Elcho — For Sue Liss, the last five years have been a time of reconnections, to her spouse, her roots and her church.
Liss, 66, spent much of her life in the Milwaukee area, raising three children and working as an insurance professional. But within the last half-decade, she retired, reconnected with and remarried her high school sweetheart, John, who she had divorced decades earlier, and returned to her northwoods roots and her mother’s parish, Holy Family in Elcho.
And she hasn’t just quietly returned to the congregation. Instead, she has used her professional and organizational background to become a church trustee. Most recently, she spearheaded a project to provide badly needed infant items to a pregnancy counseling center in Antigo reeling after a fire.
“I want to be here a long time,” she said. “It’s fun to make a difference in your community and your church. People are very appreciative.”
Born in Tomahawk and raised in Cedarburg, Liss grew up in a Catholic household and attended Catholic school through eighth grade. But there never seemed to be enough time for regular church attendance.
“When you’re working all week and you only have two days on the weekend, it’s easy to find reasons to stay home,” she said. “I always prayed, but we were not big churchgoers.”
Along the way she briefly married, and divorced, John, her high school sweetheart, admitting they simply wed at too young an age, when she was just 18.
But six years ago, as she was considering retirement, they reconnected through social media. Both were once again single — Sue through divorce and John, who had lost his wife to breast cancer — and they learned the bond had never shaken for either of them. That led to a “restatement of vows” at St. Joseph Church in Grafton.
“On our fifth anniversary, we got out all those e-mails, which we had saved, and read them,” she said. “He is just the sweetest man.”
Retirement at Summit Lake — in a log cabin on five wooded acres — was another type of reconnection.
“We came here as children and we would always come back on vacation as adults,” she said. “I never thought I would retire and move up here, but we love it.”
Holy Family soon put her organizational skills to work, electing her to a trustee position, where she took leadership roles in the annual church picnic, as well as participating in the finance and pastoral councils, and the Ladies of Holy Family.
Liss said she has embraced Holy Family because, although it is a small parish, it has made a large impact in the community through support of the local food pantry, the area advocacy organization for victims of sexual and domestic abuse, the Knights of Columbus, and through Elcho High School. The parish also has a Human Concerns Committee, which provides financial support for all denominations.
At the suggestion of Fr. David Zimmerman, pastor, she also began teaching Taekwondo, a Korean martial art, which she has been studying since she was 20. Liss is a black belt and offers classes in the church basement. Fr. Zimmerman is among her students.
The church’s active community role was front and center this spring, when the storefront offices of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center in Antigo were damaged by a fire that started in an upstairs apartment. The center provides services such as pregnancy testing, counseling, early parenting education and adoption information. It quickly found new quarters, but many of its supplies, including its infant department, were destroyed or heavily damaged.
The fire happened as Holy Family was preparing for its annual fishing opener breakfast, a tradition held the first Saturday in May. The event traditionally has some sort of theme, and a parishioner suggested attendees be asked to bring items for a baby shower.
“Everyone loves a baby shower,” Liss said. “We had a blast shopping for the cutest little outfits but we had to be practical, too.”
“The Lord sent Susan from Holy Family Catholic Church in Elcho,” Christina Wilson, Hope Center’s director, said. “The day she and her husband, John, delivered the beautiful gifts, two clients were able to receive the items they needed.”
Now connected firmly to family, church and community, Liss said the last five years have been a progression, referring to the words of William Ernest Henley’s Victorian poem, “Invictus,” Latin for “Unconquered.” In it, he talks about the “punishment of the scroll,” and being “master of my fate,” ending with “I am the captain of my soul.”
“People have to create their own destiny,” she said.