Susan Rebecca Schepp

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We share with great sorrow that Susan Rebecca Schepp, despite never having smoked, succumbed to a rare form of lung cancer, on September 24, 2023. She was 68 years old.

Born Susan Rebecca Heller on May 4, 1955, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, her father, Alvin, had hoped she would be born a day later to make her birthdate all fives. Her mother, Martha, states that Susan was the perfect baby. Sister of Robert, David, and Julia, and paternal half-sister of Sienna, she grew up in Germantown, Pennsylvania. She attended school with many other girls named Susan, which at the time, gave her some dissatisfaction. She received formal training and performed in piano and ballet, skipped a year in school, and explored Philadelphia with her siblings and many friends.

Susan spent her adolescence traveling between her parents’ homes across the country. She lived in a geodesic dome in a commune in New Mexico, attended 9th grade in the Golden Gate Park of San Francisco, resided in Strafford, Vermont, Lyme and Etna, New Hampshire, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bancroft, Maine, and ultimately attended 6 different high schools. She met her first husband, Kevin Frank, in 1970. Kevin remarks that Susan allowed him to experience magic and mystery in life. As a testament to her brilliance, she excelled academically despite her ever-changing school experience and proceeded to attend University of Massachusetts and receive a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, with concentration in ceramics.

Susan and Kevin next moved to Rochester, NY, in 1978 to join the staff of the Rochester Zen Center. She traveled to Japan where she lived for 3 months and studied pottery and Zen Buddhism. During her early years in Rochester, she studied Computer Science at RIT, and was among those who established and expanded the Genesee Co-Op Pottery, the Springwater Meditation Center, and Mostly Clay Inc. She taught many ceramics students in the 1980s, and sold thousands of her hand-thrown functional porcelain pottery pieces to appreciators of fine craft.

She met Chris at a party in 1986, and he became her partner and then devoted husband for nearly 37 years. The two moved to Marion, NY, where Susan continued her successful pottery business out of their garage, and were married in 1989 at the St. Paul Exempt Firemen’s Club. They welcomed their only child, Celeste, in August, 1991.

Susan and Chris both worked as self-employed artists until 1995, at which point Susan pursued a Master’s degree in Education from Nazareth College. She put this degree to great use, and went on to teach hundreds of middle school students at Williamson, Cobblestone, Harley, Hillel, Urban Choice, Brighton, West Irondequoit, and other schools in and around the city of Rochester. She was a loving mother in law to Celeste’s first husband, Louis, and particularly enjoyed their summer trips to Cape Cod.

Never fully retiring, and constantly learning and teaching others, Susan worked for the NIH Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health study, EdMetric Assessments, Westat, and on other education-related projects. She began giving talks and leading meditation retreats at Springwater Center in 2015. She enjoyed many hobbies including expert-level knitting, cooking, hiking, and gardening. She nearly never lost a Scrabble game, and had an incredibly high IQ, but passed it off humbly as being explained solely by her profession as a teacher.

She and her son in law, Emmett, shared a love of culinary arts and swapped amusing stories of their teaching experiences. She enjoyed seeing movies at the Little Theater and the RPO with her mother, and many live music shows with her husband. Maintaining a close relationship with her daughter was probably the most fulfilling joy of her life.

Susan was a kind and understanding daughter, wife, mother, and friend. She will be sadly missed by many for her humble, quiet, decent, and beautiful ways. Her desire to understand the human condition resulted in a person of rare depth of insight and uncommon patience.

Susan is survived by her mother, Martha Heller, brother, Robert Heller, sister, Julia Payne-Lewis, half-sister, Sienna Wildwind, first husband, Kevin Frank, husband, Christopher Schepp, many sisters and brothers in law, daughter, Celeste Schepp Wyman, numerous nieces and nephews, best friend, Janet Marshall, and son in law, Emmett Lyons Wyman. She left behind too many great friends to name in entirety, but notably including, Angela Kimberk, Hardy Kornfeld, Deb McAllister, Susan McDuffy, Nancy Miller, Sandra Gonzalez, Joyce Landau, and Evelyn Christopher.

Susan is predeceased by her brother, David Heller, father, Alvin Heller, step-father, Charles Jaffe, father and mother in law, James and Catherine Schepp, meditation teacher, Toni Packer, and first son in law, Louis D’Amanda III.

Family and friends of Susan will gather to remember her from 2-5PM on November 19, 2023, at the St. Paul Exempt Firemen’s Club in West Irondequoit.

16 Condolences

  1. Elizabeth Rowe on October 19, 2023 at 5:58 pm

    I was so glad to learn more about Sue’s life and accomplishments My heart goes out to her family and many friends.

    • Maureen Dunphy on November 14, 2023 at 6:01 pm

      I lived with Susan and another Zen Center member in the early eighties, off of Park Ave.
      I was amazed by her incredible talent in ceramics, and when she enrolled to study Computer Science, I knew that she truly had a special mind. I’m so grateful to have known Sue.

