Susan Russell Obituary

Susan was born in Saint Joseph, Michigan to Robert and Ruth Scott on June 11, 1938. On December 19, 2020, she died peacefully at home in her favorite room, surrounded by her husband Richard, and her children Keith, Sara, and Andy.

Susan’s favorite flower was the sunflower, and anyone that was blessed to have met her will immediately know how fitting this was with her unfailing ability to brighten a room, lift spirits, and bring hope and light in dark times. To her children, she was the sun on their backs and the rock in their worlds, and there was never a doubt that she was a “Mama Bear” standing behind them, always ready.

Susan was a teacher. After graduating from Saint Joseph High School in 1956 she earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI, and an Educational Specialist degree from Eastern Michigan University, in Ypsilanti, MI. While studying for her first degree, she met Neal Sawyer from Elkhart, IN, and they were married in 1959. After graduation they began an adventurous time as Neal was a commissioned officer in the Army and spoke fluent Spanish, which took them to South and Central America. Over the next few years they lived in Panama and Bolivia, as well as North Carolina, California, and Maryland. Ever the multitasker, during this time Susan became a fluent Spanish speaker, raised three children, and continued to sew clothing for her family. On their return to Saint Joseph, she taught in the Benton Harbor Public School system for almost 30 years where she shared her passion for children’s literature, literacy, and reading. She also taught Children's Literature at Lake Michigan College. After retirement she continued to teach, working with friends and strangers sharing her love of quilting, rug hooking, spinning and the fiber arts.

Susan was a maker and a learner. She was in constant motion every waking hour, and her hands were always busy. Quilting was her particular favorite pastime; over the course of her life, she completed hundreds of quilts. She was an active member of numerous fiber arts groups including the Berrien Towne and Country Quilt Guild, Niles Hand Weavers, Lakeshore Rug Hookers, and a founding member of the Quilts of Valor, The Appliqué Society, and The Bridgman Quilting Bees. All of her children and grandchildren have quilts crafted by her busy hands. Having learned how to quilt and sew from her mother and grandmother, she was proud to know that several of her children and grandchildren learned to sew from her. Susan also enjoyed rug hooking, knitting, spinning, and dabbled in paper making, book binding, printmaking, and weaving.

But above all, Susan was a servant. She shared her energy and passion with her family and her community. She didn’t invent the motto “it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission”, but she certainly lived it when it came to helping others. She was an advocate of adult literacy, race relations, gender equality, and LGBTQ rights among a few. She sat on a number of local boards including the Twin City Symphony where she served as president. St. Augustine Episcopal Church in Benton Harbor was her spiritual home, and she was a Vestry member and active in the social life of the church. In the last weeks of her life, she was still receiving phone calls from church members that just needed someone to talk to. She always had a ready ear and a shoulder to cry on if needed.

Susan was preceded in death by her mother Ruth Reynolds, her father Robert Scott, her step sister Barb Reynolds, her great nephew Mike Story, and two husbands Neal Sawyer and George Schuler. Instead of referring to those that are left behind by her passing as “survivors” perhaps it would be more fitting to think of them as the germinating seeds of the sunflower that was her life, seeds spreading her love and passion. These include her super-husband Richard Russell, 3 children Keith Sawyer (Brigette), Andy Sawyer (Nita Nicholie), and Sara High (Ken), her sister Pat Anderson (Wayne Anderson), and step sister Kathy Camp. Special seeds in her life were her 8 grandchildren, Aaron, Zachary (fiancée Claire), Patrick, Rose, Kearra, AnnieRiurh, Alex, and Ryan, and 1 great grandchild Jayden. Her love was too big for one family and other seeds that she nurtured were the dozens of foster children, homeless kids, and children in need that she welcomed into her family. She will forever be shining her light on her Thursday quilt group, The Bridgman Quilting Bees, her Sunshine Girls Group, and the family of St. Augustine Episcopal Church.

If you met Susan, then she planted a sunflower seed in you, honor her life by nurturing your seed with kindness, love, and acceptance, and by learning, creating, making, teaching and above all, serving.

The family kindly requests that donations in Susan’s honor be made to either St. Augustine Episcopal Church Food Bank or to Caring Circle of Lakeland (Hospice). A memorial service will be celebrated at a later date. Arrangements have been entrusted to Starks & Menchinger Chapel, St. Joseph. Those wishing to send a condolence online may do so at