Literacy Director Raised On Politics



Politics run deep in Su Connell's family.

Most of her relatives were Republicans, and many held elected office in her home state of Wisconsin, including her father who was both a state representative and senator.

On the national level, Connell's great aunt, Katherine Lenroot, was the first head of the Children's Bureau.


Su Connell, director of the Rim Country Literacy Program, works in the children's area of the program's office in the senior apartment complex at the west end of Manzanita Manor. Connell and her volunteers are currently developing a program for newborns.

"That was back in the 30s and 40s, when they had a lot of children working in factories and a lot of abuses of child labor," Connell said.

Then there was great uncle Irving Lenroot, who served in the Wisconsin State Legislature, and then went on to become a U.S. senator. When she first met her husband Jack, whose family was Irish and Democratic, an interesting conversation ensued with Jack's mother.

"His mother said, ‘What did you say your last name was?' When I told her, she said, ‘Oh my god,' and sat down.

"I asked her, ‘What's the matter?' She said, ‘Wait until the earth stops shaking. Jack's grandfather always called your uncle Irving "that g--damned Scandinavian Republican."'"

But it wasn't the first time Connell's political family made life interesting for a young girl. She remembers the time when she was 9 when her father left her in the waiting room while he went into the office of Wisconsin Gov. Walter Kohler, Jr. for a meeting.

"He told me to mind my Ps and Qs, so I sat in this waiting room in the governor's office for probably three hours," she recalled. "I finally walked into Gov. Kohler's office and said, ‘Dad, you promised me a hamburger and it's 7:30 and I'm hungry.'

"Dad's eyes got real big, but Gov. Kohler was a family man and he said, ‘You know, Art, there's a time and a place for business and a time and a place for family, and I'm glad somebody said something because I'm mighty damn hungry too.' So the three of us went out and got a hamburger."

Then there was the time Richard Nixon came to the Connells for dinner.

"It was when Nixon was governor of California and just beginning his political drive for higher office," Connell said. "He came through Superior (Wis.) and my folks had him for dinner with some town dignitaries.

"Mother always had a rule that she never gave anybody more than two drinks. Give them more and they might not remember what they ate; give them less and they might remember that what they ate wasn't perfect.

"Well that night, she burned the peas. I remember it like it was yesterday. She went out and said to my father, ‘Why don't you see if anybody would like another drink.'

"I was standing in the doorway, just a little child, and I said, ‘How come they can have three drinks tonight?' Then I looked at Nixon and added, ‘And boy that man's got a big nose.'"

Connell went on to spend 18 years working for a Wisconsin book publisher, and another 18 working for Procter & Gamble after she and Jack relocated to Phoenix.

"I worked at P&G's Metamucil plant -- the only one in the world," Connell said. "We used to say, ‘We make the world go.'"

After retiring to Payson, Connell got involved with the Mogollon Republican Women, currently serving as president, after stints as vice president and chaplain. She also volunteers for the hospital and the Time Out Shelter. Then she discovered the Rim Country Literacy Program

"My daughter went to their used book sale and said, ‘Mom, I found a job for you.' I said, ‘I've never been a teacher; that's not my bag.' My background is marketing, sales, purchasing and logistics.

"But I came over here and started helping out in the office, and then (RCLP director) Lois Johnson got ill, and as she started to fail I took over more and more," Connell said.

Now she is putting her marketing expertise to good use as the program's director, and she has found a passion that rivals her love for politics.

"It's our 10th anniversary," she said. "The first year we had 50 volunteer hours. Last year (2003), we had over 7,000. As of the beginning of December, we had helped 243 people this year."

While the majority of the people who use the program are Hispanic, many aren't.

"In the three years I've been here, we've helped a Vietnamese, a Taiwanese, a Russian, a German and a couple ladies from the Ukraine," she said. "For a small town, that's quite a diverse population."

But there are always more who need help, and they can always use extra volunteers.

"We need more volunteers, particularly in two areas," she said. "One is English as a Second Language, especially in the evening. The other is in our children's program. Our current program is for three- and four-year-olds, but we want to do something with newborns."

And what kind of experience do volunteers need?

"A big heart," Connell said.

To find out more about the program and how you can help, call Connell at (928) 468-RCLP (7257), e-mail them at, or visit the program's website at


Name: Susan (Su) Marie Connell

Occupation: Director of Rim Country Literacy Program

Employer: RCLP

Age: 62

Birthplace: Superior, Wis.

Family: Husband, John D. (Jack), son John, daughter Colleen, and granddaughter, Cory.

Personal Motto: "Smile and the world smiles with you; weep and you weep alone."

Inspiration: Ronald Reagan.

Greatest feat: There are two. I helped a small printing business grow from a garage operation to a million dollar business. And most recently being part of a dynamic group of volunteers who are helping improve literacy.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Reading, and being involved in community projects.

Three words that describe me best: Friendly, vivacious, and determined.

I don't want to brag but ... I have met many personal and business challenges.

Person in history I'd most like to meet: Mother Teresa.

Luxury defined: Good health and humor, living in Payson.

Dream vacation spot: Fall in northern Wisconsin or Minnesota, along Lake Superior.

Why Payson? Good air, health facilities, friendly people, close to family and big city cultural events.

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