  2. Susan Lee Schepp on October 19, 2023 at 9:14 pm

    Susan was sincere, competent, candid and always quick to smile,

    Her Christmas cookies unmatched. How she managed to make them so thin and so delicious is a wonder! She was one of the “good ones” and we will continue to feel her loss.

    Sending wishes of peace to all who loved her.

    • Nancy Miller on October 26, 2023 at 9:04 am

      Dear Celeste, Chris, Martha and Susan’s brother and sister,
      I am honored to have know Susan since 1978. She was a true friend, wise, funny and totally down to earth. She had no pretensions. I will miss her dearly.
      May her transition be peaceful and her next journey auspicious.

  3. Celeste Schepp Wyman on October 20, 2023 at 10:54 am

    My dad and I wrote this remembrance with a great deal of love and thought, but will admit it is a near impossible task to fully summarize the impacts mom had on so many people. We greatly appreciate responses and memories we’ve received from people directly, but are also looking forward to collecting public condolences here. We know many are grieving mom and it will be comforting to share our individual impressions and memories. Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Love, Celeste

  4. Patricia Best Defendorf on October 20, 2023 at 4:07 pm

    Oh, so sorry to learn this! Susan was married to my cousin Chris. A truly amazing woman! Rest in Peace.

  5. Bob Brown on October 24, 2023 at 1:56 pm

    I’ve known Susan since early Zen Center days, and although we didn’t spend much time together, there was always a felt connection there — of heart and mind. While it’s clear that the people close to her, especially her family, are dealing with their grief and loss, there’s also the reality that she’s been released to continue her unfolding in ways that we may never know or understand. We have a photo of her on our altar, and every time I pass it I find myself smiling, and sometimes these words pop: “You go, Girl!” No worries about Susan.

  6. Karuna joy on October 25, 2023 at 9:23 pm

    Susan is a lovely Soul and will be missed by so many of us
    Though I’d never spent much time with her through the years, there was always a deep connection between us when we met at Springwater before retreats
    Her being always radiated so much light, joy, presence, passion for life, love and true compassion
    Thank you Susan for sharing this life journey with us
    We will always hold you in our hearts
    Sharing so much love and healing light with all her loved ones

  7. Lissy Gulick on October 25, 2023 at 9:39 pm

    I only met Susan a couple of times, up at Springwater, the first one in the wake of mourning on both our parts. But these meetings always left me with a sense that I had been understood, and that what I had said had made a difference to her. She demystified mediation for me, and made me feel that I wasn’t “doing it wrong”- couldn’t, in fact. I was always hoping I’d get back up to a retreat with her, or just to extend our conversation. My love and prayers to all her loved ones, and to her colleagues at Springwater.

  8. Nona on October 26, 2023 at 10:33 am

    When I think about Sue, my dear friend Celeste’s mom, I feel admiration. Being around her was grounding. I got the sense that she was always putting forth her true self, un-curated. I trusted and respected her for her realness and felt at ease in her presence. I admire her talent and intelligence. I admire her strength. I admire her as a mother. What a beautiful and special person, inside and out.

    I will always remember laughing on the couch with Sue and Celeste earlier this year as she told us stories of her experiences as a young woman. Through knowing Sue and through being close with Cel, I can see that she touched many lives. I wish I had more time to be around her, share stories and absorb her grounding energy. My love and support go out to all that love her for as long as the initial grieving process takes, and beyond. I know this loss is one of incredible magnitude because Sue was so extraordinary.

  9. Deb McAllister on October 27, 2023 at 2:33 pm

    Sue became my best friend ever when I first landed in Rochester, bereaved by my divorce, loss of custody of my kids and exile from my country of choice. Sue took me in as a roommate and, over the next thirty years, by example and teaching taught me to bear up and go on. We laughed together, danced together, partied and argued, she was my rock, and water, and air, and (just) desserts. My brain came back under her tutelage, and she opened my heart again.
    She showed us all, by laughing, loving, cooking, knitting, and being truly here. And now that she has left us, I am missing her terribly. But I know her journey continues, and we may yet meet again.

  10. Tara on October 27, 2023 at 9:09 pm

    Although I knew her mostly as a child many years ago (through my mother), I still remember her infectious positive energy and warmth (after all these years). She always seemed to have a smile. I was enamored of her work, and both her and her mother were an inspiration for me to pressure a career in the arts. I imagine she had that effect on many of her students. My heartfelt condolences go out to her entire family, and especially her lovely mother Martha (who was our neighbor).

  11. Taimur Gibson on November 2, 2023 at 9:26 pm

    Susan was a wonderful teacher, and my years in her classes had a lasting impact on me. I am sure many of her students over the years feel the same way. I am very sorry to learn of her passing.

  12. Sarah Brown on November 8, 2023 at 4:48 pm

    I was part of a meditation community with Sue when she was younger at the Zen Center and later reconnected with her when I went to a few retreats at Springwater. I had the honor to spend a short time with her at the hospital near the end of her life. Clearly she was a bright light and loved dearly by her family and friends and touched many lives with her presence. She seemed to be at peace with letting go and just wishing not to be in great pain. I am happy to have a beautiful pottery vase that was made by her and given to us by Toni Packer when we got married. It is a reminder of a life well lived and of the impermanence of all our lives, the presciouness of connection. I wish for all of her dearly beloved ones all the space you need to care for yourselves in the process of adjusting to a world without Sue in it, physically. She will always be with you inside.

