Each Monday, the Kenosha News takes a look at the life of a Kenosha County resident who recently died. We share with you, through the memories of family and friends, a life remembered.
To Susan Tragesser, life was an adventure to be explored fully — and then some.
During her 74 years, she engaged in seemingly unrelated vocations and avenues of personal expression that ranged from arts to animals, and from computer databases to orchids.
“Susan was a true Renaissance woman,” said friend and former co-worker Lisa Larson. “She knew something about everything: art, real estate, education, gardening, cooking.”
Even death, rather than to be feared, was viewed by Tragesser as another chapter filled with potential, said friends and family.
“Not-so-strangely, she was looking forward to this next step, full of curiosity as to what was next,” said her sister, Mary Ellen Badger.
Tragesser passed away peacefully on May 25 at Hospice House. She leaves behind sisters Mary Ellen (William) Badger and Sarah Jane (Joel) Gagnon, two nieces, one great-niece and one great-nephew.
Tragesser was born Nov. 1, 1940, to George M. and Susan M. Graetz in Duluth, Minn. She was educated in South Milwaukee and Lancaster, Pa., graduating from Dickinson College with a degree in English with a minor in education.
Her adventurous nature manifested itself early, said Badger. The two enjoyed exploring and other outdoor activities, such as skating on the frozen lagoon in South Milwaukee. Tragesser was “very smart, creative and lots of fun,” Badger said.
While living in Lancaster, Susan met Robert Tragesser. They married in 1964 and moved to Houston where Susan taught grades 7-9 in the public schools.
The Tragessers moved to Kenosha in 1970, and for three years Susan taught math and English at Kemper hall.
“She enjoyed teaching at Kemper; they allowed her to be very creative with her students,” said Badger.
After the couple divorced in 1982, Susan went into real estate, working as an agent for Century 21 Shaffron and Century 21 Colleen.
As computers gained a foothold in business, Tragesser became fascinated by database applications. This skill came in particularly handy when working as housing coordinator for the city of Kenosha from 1985 until 1989.
“She loved databases,” said longtime friend and neighbor Sandy Ott. “She could run her way around a computer and a spreadsheet like nobody’s business.”
From 1990 to 1995 Tragesser worked for local non-profits, governmental entities and for-profit companies. In 1991 she consulted on a report that charted the growth of the city's minority population.
In 1995 she was employed as a data and information specialist with the planning council for Health and Human Services in Milwaukee. She was almost 70 when she retired in 2010.
Tragesser was far from being all work and no play. Having played violin in high school, she took up the viola in college and for several years performed with the Kenosha Symphony Orchestra.
Plants and animals were among her favorite pursuits.
“Sue was most passionate about plants and flowers, especially orchids,” Badger said. “She was fascinated by their unique shapes and great varieties.”
Tragesser became interested in orchids after attending an orchid show with Ott. Soon Tragesser was cultivating her own flowers in an orchidarium she set up in her basement.
“At one point she had about 1,000 plants,” Ott said.
She became a life member of the Wisconsin Orchid Society, functioning as board member, Web master and editor of its newsletter.
Tragesser had a green thumb for yard flowers and vegetables, said Ott. “(Vegetables) she couldn’t give away to friends she gave to the Shalom Center.”
Wild plants also captured Tragesser’s attention, and she was active with the Chiwaukee Prairie Preservation Fund as an adviser, grant writer and fundraiser.
Tragesser’s “tender heart for animals” moved her to take in strays and volunteer for the Kenosha County Humane Society where she served as president for five years. She was also a supporter of Fellow Mortals Wildlife Hospital.
Tragesser was not just generous with her time and talents but also her things, said family and friends.
“She was a collector, but she always had something to give someone,” Larson said.
As she faced her own mortality, Tragesser planned a legacy of gifts that reflected the life she had lived.
Her estate was donated to non-profit organizations supporting the causes she most loved: nature, animals and social services.
She directed that her body go to scientific research at the University of Minnesota.