Susan Marie (Wittkopf) PleskoSusan Marie (Wittkopf) Plesko, 66, died in her home in Denver on Jan. 30, 2012, with her husband and son beside her.
Susan Marie (Wittkopf) Plesko, 66, died in her home in Denver on Jan. 30, 2012, with her husband and son beside her.
The first of six children, she was born to Ernest and Betty (Meyers) Wittkopf on Nov. 28, 1945, in Superior, Wis. Susie graduated from Superior Central High School in 1963 and, after a series of odd jobs, enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. It was there that she reconnected with Forrest Plesko, a young art student whom she had known in high school.
Susie and Forrest married in 1968 and soon left Superior with all their possessions packed into a Chevy Nova station wagon. They traveled to California and enrolled at the seaside campus of California State University, Long Beach. Forrest continued his pursuit of art and Susie spent long hours on her studies. They both earned their bachelors' degrees in 1972, with Susie graduating magna cum laude. Encouraged by a favorite professor to continue her education, Susie earned her master's degree in English in 1975.
After a successful run as a freelance writer, with articles appearing in a number of national magazines, Susie began teaching at Compton College near Los Angeles. She reveled in the challenge of introducing her students to classic literature by making it relevant to contemporary issues. In 1980, Susie took a temporary leave from teaching and focused her efforts on raising her newborn son, Forrest. It was her pride and joy to instill in him a love of literature and music.
By 1985, Susie was teaching composition and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She was respected by her colleagues and, in 1987, directed the writing center at UWS. Susie also combined her love of literature and music, and created a popular course called "Lyrics as Literature," which challenged students to analyze the lyrics of contemporary songs.
In 1993, the family moved west and Susie began teaching English at Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley, Calif. Her popular teaching style was quickly recognized, and Susie was selected as part of a team pioneering the Middle College High School program at Riverside Community College. The program allowed gifted and at-risk students the opportunity to leave their high schools and complete their diplomas at the college. Susie also participated in numerous National Endowment for the Humanities Institutes across the United States, studying the works of William Faulkner, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, and many others.
But Susie's life wasn't all academics. She was an avid hiker and enjoyed keeping fit by swimming and lifting weights. She had a curiosity about UFOs and ancient civilizations, kept up with the latest technology, and enjoyed riding her Honda ATV through the Glamis sand dunes.
Susie also loved to travel. Besides visiting 49 states, she and Forrest explored Italy, Greece, England, Germany, France, Ireland, The Netherlands, Croatia, Spain, Slovenia, Mexico, Canada, and Egypt. They were often accompanied on these adventures by their son and daughter in law. Susie and Forrest sipped red wine outside the Roman Coliseum, ascended the Eiffel Tower, and stood in the shadow of the Great Pyramid.
Susie and Forrest retired in 2009 and moved to Denver, Colo., to be closer to their son and daughter in law. Although Susie survived breast cancer diagnosed in 2001, she could not beat the stomach cancer diagnosed in 2011. She died as she lived, with great strength and dignity.
She is survived by her husband, Forrest; son, Forrest (Meghan) Plesko; sisters Linda Awana and Patricia Martin; brothers Gerald Wittkopf, Greg Wittkopf, and Jeff Wittkopf; and numerous nieces and nephews.
A celebration of Susie's life will be held in Denver, Colo., on Feb. 25. Donations in Susie's honor may be made to the American Cancer Society.