On May 2, one of the most loved, admired and respected ladies in Louisville passed away. Sug Schusterman, after a short illness, died at her home in St. Matthews.
Sug was born and reared in Oldham County. Her parents were the late Bill and Ella Conn. She had cousins by the dozens in Oldham and Eastern Jefferson County.
One day a long time ago, Ron McMakin, one of the cousins and a close friend of my husband and me, called and was so excited that Sug (or Lee as she was known in the business) was coming to visit him and would we come to dinner? We had heard about the glamorous, Eastern New Mexico Phi Beta Kappa graduate, brilliant, fashion model who traveled the world representing and modeling clothes for international designers, was married to a New York City attorney, loved sailing the Eastern seaboard in the summer, and always found time to ride her beloved horses.
That dinner changed our lives forever.
There was this tall, fashionable, charming, slender, beautiful ash blonde with a warm, vivacious, personality. Everyone fell in love with her the moment they met. She was recently divorced and had come “home” to nurse her wounds. She made the room light up. And she made us feel special. It is a talent few people have. We talked long into the night finding the ties that would bind us forever.
We had gone to school with her cousins Lida Lee and Mildred Kemp, and had been taught by her formidable cousin, Mr. Kemp. Her father and my grandfather had been friends. We shared a slight interest on our part and a true love on hers with horses. She had no children of her own but loved everyone else’s and was fascinated when we talked about the hearing-impaired preschoolers at the Louisville Deaf Oral School.
She was tired of New York, the fashion industry, the traveling. She wanted to come home to Kentucky to stay. Until she could find a better job, she took a position at the Broadway Series that was way below her pay grade and abilities. She charmed every one in the office. Eventually, she went to the Camberly Brown Hotel to manage customer relations and, once again, was loved by all – from the busboys to senior management.
Needing an interesting place to live, she found “Twigmore,” a small historic English style field stone house in a wooded glen in Pewee Valley. It was like a fairytale house. Sug always left the leaded glass casement windows open in the summer, and if she was not home you could just lean in and leave what ever you had brought her. There was a flagstone terrace in the back and a charming garden.
She was a good cook and dinner parties were always diverse and fun. She had antique family furniture, a houseful of paintings by her Wilhoyte grandmother and the most wonderful Victorian table call-bell that I lusted after. There was a spectacular early Victorian chandelier that came from the big home the family had in Lake Wales, Fla.
About the time she got settled, my friend Dan Schusterman called looking for someone to take out. I gave him Sug’s number. The rest was history. They fell in love. The wedding was outdoors at Harmony Landing Country Club on the muggiest, hottest day of the year. I was a bridesmaid along with Cousin Pat Karlen and Cousin Ron. (That’s right, Cousin Ron was a bridesmaid! And, no, he did not wear a dress!) New York designer and friend Bob Mackie made the bride’s beautiful cream colored gown.
Charming as it was, Twigmore was too small for Dan so they moved to a lovely home in Glenview. John Korfhage put in a beautiful terraced backyard, and they entertained endlessly.
By this time, Sug was immersed in volunteering for and serving on the board of the Louisville Deaf Oral School, now known as the Heuser Hearing & Language Academy. She was co-chair of the capital campaign that raised $8 million to build the expanded Heuser Hearing Institute, served as its board chair and was active in the naming of the new school building for her close friend and school supporter, the late June Tafel.
Sug was a member of the Health Committee of the Woman’s Club of Louisville and under her leadership and prodding, events, fashion shows, dinners, and auctions at the Brown Hotel with Jim Stuckert as the auctioneer, were held for several years that raised in excess of $200,000 for the school.
On campus almost every day and armed with hugs and smiles for every child, Sug tirelessly supported the efforts of Mona McCubbin, the Institute’s executive director, doing whatever was necessary, even weeding the garden.
But there was always time for fun. We went to Europe a number of times, and “we girls” often flew to Houston to visit friends of Jo Ann Gammon and ride in the famed opening night of the Houston Rodeo. We met fascinating people. One cute elderly man that we sat next to at dinner told us any time we wanted the owner’s box in Nashville for a pro football game to just give him a call. Later we found out we were sitting with Bud Adams, who owned the Nashville Titans. Sug enchanted them all. Dan was sweetly tolerant and indulged her in the trips with the girls.
Dan and Sug liked to travel together, too, and took trips to New York with Libby and Don Parkinson to see shows and shop. Carol and Bill Lomicka had built a second home in Arizona, and the Schustermans liked to visit them there.
Sug had a passionate interest in horses and the Kentucky Derby Museum, and never missed an opportunity to promote it, even chairing the 2005 Museum Gala that yielded record results. She subsequently served on the committee all of the following years to the present.
In 2011, The Voice-Tribune published an In Tandem feature about Sug and Dan. “You could put a shower curtain on her and she’d look good,” Dan told the writer. But that’s not why he pursued her years ago, Dan explained. “She’s not only beautiful, she’s also very smart,” he said, seriously. “I’m a very lucky guy.”
When asked how the two walked “in tandem” on a daily basis, “We respect and like each other,” Sug replied. “It’s not just love,” added Dan. “We genuinely like each other. We work as a team. In our relationship, Sug is my partner.”
The one thing the couple did every day without fail was “always empty the kitty litter,” Sug quipped during the interview, smiling at her husband. “We also always tell each other ‘I love you,’ ” Dan added. “Everyday. At least once,” Sug affirmed.
In March 2012, Sug learned she was seriously ill.
Weakened by her illness but typically minding her manners, she dictated thank you notes to Lindy Street to mail to many from whom she had received well wishes while in the hospital. Never without opinions, when she knew time was short, with Dan, Libby and Carol, Sug planned the details of her funeral including the flowers and her desire to be buried in her wedding gown with her wedding ring on her hand and wearing a pair of socks – she was always cold. (It’s OK to smile; she would have loved it.)
Sug Schusterman liked and cared for virtually everyone she ever met and everyone she met liked her. She made friends easily with people from all walks of life and our lives are richer for having known her. Sug was some lady.
Oh, by the way … Sug never liked or told people her real first name. But when asked if I could tell it in her obituary, she laughed and said, “Yes!” It is on her tombstone and it says, “Myrtis Lee.” She was named for her grandmother. Myrtis is also a beautiful flower, a fitting moniker for such a beautiful person.
The funeral service was held at Calvary Episcopal Church, 821 S. Fourth St. at 10 a.m. May 9, 2012, with burial following at Duncan Memorial Cemetery at Floydsburg, Ky.
In lieu of flowers expressions of sympathy may go to Heuser Hearing & Language Academy, 111 E. Kentucky St., Louisville, KY 40203.
About the Author (Author Profile)
A fixture in Louisville society, Carla Sue Broecker has been writing her weekly column for more than two decades.