The family of 61-year old Susan Schaeffer, professor of counseling at Chadron State College, hopes to hold a memorial in Chadron at a later date.
Schaeffer died April 5 at Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff of sepsis caused by complications from diabetes. The family held a graveside service on Saturday, April 11.
The family has established a memorial to benefit the CSC Student Senate and further her legacy at the college. Donations through the Chadron State Foundation may be made by check with a note of “Dr. Susan Schaeffer memorial” or online at csc.edu/foundation with the same note.
Cards of condolences may be sent to her family at 804 West 2nd St., Chadron, NE 69337.
By CSC College Relations
Susan Schaeffer, professor of counseling at Chadron State College, was a daughter, sister, aunt, colleague, adviser, mentor, teacher, friend, and a person who impacted many lives, both in the Chadron community and abroad. When people describe her, they share some of the same words and phrases: kind, caring, warm, supportive, attentive and adventurous.
“She could always make a person feel like they were the most important person in the room,” Barry Schaeffer, Susan’s younger brother said. “She always had an ear ready to listen – if you wanted advice she would give it, if you just wanted her to just listen, she would do that.”
Susan came to CSC in 2003 and began a long career of helping students achieve their academic goals. When news of her death was announced, former students took to the Facebook group “Prayers for Susan,” which her brother, Gary Schaeffer, started, to share their experiences with Susan.
“She kept me going and encouraged me because she told me she saw my potential,” Michael Macias, a former CSC student, said in his post.
A comment from CSC alumna Alicia Wright read “I found her humor, kindness, intelligence and easy-going spirit both refreshing and inspiring. She encouraged me to listen deeply, work hard, and practice with empathy. I will miss her wisdom and joy and continue to carry her love of teaching and care of the soul into my own life.”
Barry said Susan was excited to be part of the counseling program at CSC.
“As I was talking to her close to the end, she made a comment about how much she loved her students and her job at (CSC),” Barry said. “She wanted to teach there the rest of her life and she got to do that.”
Barry said she tried to teach her students to be kind and empathetic, and to always care about people and develop relationships.
“We talk about that in education a lot,” Barry said. “We’re kind of an education family. We often talk about relationships with students and parents and other faculty. She was really good at building good, positive relationships.”
Laura Gaudete, professional studies – CPSW/psychological sciences & counseling professor at CSC, called her former colleague warm, supportive and intuitive.
“She was somebody you could say, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you,’ and it would be so cute because she would kind of square up her shoulders and swivel her body around and give you this undivided attention,” Gaudete said. “You could tell her anything and she would never repeat it. She was a very safe, warm person.”
Susan often worked with graduate students during her time at CSC, helping them through some of the toughest phases of their academic careers. Gaudete says practicum, a period that tests a student’s practical application of real-world knowledge of the counseling field, was often when students were most afraid.
“(Susan) would calm their fears and support them throughout,” Gaudete said. “By the time they’d finish the course they were acting like they were already therapists. It was this really nice kind of butterfly coming out of the cocoon. She helped them with this process of ‘becoming.’”
Another colleague, Mary Jo Carnot, a professional studies – CPSW/psychological sciences professor at CSC, said Susan tried to make sure her students understood the value of authenticity.
“In her connections with her colleagues and her workers she was very focused on maintaining an authentic connection and trying to look at where people were – recognizing that there was value in listening to the other person,” she said.
In addition to her work in the classroom, Susan was an adviser to CSC’s Student Senate, was involved with the Graduate Council, and was co-adviser to the college’s mental health club. Recently, she had been working with Carnot and Kathleen Kirsch, a communications professor at the college, researching mental health.
Though Susan didn’t attend CSC, her family has a long history with the college. Susan’s aunt graduated from Chadron State in the late 60s to early 70s. Gary graduated from CSC in 1989 while his brother Barry graduated with his bachelor’s in 1987, followed by his master’s a year later. Barry’s daughter, Morgan Schaeffer, graduated from CSC in December of 2015.
Susan earned her Ph.D. from the University of Wyoming, in Laramie, after attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for her bachelor’s and the University of Nebraska-Omaha for her master’s. According to Barry, it was just good timing and location that led Susan to CSC where she’d continue her family’s legacy with the college in her own way
Though she moved a lot when she was young, most of Susan’s childhood, Gary said, was spent in Port Orchard, Washington. There, her father worked as a welder in the Navy shipyards and her mother was a nurse at the Navy hospital.
Barry said their parents had always wanted to get back to Nebraska and moved the family to Dix during Susan’s senior year.
“That was really, really hard on her to come from a class of hundreds of kids to Dix, Nebraska, with a class of about 13,” Barry said. Gary said her class in Washington was bigger than their new town.
After her time at UNL and UNO, Susan moved in with her mother, Carolyn Schaeffer, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in the mid-90s after the death of her father. Carolyn moved with Susan to Chadron when she accepted her position at the college.
“She took on a tough thing after our father died in moving in with our Mom,” Barry said. “She handled it with grace and did a really good job of taking care of her.”
Susan was the eldest of her siblings Ivan, Gary and Barry. According to Barry, they were all stubborn kids who each always wanted to have the last word. Barry said he and his sister had a good laugh on one of the last nights the two were together, as they recounted one of the fights the two had when Barry was 13.
“We were in a car, both going back-and-forth trying to get the last word,” Barry said as he recalled the story. “She asked me at one point to just be quiet. I did for about 10 seconds, but about five seconds in she said, ‘thank you,’ and I waited about five more seconds and said ‘you’re welcome,’ and we were back at it. We were all kind of that way.”
Barry said his sister would constantly check up on her brothers, and Gary remembers her as a kind and caring aunt.
“She had a great personality, she was friendly, she was easy to get along with,” Gary said. “I’m going to miss calling her and complaining about my problems and then have her call me to complain about her problems.”
Susan’s death has been particularly difficult for her family and friends as the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic. She was transferred to Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff not long before the Panhandle recorded its first case of the novel coronavirus.
Barry said it was difficult on the family as they worried they wouldn’t get to see her. Once Susan was moved to comfort care, the family was able to visit, but only a few at a time.
“It’s hard,” Gary said. “It’s really hard, because I never got to see her until the day she died.”
The family was able to hold a graveside service and hopes to hold a memorial in Chadron at a later date. In the meantime, Barry said seeing the outpouring of love from Susan’s friends, students and family has been helpful.
“It does a brother good to hear those things,” he said.
Susan was a dog lover and left behind a pair of border collie-bloodhound mastiff mixes named Mo and Jo, who the family said found new homes thanks to Battle Mountain Humane Society in Hot Springs, South Dakota.
As the CSC community and Susan’s family have grieved in the days since Susan’s death, Carnot says she’s been reminded of the little things.
“She really liked turtles and Winnie the Pooh,” Carnot said. “She talked about going on adventures in 100-Acre Wood and thinking about how there wasn’t always a direct path to where you were going, but you still needed to value the adventure that got you there.”
She said one of Susan’s favorite stories to tell her students was that there wasn’t a magic wand to fix things in counseling and in life.
“She would get out the magic wand and play with it and say, ‘my wand isn’t working today – we’ll have to do it the hard way,’” Carnot said.
“We’re all doing it the hard way right now, unfortunately.”