Woman doesn't take retirement sitting down

Suzie Aldrich is busy painting her home's exterior. Taking it easy is not for her, she says.

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Suzie Aldrich doesn't hire workers to do work that she can do herself.

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Suzie Aldrich.

Sitting back with nothing to do, just doesn't work for some people.

Successful in many ways, cheerful Suzie Aldrich said she has failed at retirement, if that means taking it easy. Currently painting the exterior of her home, Aldrich approached the project like she does everything else: with enthusiasm.

"I have a lot of energy. I'm on ‘turbo' most of the time," she said. From her car with flames painted on it to her Amish buggy, Aldrich moves through her life with a sense of style and joy.

Walla Walla born and raised, she graduated from Walla Walla High School in 1961, then spent awhile at Eastern Washington University. Always slim and athletic, she was a gymnast while at Eastern. Then she went to Seattle to work at a brokerage firm. Throughout her life Aldrich has pioneered in areas that were customarily off limits to women.

Seattle was desolate in the ‘60s, so she went to New York, worked on Wall Street and lived in Manhattan. She credits her secretarial skills for opening doors to work in financial firms when it was uncommon for women. She flamboyantly rode her unicycle through the streets of New York City, enjoying the life, work and culture.

In the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, there was an economic downturn and she and many others were laid off.

She returned to Seattle, worked and studied at Seattle University, while volunteering at Swedish Hospital. She started running, went skydiving and decided mountain climbing would be fun.

In the ‘70s she scaled Mt. Adams, Mount St. Helens and made three attempts to summit Mt. Rainier. While on Rainier, she trained at the Nisqually glacier, in a large crevasse. "It's huge and bottomless. I was on a single rope and somebody's holding it. I think it's the most adventurous thing I ever did." The power and beauty of the area and the silence with the blue color of the glacial ice was spellbinding. "It was awesome," she said of the whole experience.

Travel is another passion. For her 60th birthday she visited major Civil War battlefields such as Gettysburg and Antietam. She's gone deep sea fishing near Bermuda, in conjunction with a cruise. Aldrich wants to cruise the Inside Passage to Alaska. A potential plan for her 70th birthday is to visit the Panama Canal. Right now she's sticking closer to home, planning her 50th high school reunion next year.

Her faith and spiritual beliefs have been a guiding force throughout her life and she loves to help others. She blended these qualities as a eucharistic minister at St. James Cathedral in Seattle.

Aldrich combined her sense of adventure with her love of people. She was involved with mountaineering first aid with the American Red Cross and become an Emergency Medical Technician in King County. She was the first female EMT in the area. Opportunities for her often come in the guise of challenging conventional boundaries.

Part of breaking through those boundaries comes from education, according to Aldrich. She graduated with a bachelor's in criminal justice and police science from Seattle University. "I made a choice; secretarial work was a dead end. I had to get the degree. It opened doors; it closed some doors, too," she said.

Her immediate focus was helping kids in distress and prostitutes, by connecting them with resources to be able to leave their dangerous world. "It's only the guy who's making the money. You're worth something, there are resources to help get you out of there," she said.

In 1986 she went to work at the University of Washington in the dean's office. "I was ‘The Cop,'" she laughed. She made sure the various legalities were met. She next went into the longterm care, working with doctors at the University of Washington hospital health sciences. She loved the job and her co-workers but circumstances propelled her away from it.

On an ordinary workday there was gunfire in the office. The murder of Dr. Rodger Haggitt and suicide of his attacker, a former employee was the impetus for Aldrich to leave. The job itself was wonderful but the loss of Dr. Haggitt, a well-respected co-worker was too heart-wrenching. She heard the shooting. "It set a lot of people back; Dr. Haggitt was an integral part of the pathology department. Hard stuff to go through any of that. I can't even imagine a Columbine. It holds onto you, but don't let it consume you."

But not everything was about career.

While in the Seattle area, she lived in Rainier Valley and experimented with having garden around her house but no lawn. She never liked grass, so she decided to replace it with flowers and vegetables. That went pretty well so she pulled out more grass and put in a patio. Her neighbor admired the patio so she built one for them.

Her home here has flowers, especially iris, and vegetables around it and no grass. "I cannot have grass in my yard. I'm just not a John Deere girl," she said.

"I had 20 years in with the University so I could retire from the state. I really didn't want to give up working. On 7-7-7, I came back to Walla Walla. I worked at the Walla Walla VA in the Long Term Care Unit," she said.

She's active in retirement as she has been in the rest of her life.

"I retired Jan. 2, 2009. On my way home I picked up 2 gallons of paint and started painting the kitchen. Then the living room, then the whole house." Now she's painting the exterior. There's no down time. "I'm failing at retirement," she said.She volunteers with Walla Walla Community Hospice and Red Cross. "I can go on to the mass disasters. I want to be there for people."

According to Aldrich, you make choices about how to feel and how to handle the time you're given.

"Find the good in people; constantly reach out to them. Give them something positive to go on. A smile is the one thing that's so easy to do." Aldrich lives by her own rules. Two of her favorites are, "Each day comes bearing gifts, untie the ribbons," and "Between your first smile and your last smile, save one for me."

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