  13. Jennifer Proud Mearns on November 30, 2023 at 2:03 pm

    Such a beautiful remembrance of Susan’s remarkable life. Susan was married to my cousin, Chris, and I saw her on only a few occasions when our extended family gathered. I wish I had gotten to know her better. My heart aches for all who love her so dearly.

  14. Michael Capurso on December 20, 2023 at 8:08 pm

    The beautiful photograph of Sue and the loving tribute to her by Celeste and Chris at the top of this page say it all, but these and the testimony of others who knew her even slightly compel me to add a few thoughts. This luminous woman was a rare gift to this declining world, someone who (as many others in their own ways have also said) was absolutely natural and unaffected in every respect of her character, mind and spirit, as clear the as light of a full moon reflected in a not quite frozen mountain lake in winter. To have her gaze fixed on you was to be seen all the way through and instantly known for who you truly are, but completely without being judged or categorized. The effect could be unsettling (as students inclined to misbehave quickly discovered, first taking her measure as a substitute teacher and encountering her absolute imperturbability) but was followed by a sense of wonder and delight at the realization you were in the presence of unconditional acceptance, generosity and brilliance (again as discovered by many students who soon found her to be the kindest, smartest, most inspiring teacher they ever had). When I met Sue, my initial response was one of joy and gratitude that someone so wonderful, possessed of the capacity to understand him as no one else ever had, had become the love of one of my closest and dearest friends, Chris (the only person I’ve ever known as honest as Sue). I soon came to realize how perfectly they completed each other. Neither Sue nor I were surprised to discover we were both longtime practitioners of zen. As Roshi Kapleau used to say, you can always tell. We never needed to talk about it, but it gave us an insight into each other’s minds that never wavered. This has greatly enriched my life, and always will. Having spent almost as much time in art (including pottery) studios as in zendos, when I got to know her work as an artist I knew at once she wasn’t just supremely talented but also (like Chris) immensely dedicated to her art as an essential element of her being. Anyone who is even indirectly acquainted with the magic and mystery of clay and glaze, of wheel and kiln, and how these can become a way of life that connects us to both the earth and the cosmos, knows something about how Sue lived deeply, daringly, passionately as an artist. Anyone who has the honor of owning an example of her work (cherish it, for there is none better and there will be no more ever) possesses eloquent proof of her genius and courage as a creator of things as powerfully lovely as they are simply useful. Only now, gazing anew at the pieces she gave to my wife and me for our home, do I realize how zen-infused her work is in its creation and its presence. I think that notion would have made her smile. Having had to give up working in clay wasn’t easy for her, but even the way she let it go was an expression of zen-like non-attachment. On some level, she’d already achieved all she needed to in that medium. Another medium awaited her, one where her gifts might prove more lasting. Having devoted my career as a teacher educator and social justice activist to education as the practice of freedom, when I learned that Sue had chosen to become a teacher I was once again filled with gladness and gratitude. During her early years as she completed her studies and contended with the heartbreak and inspiration of teaching in ghetto schools, in our discussions of her work I was always impressed but not surprised by the depth of her insight, the ingenuity of her instincts, and the resiliency of her compassion not just for her students but also for her colleagues, including building and district administrators whose limitations she never allowed to become her own. Years later, in our talks when she was a battle-scarred classroom veteran, I enjoyed her steady trust in her experience and celebrated her continued insistence on learning from every student and each new situation as if she were still a novice. Sue was a miraculous teacher, the rarest of the rare for whom, even at its hardest, the work is always suffused with amazement and hope. I’m certain she not only changed many lives for the better but also saved more than a few. When she had to give up teaching, her other art, again unburdened by attachment, she shifted all that focus and discipline into the essential (though even less recognized) job of evaluating questions on national assessment exams, ensuring instructional appropriateness and screening for bias. Millions more students, despite never meeting her, have benefited from Sue’s years of hard work in this demanding sector of the profession, as well. She would surely have taken it further. Other achievements no doubt awaited her. But she’d fulfilled the potential of that medium, as well. Once in a meditation talk, another way she made a difference for people, Sue once said: “We are so conditioned to strive, to do whatever one needs to do to get somewhere, to be somewhere else, to be successful, to work hard, in order for what? Something gets lost there. We are no longer doing something for its own sake or just doing something because it needs to be done in a moment. We add so much other stuff to that. … What a radical thing it is just to allow things to be as they are, to just observe. To be as one is, with all this extra stuff, to see that the striving is there, but not going with it.” During her too-brief life, Sue did much more than just observe. But she never stopped observing, practicing a kind of observation that remains within us though the observer is gone. May all sentient beings encounter such an artist, such a teacher, even if only for a day, to help dispel illusion and realize freedom! It is for us to be glad and grateful for knowing her and being in her light. Love Love Love

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