Sunset Hill School set the stage for Susanne Shutz’s ’53 lifelong attraction to the theater when she fell in love with variety skits and Gilbert and Sullivan musicals as a student. Since then, she has had the opportunity to play many roles at the school: alumna, teacher, parent, volunteer, trustee, and, most recently, grandparent.
In 1945, Susanne’s mother, Maxine Christopher Shutz, transferred her daughters from public schools to Sunset Hill. Her older sister, Laura Shutz Cray ’50, entered the eighth grade while Susanne joined the fourth grade. Susanne said she had a wonderful education and enjoyed playing field hockey and basketball. Even limited acting opportunities infused a lifetime passion. She fondly remembers playing the character roles in the school musicals and standing in the theater balcony, playing the angel, Gabriel, in the Christmas play.
Upon graduation, Susanne attended Bradford Junior College and University of Missouri, where she earned a degree in speech and theater. Although she was offered a position as a teaching assistant while working toward a master’s degree in the speech department at the University of Hawaii, her parents asked her to return to Kansas City to participate in Junior League and BOTAR activities. Susanne came home, but was eager to start a career.
She approached Sunset Hill’s headmistress, Ellen Green, regarding the school’s need for a speech class. Mrs. Green agreed and hired Susanne as a part-time speech teacher. Teaching was a wonderful experience for Susanne, and she has many fond memories of students who gained poise, confidence and strong speaking skills due to her classes.
When Susanne married and raised her family, Sunset Hill, along with Pem-Day, reprised as central characters in her daily activities. Her children are graduates: Laura Curry Sloan ’79, Janet Curry ’81, Chuck Curry ’83 and Maxine Curry Christopher ’84. Susanne volunteered in many capacities; one of her favorites was writing, directing and producing the Mothers Skits for the Parents/Daughter dinners. Also, she was a member of the Board of Trustees, serving as president from 1974 to 1976. During this time, she earned a master's degree in theater from the University of Missouri-Kansas City too.
Susanne enjoyed her stint on the Board, but she was thrilled to return to her first love in 1981 to work as the director of speech and theater at Sunset Hill for two years. This role gave her the opportunity to teach one of the early “coordinated” classes, which included Pem-Day students. “I remember one girl who was painfully shy, and how challenging it was for her to stand in front of people to speak,” she reminisced. “All the students understood this – boys and girls – and it was so heartwarming to see them cheer for her and be so supportive during the final exams at an assembly.”
Now, Susanne relishes her role as a grandparent and considers herself lucky to have grandchildren, Curry ’05, Kellyn ’08 and Riley ’13 Sloan, who grew up locally and have attended Pembroke Hill. She laughed, “I go to everything – sports and plays – it’s all been wonderful!” Susanne has included the school in her estate plans and is a longtime member of The Founder’s Circle. For her, she said it was an easy decision. “It’s an investment in something from which I have benefitted – and have enjoyed – my whole life, as well as my children and grandchildren,” she stated. She continued, “In 1953, I was a member of the largest graduating class at that time, which was 28 members. It has been such a pleasure watching the school, and particularly the arts program, grow through the years. It’s important to perpetuate this institution that has been such a stand-out in the community.”
With Susanne’s decision to include Pembroke Hill School in her estate plans, programs like the arts will flourish, and future students will enjoy the same thrill she felt hearing the sounds of applause.