have plenty of ingenious casseroles as we celebrate our vegetarian holiday so that “as God is our witness, we’ll never go hungry again”! Until about midnight? And wouldn’t Scarlett qualify as a gladiator? Who else in all of literature, filmdom, or TV-Land substituted a curtain rod for shoulder pads, courtesy of Bob Mackie?

See you at the movies. I’ll be spending time in the dark with my idol Russell Crowe while enjoying pop-corn and milk duds, “cine-muck” (Critic Gene Siskel’s word for discarded gum wads and spilled sticky soft drinks) beneath my weary feet!

4 thoughts on “Remembering Susie

  1. it was the perfect celebration of his life. the mix of story, song, and loved ones was what she certainly would have loved and I’m sure she was there in her way, as she was never one to be content to stand on the sidelines and just watch. beautifully done – ❤

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