Suzanne Joyce Franzke Birkeland died of natural causes in Boulder, Colorado on July 3, 2023. Sue was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, on May 25, 1935, to Gertrude and Albert Franzke. The family soon moved to Seattle, Washington, where Sue grew up with her younger sister Gail. In August 1959, at age 24, Sue married Peter Birkeland, also from Seattle. Sue and Pete’s unconditional love for each other never waned, and they were nearly inseparable for more than 60 years.
Suzanne attended the Seattle school system and learned to ski with the Seattle Times Ski School. She loved being on skis, and raced for Garfield High School ski team. She later told stories to her grandchildren of how she and a friend would get a car ride to Paradise on Mount Rainier in the springtime. There they would strap on their wooden skis, attach seal skins to the bases, and climb nearly 5,000 vertical feet up to Camp Muir so they could ski back down.
After high school, Suzanne attended the University of Washington (UW), graduating in 1957 with a degree in Physical Education. She raced on the UW women’s ski team, and many years later she was honored for her athletic achievements during an anniversary celebration of Title IX. Sue spent the next winter in Sun Valley, Idaho, where she skied and worked as a waitress. She and some friends used money they saved from their jobs to travel to Europe, where they spent nine months skiing, ski racing, and traveling in a VW bus that they drove part way around the Mediterranean Sea.
Suzanne married Peter Birkeland about a year after returning home. They moved to California where Sue taught high school Physical Education for three years while Pete attended graduate school. In 1962, their son Karl was born, followed by daughter Robin three years later. In 1967, the family moved to Boulder for Pete’s new job at the University of Colorado. Sue taught women’s fitness courses for the City of Boulder for more than 30 years, making lifelong friends, some of whom took her classes nearly every year.
Over the years, Sue helped turn Pete’s summer geology fieldwork into family backpacking trips lasting weeks at a time. One of Sue’s passions while in the mountains was looking for Native American artifacts, primarily arrow heads. Sue and Pete also enjoyed university sabbaticals to New Zealand, a trip around the world, and a third trip investigating the soils of numerous Pacific islands. Sue was an able field assistant on these trips, helping collect samples and taking meticulous notes in her neat handwriting.
Sue was a lifetime member of the Colorado Mountain Club. She was also one of the original Wednesday Ladies, a group of Boulder women who, from the early-1970s up until recently, went to the mountains nearly every Wednesday to hike in the summer and cross-country ski during the winter. She was active with the First Congregational Church, attending services regularly with Pete and with friends. She joined Pete in biking everywhere for transportation. Sue inherited a love of gardening from her father, and turned some of her harvest into apple sauce, pie, and various types of jam. She especially enjoyed baking deserts and serving them with plenty of ice cream. Her homemade macaroni and cheese and chocolate chip cookies became known, quite simply, as “Grandma’s Mac ‘n Cheese” and “Grandma’s Chocolate Chip Cookies” to her grandchildren, even when someone other than Grandma was doing the cooking!
Sue welcomed the arrival of her granddaughters, making frequent trips with Pete to see Karl, Ginger, and granddaughters Erika and Kelsey in Bozeman, Montana. She was especially excited when Robin, John, and granddaughter Natasha moved nearby. She relished her role as a grandmother and enjoyed engaging with her granddaughters as often as possible, and attending important events in their lives. Sue had a big smile and a huge heart, and she loved her many friends and her family. She was a prolific letter-writer, writing weekly letters to her parents, sister, and children. She even occasionally penned separate letters to her grandkids when they were learning to read. Sue radiated warmth to everyone coming through her door and was the first to give them a warm greeting and a hug. She was sure to have leftovers ready when her children came home late, and she would sit and visit with them while they ate. And, when her kids wandered in and out of Boulder as young adults, she would always make them feel welcome, loved, and cared for in her house.
Sue is survived by her sister Gail (brother-in-law Jay) of Seattle, son Karl (daughter-in-law Ginger and grandchildren Erika and Kelsey) of Bozeman, Montana, and daughter Robin (son-in-law John Jugl and grandchild Natasha) of Boulder. She was predeceased by her parents, and her loving husband Pete.
Her final few years were not easy, but Sue faced them bravely. She cared for Pete as he declined, but when he passed away 18 months ago a part of her went with him. Over the past year, Robin provided vital care and support for Sue as her health deteriorated. Karl and Robin are thankful for all the love and support she received from her friends, wonderful neighbors, amazing hospice workers, and numerous caregivers. Many friends visited her frequently during her last months. A celebration of life will be held at a later date at the First Congregational Church in Boulder.
In honor of Sue’s enduring love of Native American culture, and of the people who lived in the Wind River Range, memorial donations can be given to the Wind River Development Fund: https://www.windriverfoundation.org