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Suzan Turley could give lessons about surviving

King City councilor's life has known extreme highs and lows


by: JAIME VALDEZ - A LIFE WELL LIVED - Suzan Turley, shown here at King City City Hall, is president of the King City City Council as well as active in several organizations.Suzan Turley's turning point came after she was suddenly widowed at age 29 - she had moved to an unfamiliar city for a job promotion and one evening, after dealing with a sick baby all day and learning that her older daughter was skipping school, she was taking out the garbage when she heard the tell-tale sound of a tire on her car losing air, which was the final straw.

Suzan sat down in the snow for two hours, crying and cursing at God about the deplorable situation that she found herself in, and then made the decision to get up, take care of her family and be a survivor.

Ironically, she reached the same turning point again 20 years later after her second husband died.

Suzan, whose maiden name was Fairchild, couldn't have known growing up that all the changes and transitions her parents went through would prepare her to be a survivor later on when times got tough.

But they did, starting when Suzan, a middle child with an older brother and a younger brother, was born in Vallejo, Calif., during World War II where her dad worked as a machinist at the Mare Island naval shipyards.

"Both my parents were from Idaho, and we moved back there when I was about 4," Suzan said. "We lived all over Idaho - if there's a town in Idaho, I've probably lived in it. My dad did different jobs, including gold mining and farming. My mom was a nurse, and for a while we lived on an Indian reservation where she was the public health nurse.

"There was no division of labor in our family - I was not raised in a traditional home. I was raised by a career mother, and my dad was home more than she was."

The family finally settled in New Plymouth when Turley was in junior high, and Suzan went on to sing and perform in high school.

"I sang in the choir and was part of the Idaho State Honor Choir, and I did every play," she said. "But I was a farm girl - I had to slop the hogs and do other chores. My brother and I raised the runts to pay for college, and my very favorite pet was a pig named Tinkerbelle. She slept with me in my room until she weighed 300 pounds, but I had to sell her when she reached 800 pounds.

"We always had cats and dogs and geese, but pigs are more loyal than dogs. They're clean and so intelligent. She was better trained than any dog I had."

The family had a strong education ethic, according to Suzan.

"It was always, 'when' you go to college, not 'if,'" she said. "It was always expected that I would go to college. I got a really good music scholarship at Linfield College and went one year, but my brother was already there, and we couldn't afford to have both of us go out of state, so I transferred to Idaho State University."

Suzan's life changed forever when she "met a guy."

"I left school in March, two months before graduating, so we could get married and be together - it was the dumbest thing I ever did," she said. "He had left school in Ontario, and I was in Pocatello, and we wanted to be together. My dad lectured me for a month against it."

Suzan's husband Ron Kinman was a race car driver, and they moved to Wecoma Beach in Oregon, where his family lived and which later became part of Lincoln City when it was incorporated.

"He worked for his dad and raced," she said. "We followed the circuit of what is now NASCAR."

Nine years later, the couple had two daughters - Rondasue, 7 ½ years old, and Stephanie, 5 months old - and they were visiting Suzan’s family in Idaho where a terrible flu was going around, and Ron died.

"They did an autopsy and said he had kidney problems and probably would have died within 15 years," Suzan said. "I was 29 years old, and we didn't have life insurance because who thinks they will need it at that age?

"I had worked since I was 13 - corn-husking, cherry-picking - for my father. We got paid but not much. I've been a waitress and a nanny. I nannied all through college. When my husband and I were getting our first house mortgage, the bank manager asked me to come and work part time.

"But when my husband died, I had nothing. We were on vacation in Idaho, and I didn't have enough money to bring him back to Oregon. I had $100,000 in hospital bills for the five days he spent in the Boise hospital, two babies and no husband. The hospital said I should at least pay the ambulance bill, and my mom and dad took out a loan to pay for that."

As if dealing with all that wasn't enough, Turley's husband had been an only child, and her in-laws tried to take her children away from her, saying she was an unfit mother.

"I won," said Suzan, who had quit the bank job after her second daughter was born but was offered a position again after being widowed.

She struggled financially to raise her daughters, learning to stretch a box of macaroni and cheese for 4 ½ days but noted that after reconciling with her in-laws, "they took good care of the girls and kept them well-dressed."

Suzan added. "They were wonderful grandparents and watched the girls so I didn't have to use daycare."

Ron owned four race cars, and Turley could sell two of them, but she wasn't automatically the guardian of her children after her husband's death so she couldn't sell the other two cars until she became their legal guardian. "It was one or two years before I could sell them - they were my only asset," she said.

Employees had to go where their bank sent them if they wanted a promotion, and Suzan was sent to La Grande when Stephanie was 1 ½ to be operations officer, noting, "I have held every bank position except manager."

"We moved to La Grande in the winter, and we didn't even have winter coats," she said. "We had lived at the coast for almost 10 years and weren't used to the weather."

Suzan's first turning point was fast approaching as she started life in a new town: "One night, I was taking out the garbage, and I heard the 'Sssssst' sound of a tire deflating," she said. "The baby had been sick all day, and I had just found out that my oldest daughter had been skipping school. My husband's death was a huge loss to her, and he was buried on her 8th birthday.

