Today, Susan Owens works as an administrative legal professional at the law office of Paul Herrmann in Saranac Lake, but her life has had many twists and turns.
Born in Glendale, Calif., Sue lived in Southern California for almost 20 years. She began playing piano when she was 6, then added violin with training from the renowned Vera Barstow and Francis Brady.
Living near Hollywood, she attended concerts, musicals, plays and live television shows. She also attended many Los Angeles Dodgers games with her dad. Her mom passed away when she was just 17, so she was unable to finish college.
Susan and Jim Owens and their family got together for a photo during the 2008 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. From left, Shamgar, Patrice, Shiloh, Sarah, Isaiah, Susan, Jim, Moses, Sapphire, Ruth, Naomi and Faith. Their daughter Shiloh and her boyfriend Patrice are getting married on Valentine’s Day at the Whiteface Club in Lake Placid.
(Photo — Mark Kurtz)
"My life changed," Sue said. "Sometimes things happen that cause you to take another road."
Susan met Tom Connors on a California beach in the 1970s. "He had a sailboat," she said. "We met in Long Beach at Belmont Shore. We were married for 28 years and had nine children together."
Tom and Sue moved to the Adirondacks in 1982.
"Tom was born in Elizabethtown; his family had a farm in Westport," Sue said. "We came to Lake Placid on vacation and fell in love with the area." They moved to a log cabin on Rainbow Lake. Later, they lived on Upper Saranac Lake, including one year in the Mountain House at the Wawbeek - one of Sue's favorite spots.
Sue took a moment to compare the Adirondacks to Southern California.
"I had to get used to snow and cold, had to learn to drive all over again," Sue said. "It's nothing like what I grew up with.
"I played high school tennis. We ran the track at 7 a.m. in our shorts in January. I feel lucky that this girl from the big city was able to experience the Adirondacks. My California friends have no clue how beautiful it is or how great it is to live here. The air is fresh and clean. I love swimming in the lakes and boating."
While Sue was home taking care of their children, Tom was working.
"My husband owned a car business in Ray Brook; it was his dream," Sue said. "He tried it for a few years, did the best he could but couldn't make a go of it. I'm glad he had that dream."
They were involved in the community, in music and in area churches.
"I played piano and led music ministry in several churches all over the country," Sue said.
"After 10 years, we left because Tom had a job opportunity in Oregon. From there, we moved to Hawaii for two years. There I was, involved with theater, as a musical director for the Maui Cultural Arts Center (a beautiful facility) and Baldwin High School, playing piano scores in plays such as 'Fiddler on the Roof' and 'Funny Girl.' I also played violin in the Maui Symphony orchestra."
After two years on Maui, the couple and their family moved back east, then back west to Southern California.
"We drove across the country many times," recalls Sue. "I'm very blessed to have many good friends all over the United States."
In April 2001, while they were living in California, Tom died suddenly from a heart attack.
"My life changed overnight," Sue said. "It was a shock to all of us; We were devastated, but I told the kids (she still had seven children living at home), 'God must have another plan.' I didn't know what it was. My whole life I've had a strong faith in God; that's what got me through. I had to stay strong for the kids; I couldn't just curl up in a ball and fade away."
Sue kept up her music by playing at different events and teaching piano lessons. When Faith, her youngest, turned 5, she went back to work part-time. She had job offers in California and in Hawaii.
"But something kept drawing me back to the mountains," she said. "I had friends back here. I had a history back here. My oldest son was a student at Potsdam. My mother-in-law lived in Schenectady."
So in 2001, Sue, a single mom with seven kids in tow, drove cross country back to Saranac Lake.
"I knew living here would be good for the kids," Sue said. "I wouldn't have to worry about them. What I love about this area is how safe it is. People are warm and friendly, know each other and look out for one another. Being in this community, you feel you're part of a big family. I have wonderful friends who have helped me stay strong; they're the heroes in my life. Friends and family are very important.
"Being a widow was difficult. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. I taught school, substitute teaching music, chorus, band and other classes in Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.
"I was beginning to think, if I want to start dating again, I'll have to move back to a big city. Then a friend invited me to Snuffy's Pub. Jim 'J.R.' Owens was a guest bartender that evening. He asked me out, we started talking about our common interest in music, and we hit it off. He proposed 11 days later, and we were married in June 2002. A short time after that, we were chosen to be a honeymoon couple on the Fine Living Channel for the Lake Placid Lodge."
Owens performs around the country, including music for the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival ice show and closing slide show. He's known as Mr. DJ.
"Deejaying is fun," Sue said. "Jim has played music for more than 1,450 wedding receptions. I've gone with him to about 150 of them. Celebrating weddings is so special. He also works as an advisor, sourcing oil for a company in India.
"Jim has helped me tremendously with the family. He's been there for us, helped us through all kinds of situations - a real godsend. Blending a family together has its challenges. It's been a growing experience. Jim has one daughter from a previous marriage.
"Having a big family is a wonderful thing. You learn to share. You learn from one another. The boys learn from the girls and vice versa. It makes them stronger people. As they've grown up, they can adapt to different personalities, they know how to deal with people. If I had to do it over again I'd have the nine children.
"When we get together, it's a powerhouse. All those kids, they've accomplished many things. So far, four have graduated college. Education is important. It's expensive, but you have to encourage them to do it. It will open doors for them. One's a teacher, one a paralegal, one is studying psychology, another is a business major and one a musician. My son who is in the Navy has a 3-year-old daughter, which makes me a grandma. My youngest, still in high school, dreams of becoming a dermatologist.
"It's challenging to be a mother. You need to be patient, you have to overlook a lot of things, keep loving them, be there for them and let them know you care. Mothers often don't feel appreciated. It's not one of the big jobs on the totem pole, and you don't make lots of money. But the payback is big. A mother's job is very important. Mothers help shape the world."
This story was based on an
interview with Susan Owens. Yvona Fast can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.