Sue Belle Kotalik
Sue was born in an East Liverpool, Ohio hospital and grew up with her parents and grandfather on his farm in a narrow piece of WVA between the Ohio River and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The primary employer in the area was the Weirton Steel Mill. Steubenville, Ohio was just down the road but off limits because it was a gambling and crime center. Her grandfather used to brag that he had lived in two states but never had moved. Remember that West Virginia was part of Virginia until the Civil War.
Sue learned to cook on a wood burning stove. They didn’t get an electric range until she was in high school. Her mother “canned” everything from the farm including their slaughtered meat. They used rocks warmed on the hearth to heat the beds in the winter. She liked to cook and would surprise Dick with a new receipt that she had to try. She would maintain a supply of cookies frozen prior to baking so we could always have freshly baked cookies.
She did not want a job in the steel mill and expressed interest while in high school about going to college for a teaching career. She had help from one of her teachers to prepare for and select a school that she could afford – Glenville State. To minimize costs she finished in three years by going year ‘round. After graduation she taught in her home school district, and continued on nights and summers for her MA from West Virginia University.
Sue had acquired an interest in Calif after visiting there on trip with her aunt during high school. But it was playground duty during the December ’63 snow storm that had convinced her to relocate. Coincidentally, that very same snow storm turned out to be the threshold moment for Dick as well. He was slogging around in the Cleveland snow, job interviewing while he had great Calif job offers in his pocket.
Sue and Dick met at the young adult group of the Santa Ana First Presbyterian Church. There were many young adult groups in Los Angeles and Orange counties during the 60’s because of the influx of technical people in aerospace and teachers for the growing schools. Many successful marriages resulted from this group and we have maintained many as friends. One of their first dates was an evening of bridge with a newly married couple.
Sue’s father passed away in Phoenix before we were married. At the time Dick was returning from a business trip to White Sands Missile Range. Sue requested that he stop in Phoenix on his way home to meet her Uncle Doc who was in Phoenix for the funeral. Uncle Doc (her mother’s brother) was special to Sue. He had put himself thru medical school and was a hospital pathologist in the Pittsburg area. In 1980, he and his wife were on the cruise ship Prinsendam when it caught fire and sank off the coast of Alaska. Fortunately, all passengers were air rescued without a loss of life. But Sue spent an evening trying to call the Coast Guard stations to learn their condition. When he returned home, Uncle Doc became an informal guest lecturer for years.
We were married on December 23, 1963, scheduled mainly because we both had time off at the Holidays. Our usual anniversary celebration became a prime rib dinner at Lawry’s in Hollywood. We always had to check the restaurant schedule because they closed for the Beef Bowl night when the Rose Bowl football teams who were in town for the game were treated to prime rib and competed for the most consumed honors.
After we were married, we soon traded Sue’s older car for a pickup and a camper shell. Dick added some ‘living equipment’ and we drove to Alaska for our first summer. We have often remarked that it is amazing that we were still married after living three months in that three foot high camper shell.
Both Sue and Dick liked to travel and over the next years visited all 50 states. Then they branched out to Europe and cruises. They cruised the Caribbean and Canal, the western coast of Mexico, the Mediterranean into Istanbul and Izmir, the Baltic into St Petersburg, Russia , and China and the Far East. Sue added trips to London and Paris via the Chunnel, and the Christmas mart in Germany with a teacher friend. When both of our widowed mothers expressed an interest in Hawaii, Sue escorted them on a two week trip to the Islands.
Sue liked cats and cats liked her. She made instant friends with any that she encountered. We always had a stray that adopted her. Most evenings found Sue in her recliner reading or watching TV with a cat on her lap. Before we were married, Dick visited Sue’s parents in WVA on a trip for his brother’s wedding. Sue’s cat that had been left behind when she moved to Calif never tolerated strangers and hid from them. But, for some reason, on Dick’s visit, that cat came out of hiding and sat directly in front of his chair and stared at him.
Sue primarily taught grades K-3 for nearly forty years in several Garden Grove (Calif) School District schools. One of her schools was down the street from Robert Schuler’s Crystal Cathedral. After a few years at one grade she would request or be assigned a grade change as school needs changed. She liked teaching reading and was good at it. Parents requested that their younger children be placed in her room after their experience with their older siblings. She always wanted to build a good reading foundation because that skill is so important. During her career, teaching methods and techniques changed with the styles. But she believed that phonics were essential to good reading and always taught it even when it was out of fashion.
