Sue Engel remembered for her volunteerism, friendship and generosity
Sue Engel was a pillar of the Bemidji community, a generous, loving friend, a Bemidji State University super fan, and so much more.
BEMIDJI — When Sue Engel pursued a passion, she poured herself into it as few others would. When she became someone's friend, she was a caring and compassionate one. And when she joined a community, no one could match her dedication to its success.
Engel died on Dec. 13, five years after first being diagnosed with cancer. The 69-year-old Bemidji woman is being remembered as a pillar of the community, a generous, loving friend, a Bemidji State University super fan, and a whole lot more.
“Sue led from the heart, and I think that’s just what colors all of what she accomplished,” said Cindy Serratore, who serves on the board of the Boys and Girls Club of the Bemidji Area. “She had so much kindness. She was so attentive to every individual she came in contact with.”
Engel was instrumental in the creation of the Boys and Girls Club 20 years ago. She helped raise money to get the club started, served as its first board president for six years, and continued to volunteer there even while undergoing treatments for cancer.
“She could have been just a board member,” said Andrea Kent, the club’s executive director. “You’re on the board, you’re an ambassador, you have this finite time that you can make this commitment and service. But it was like her whole life.”
Kent called Sue’s husband, Steve, “the unsung hero in this story.”
“Without his love of this community, love of the club and love of Sue, it would have been a lot different,” Kent said. “He was so supportive of everything she wanted to do here at the club. He also mows the club’s yard in the summer. We don’t have a contract for lawn mowing. That wonderful man comes over once a week and mows.”
Leonore Potter, the Boys and Girls Club’s first executive director, said Sue was a steadying force in the challenging first years.
“In the very early days it was touch and go financially,” Potter said. “There was always some issue. I would call Sue as board chair and tell her this issue that I needed more help with, and she would say, ‘God forbid that life should be easy.’
"She never said, ‘Oh, no not this’ or ‘We can’t do this, I’m so tired of this.’ And that was such a perfect way of saying, ‘Well, here we go.’ She was insightful, kind, and never raised her voice.”
Kent and Potter also lauded Engel’s employer, First National Bank Bemidji, for its financial donations to the Boys and Girls Club, but also for supporting its sales and marketing manager in her commitment to the club.
“We try to encourage people to find their own passion,” said Paul Welle, the bank’s chairman of the board and fellow retiree. “Sue really took a shine to that. Once she got into something it was like she really found a way to make a difference. She really showed up, walked the walk. She set an example for the bank employees.”
She also served on several other boards, including Friends of the Bemidji Library and the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra.
The biggest cheerleader
The Engels loved Bemidji State men’s and women’s hockey, attending almost every home game and making many trips to road games, including the men’s Frozen Four appearance in 2009. But they have been more than fans in the stands.
“There’s supporters, and then there’s elite supporters,” said BSU men’s hockey coach Tom Serratore. “Sue and Steve are elite supporters. They eat, breathe and drink Beaver hockey. When we win, they feel it. When we lose, they feel it. They’ve been so connected with our team since the 1980s.”
Some years back, Serratore was speaking at a Beaver Pride luncheon and lamenting his team’s scoring woes that season. The Engels brought a batch of their homemade fudge to the team before its next series.
“We scored some goals,” Serratore recalls, “and I said, ‘Where’s that scoring fudge?’ From then on they never missed a weekend, home and away.”
That included the weekend of Dec. 9-10, when Sue was in the hospital. Steve dropped off the treats on his way to his wife’s bedside.
“I told our players at our pregame meeting last Saturday all about Sue,” said Serratore, who visited Sue in the hospital that afternoon. “That fudge was here that weekend. That just tells you what kind of people they are and what they think about you.”
He added, "Sue was one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. She knew just what to say all the time.”
The family said plans for a celebration of Sue’s life will be forthcoming. Meanwhile, the Boys and Girls Club will be making plans for a way to honor her dedication to the club.
“She has touched this community in such a deep way,” said Emily Fairchild, the club’s resource development director. “How do we not honor that?”
Kent added, “I can’t imagine my life without her. She was the club’s biggest cheerleader.”