More Than a School

This article was posted on: April 14, 2021

Suzie Lang’s Extended Family of St. Mary School in Marathon

Former Packer, Gilbert Brown with Suzie at the school’s Halloween Packer tailgate party. Suzie dressed up as St. Teresa, her favorite person and saint.

Suzie Lang  is school secretary at St. Mary School in Marathon and has been for 30 years. The school offers a curriculum spanning grades 4K to eighth. One hundred and seventy students from 100 families attend the school tuition free.

Suzie was born in Hastings, Minn., the second youngest of 13. When Suzie was a fourth grader, the Lang family settled in the Cassel area, which is about five miles south of Marathon. Suzie remembers her mom taking all her brothers and sisters to 5 a.m. Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Cassel every week without fail. Suzie said, “My mother had a lasting influence on me and my life. She was responsible for giving me my Faith—the Faith I have to this day.”

Suzie has many fond memories of her family. “Family get togethers were just wonderful and I never remember mom complaining. She would always  make a little more for each meal in case someone unexpectedly dropped by. She was a marvelous baker and cook. I remember coming home from school to the aroma of fresh baked buns or bread mom had made and putting jam on a bun and, oh my gosh, that was fantastic.”

Love of family was the center of Suzie’s life as she had her own family. She remained at home for 10 years, attending to the needs of her four children. About the time her youngest child was entering kindergarten at St. Mary School, a secretary position opened up. She thought to herself she really could do a good job as secretary since she had been a secretary for a local business before she started a family.

“We have an amazing faculty and staff and they care so much about each of the students.”

Suzie recalled meeting with St. Mary School principal at the time, Janice Michlig. “I think I did everything except get down on my hands and knees to say that I really wanted this job because our kids were in school here and I knew I could be a good secretary.” Suzie prayed about applying for the job, and it turned out her prayers were answered. She was hired.

Suzie’s commitment to family extended immediately to the St. Mary School community in her new position as secretary, just like it remains today. Suzie said, “The life of St. Mary’s is strong. That is why I love it. It is my home. The best part of being at St. Mary’s is the interaction I have with families. They are part of my family. I love sharing my Faith with new families who come into the school.”

As a school family, St. Mary’s is a community based on love with a deep concern for one’s neighbor, a community of prayer and action. Suzie said, “We have an amazing faculty and staff and they care so much about each of the students. They talk to each other and students to make sure everything is going OK.”

2019 was a challenging year for the St. Mary School community. In June, an eighth-grade student, Maddy, was diagnosed with leukemia and, in October, a seventh-grade student, Kolten, died, devastating the community. But the community bonded together. Suzie said, “There were three busloads of people who drove to Knowlton to celebrate the life of Kolten.”

A year later, the community traveled back to Knowlton to celebrate Mass in memory of Kolten and visit his gravesite memorial.

Maddy shown shaving Suzie’s head as part of the fund drive which raised $34,000.

Knowing expenses for treating Maddy Lang’s leukemia would be a financial strain on her family, Suzie took the initiative and coordinated a fund drive to help pay the bills. [Suzie Lang and Maddy Lang are not related.] “In the next 21 days, if we raise a minimum of $2,000, Maddy will shave my head in front of the entire school,” Suzie said. Others in the community followed Suzie’s example of hair style. Not only was that goal met, but at its conclusion, the fund drive netted $34,000. Suzie said, “Besides raising my family, this was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of. This community was so incredible.”

Another of Suzie’s accomplishments she is especially proud of is maintaining the school’s website. She said, “Technology is not my bag. It was learn as you go.” Suzie credits Peter Raschke, their webmaster, with being a good teacher.

Monsignor Joseph Diermeier is Suzie’s pastor. “He has been such a guiding light,” said Suzie. “He really has been my spiritual guide. My, you know, growing up, raising four children, marriage, all that kind of stuff. Anytime there was a struggle, he was my go-to person.”

For Suzie, St. Mary School is more than a school. It is an integral part of her life. It is her family. “I love what I do. I love coming to school every day. I love all the people.”

Story and photography by ROBERT ROGERS
Published in April 2021 Catholic Life Issue

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