Garden Grove was also known as Little Saigon, because of the Vietnamese population. In fact, because so many of the business signs were in Vietnamese, Garden Grove enacted a regulation that businesses had to display their name in English in addition to any other language so emergency services could respond quickly. The high Vietnamese population meant lots of Vietnamese students in the classroom and most didn’t know English or hadn’t even attended school. In addition, many were living with relatives who were not their parents. Sue developed techniques to get these kids onboard and functioning quickly. There were many other languages in the area and report cards in the family’s language were required. Sue would often have to prepare report cards in ten languages. Dick computerized an old electric typewriter to ease the task.
One of Sue’s long term goals was to document her linage and become a DAR member. With the help of DAR members in Calif, a computer, and computerized records she was finally able to achieve her membership. Subsequently, she has discovered a second linage but hadn’t pursued it. She was a member of the Katuktu (Tustin CA), Canandaigua, and GU-NO-AU-GA (Penn Yan) DAR chapters.
Sue was an avid reader and especially enjoyed history, mystery, and spy fiction and nonfiction and, was always a member of a book group or two. I think that she had read all of Agatha Christie’s mysteries. She was anticipating the TV series based on Tony Hillerman’s Navajo novels coming in the Spring.
Sue was a conservative Republican and was always interested in history and politics. She would drag Dick off to candidate rallies – especially Regan’s when he ran for Calif governor. Many of the Hollywood stars would accompany Reagan on his rallies. We once watched Frank Sinatra reorganize the seating of the stars in the audience at the Anaheim Convention Center. When we relocated here she was asked to join the Gotham Township Republican Board and served on it as treasurer until limited by her health.
We had decided to retire to the Finger Lakes area because 1) its proximity to Dick’s brother and his family, 2) to live on a lake which was rare and expensive in Calif, and 3) to escape the Calif politics and traffic. During a trip to the area for our nephew’s wedding, we searched Canandaigua Lake real estate for a week to find a new home. We found no prospects even close to our objectives and returned to Calif empty handed and discouraged. But, within three weeks we had a call from the real estate agent with a new listing claimed to be “perfect for us”. He said that he would hold it off the market for a couple of days if we were interested. We reviewed the photos on line and decided Dick would travel back for an on-site view. Sue was not up to making the trip again so soon and was willing to except his decision. So she had not seen her new home until she moved in, but fortunately was very happy with it.
Both Sue and Dick were punctual with their commitments. Maybe Sue’s practice came from managing the classroom. All thru their lives together, including the dating years, both were on-time, if not early, for events.
Sue liked to raise flowers in pots around the outside of the house. In Calif she had a beam covered area where she could hang a multitude of plants. Here she had geraniums on the deck and hanging in the front porch along with begonias. She had two favorite rose bushes — a Double Delight and a Don Juan. Both have become avid bloomers but supposedly should not do well here. On our move east we extracted several plants from her Calif garden and stowed them in Dick’s boat trailer. During the cross country trip we encountered a freezing night and all of the plants had to be relocated into the motel bathtub. Later that night, stowaway ants in the plant soil reacted to the warmer temperatures and began a trail out of the tub. Our relocated Clivia didn’t blossom for a couple of years after the move, but now produces multiple spikes, but seemingly at the wrong time of the year. Of course, Dick has the annual task of relocating and wintering the plants in the basement and returning them in the Spring.
After our first winter here, we decided to return to Calif for winter breaks in the future. We would often stay part time with Sue’s long time teacher friend, Carrol (named because she was born on Christmas day) who was now alone in her house. Carrol had one rule: We were to entertain ourselves and not expect her to be an activity planner and tour director typically expected by out-of-town guests. We were glad to be on our own in our old home territory and would often take her along on our adventures. Another part of the deal was that Carrol was to prepare a list for Dick of her project and repair needs. This was to keep him busy while the girls toured the shopping malls.
Memorial contributions may be made to the DAR, the First Congregation Church of Canandaigua, or your favorite charity.
A service for Sue is planned for 11AM on November 7, 2023 at the First Congregational Church of Canandaigua, 58 N Main, Canandaigua.
Additional information and condolences may be found on Jarmusz-Cotton Funeral Home website www.jarmuszcottonfuneralhome.com.