NOTE: Susan Sutton was honored by the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas at the group’s annual banquet in Topeka in January. She was named the Distinguished Kansan of the Year in Community Service. These are, in part, her comments from that evening:
I want to tell you something before we get started: I’m just average.
Back in 1998, broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw coined the phrase, “The Greatest Generation,” meaning the greatest any society of men and women had ever produced – men and women who fought not for any recognition, but because it was the right thing to do.
The men who went off to war got the greatest attention; my dad Gordon Sutton was one of them. But what about the women? What are the mothers and wives of the Greatest Generation? My mother, Arlene Sutton, was one of them and was also native daughter of Kansas
It was a different time. Most of the wives were stay-at-home moms. Remember room mothers, Brownie Scout leaders, field trips to the newspaper office and Fairmont Dairy? My mom drove a bus if one was required, helped at the blood drive and collected data for the l960 federal census. She led by example.
I attended three different grade schools in Dodge City – all of them white. But when I was ready to go into junior high, Mother knew that there would be greater diversity. She told me early on, “Now, when you see blacks, you’re to call them Negro or black, and if you hear them called something else, it’s wrong.”
When I was in about the third grade, my mom was hanging up clothes in the back yard just as the garbage truck came down the alley, with those men running along, emptying a barrel in one motion. I told my mom that’s what I wanted to do for my career, riding on the bumper with the wind blowing in my hair. She turned and looked at me and replied, “Well, you’re going to need better grades than you have now.”
A while after that, my parents got into the race horse business. I overheard Mother talking to one of her bridge friends one day and the lady was saying, “Aren’t you worried about Susan picking up a lot of rough language being around those horse people?” Mother’s comment: “You couldn’t buy a better education.” You see, my mother had a way of turning many issues into teaching moments.
She also had a unique way of teaching hand-eye coordination. Dodge City, Kansas, is notorious for its narrow streets; add to that the long cars from the ’50s, but this was where I came in. Standing on the curb, my job was to gauge the distance from our bumper to the car just ahead.
I told you in the beginning that I was average, but that’s OK. It’s a matter of what you do with your averageness.
— Susan Sutton retired a year ago as Cloud County Community College’s dean of humanities, social sciences and business. She is active in numerous local organizations.