"I sat down in the snow and cried and cried. I ranted and raved at God, sitting in the snow with a flat tire, a pile of bills and a sick kid. That night was my turning point. I was so busy putting one foot in front of the other and realized: This is my life, and nothing is going to change. I had to make a choice to start living or crawl under the covers and go on welfare - although my kids probably would have been better off if I had done that.

"But I was raised to be fiscally responsible. I was making $500 a month, and my daughters received Social Security that went to pay their dad's medical bill. It took me 15 years, but I paid off that hospital bill and even got a thank you note from the hospital. I paid my parents back too - I'm pretty proud of that."

by: COURTESY OF SUZAN TURLEY - HAPPY DAY - Suzan and Dan Turley look happy on their wedding day, when they blended their two families for a total of eight children.Life was finally on an even keel for Suzan when she "met a man on a blind date" named Dan Turley.

"A co-worker wanted to introduce me to a firefighter, and I finally said yes," she said. "He was divorced with six children - that was the last thing I needed. We met at a pre-Thanksgiving dinner - he had to leave twice on calls - and were married four weeks later on Dec. 7 - that was the second dumbest thing I ever did.

"We were very different people, but we blended our families through trial and error to raise eight children. He had five boys and one girl, and the kids ran back and forth between our house and his ex-wife's. We had loads of fun. Our door was always open at any time. We did lots of camping and fishing and barbecuing - things that didn't cost much. Life was good."

In addition to working, Turley completed her college degree at Eastern Oregon University and got involved in city politics.

"I was raised in a political family," she said. "I stuffed envelopes for Sen. Frank Church. My parents were involved in granges and the city council. I was taught that you give back to the community… My younger brother was a county commissioner, a cousin ran for Idaho governor, and my older brother is on The Dallas City Council and was mayor."

In La Grande, Suzan was offered a job as economic development officer for the Blue Mountain Intergovernmental Council, which handled infrastructure projects for small cities in three counties in northeastern Oregon.

"I wrote grant applications and managed projects," Suzan said. "It was fascinating - I learned more about sewers than I ever wanted to know."

The job involved traveling as much as two weeks out of every month to places like Washington, D.C., as well as visiting local projects.

"I was finishing my degree then and still raising kids," Suzan said. "I was living out of a suitcase."

Suzan's job included working with EOU as well as various city staffs, and she applied for an opening on the La Grande Budget Committee. Emboldened after that foray into city politics, Suzan wrote a letter to the editor of the La Grande newspaper complaining about potholes, and someone at the city suggested that she run for a council seat.

"I ran and lost by 12 votes, so there was an automatic recount, and I won by three votes," Suzan said. "I got elected and joined the good old boys' club for 12 years."

In La Grande, the council members elect the mayor from among themselves, and Suzan became the city's first female mayor.

Meanwhile, Dan, who was 48 years old and assistant fire chief, went in for his annual physical, where he was diagnosed with a lung tumor caused by renal cell cancer that had metastasized.

"We had been planning how we would retire and what we would do," Suzan said. "The kids were all gone except one. My job was going well, and his job was going well.

“He wanted to do everything he could to fight this and opted for experimental treatment. He had to retire, and our lives revolved around being in and out of hospitals.

"Financially, we could not have made it without help from the La Grande Fire Department. The cancer spread to his bones and brain. I worked only enough hours at EOU to be paid for full time since I had to be his caregiver. People mowed our lawn and painted our house and brought food. They made it easy, if going through this can be called easy."

When Suzan's husband died at 49, they had been married 15 years, and she stayed in La Grande for three more years, until in 1992 she was offered a job as director of financial aid and registrar at Oregon Healthy & Science University.

"At that point, I wanted anonymity," said Suzan, who took the job and moved to Portland and later went to work for the Oregon Department of Justice as charities registrar in the financial fraud division for nearly 10 years.

"I worked for the state a total of 19 years and decided it was time to retire," Turley said. "That lasted five months. I had moved to Tigard after I stopped working in Portland and got on the library board."

She eventually purchased a home in King City, saying, "I like the ambiance of the place. I looked at a lot of places and found what I wanted here."

Suzan, who has lived in King City nearly six years, learned there was an opening on the City Council in 2008 and got appointed to fill a vacancy, running successfully for a four-year term later that year and again in 2012.

Suzan represents King City on the Southwest Corridor Commission, works part time for Bank of the West, runs a travel agency out of her home, is a certified facilitator for AARP on community-impact and women's issues, and is a public member of the Oregon Medical Insurance Pool Board and the Oregon License Professional Counselors and Therapists Board of Directors.

Suzan also enjoys spending time with her grandchildren - daughter Rhonda Miller lives in Aloha and has two daughters, and her other daughter, Stephanie Brown, lives in Caldwell, Idaho, and has two boys and a girl.

"I'm a people person," Suzan said. "After I retired, I didn't realize how much a part of my life that was. When my second husband died, that was another turning point. I was 49, and you have to decide if you are going to die with that person or start living a different life."