Susan Elizabeth Popesku (nee Ahnger) was born on April 8, 1948, in Elgin, Illinois, USA, the only child of Dr. Theodore Carl Ahnger and Dorothy (nee Krieger). Sue’s mother died of polio when Sue was five years old and she moved in with her paternal grandmother, Rose Ahnger, for several years until her father married Betty Lorraine Merchant and the family moved to Spring Valley, Illinois. Sue was the second child in the family of six children, older stepbrother Donald, and half siblings Tom (1952-1975), Sally, Marijo, and Charles (1964-2016). Sue often told stories about her childhood, how her father would bundle the family into the car and drive all over the country to be the first to attend opening celebrations including the World’s Fair.
Sue graduated from Hall High School in 1966 and attended the University of Illinois where she received her Master’s Degree in History and Geography in 1972. Upon graduation, it was difficult to find a teaching position anywhere in the States as all the job offers were for experienced teachers. At the time, the USA had an agreement with the Australian government that exchange teachers could work tax-free. Sue jumped at the chance, landing a job teaching at an all-Girls High School and a second High School in Sydney, Australia, from 1973 to 1974. It was there she met Sorin Popesku and they fell in love.
Sorin was also a new teacher, having graduated with a BA, Honours French, and Minors in English and Italian, from UBC. Unfortunately, Canada did not have the same tax-free agreement with Australia, which impacted his pay cheque. Sue’s income was considerably larger, so she was free to travel all around the country with friends having a great time while Sorin remained at home. Sue delighted in traveling and toured over 30 different countries in her lifetime including making a special trip on her own to visit Joan Sicotte in Egypt and then traveling together to Greece. At the end of the school year in December, the couple rented a car and spent a thrilling month touring New Zealand’s North and South Islands. Sorin returned to Vancouver in January 1974 to find teaching jobs for both. Sue came to Vancouver in May 1974.
They married on August 10, 1974, in Spring Valley, Illinois. Sue and Sorin moved to Fort St. John in August 1974, where they had procured teaching positions at the North Peace Senior Secondary School. Sorin was hired to teach French and some English classes while Sue was interviewed for the position of English and Drama teacher where she worked from September 1974 to June 1978. Their only son, Jason, was born on October 28, 1978. Jason married Ingrid Elder on October 29, 2005, and granddaughter, Danica, the light of Sue’s life, was born on March 2, 2015. During her teaching at NPSS Sue produced the first two musical plays at the school, ‘Hello Dolly’ and ‘Oklahoma’. Both shows were a smash hit.
Sue stayed home for two years before starting the Art Space with two of her friends, Margaret Fox and Ann Russo. This was the beginning of her lifelong community service of volunteering and supporting Arts, Culture and Heritage in Fort St. John and throughout the province. Years of service with: the FSJ Community Arts Council, a driving force in the development of the North Peace Cultural Centre, Executive Director of the Fort St. John Hospital Foundation for 10 years, many years of fund raising for Stage North, president of the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council and director with Arts BC, strong supporter of the museum and tourism, and mentoring so many organizations with strategic planning and fundraising.
Sue was a dynamic force with a wonderful smile and a gift to encourage others to volunteer and donate for the better good of the community. Sue’s larger than life presence will be missed and remembered fondly.
Susan was a very dear friend and best friend for many years. She arrived in Fort St. John a couple years after my family did. We worked together in so many capacities: The Workshop Players, Stage North, The Arts Council, the Arts Centre, and in the early 80s I was President of the adjudicated Arts Festival. It was a great success and I could not have done it without Sue’s incredible enthusiasm and input.
We worked on many projects together over my 14 years in Fort St. John and remained best friends. She would call and ask, “How do you feel about making a snowman to fit two men inside for the parade?” Or, “How do you feel about beading a muckluck large enough for a man to fit inside? Could you come to the Arts Centre and teach a class on Ukrainian Pysanky?” The answer was always yes, of course. We laughed a lot over our projects.
In June 2017, my daughter Allyson, my son Peter, and I were invited to attend Bright Nights in June. Peter Togni was an artist at the Festival. Peter was so thrilled to be invited back to play piano in the town of his youth.
Susan was the kind of friend that you connect with on so many levels. Her enthusiasm for the Arts and Fort St. John as a city was unbounded. The news of her sudden passing was a shock as we had spoken just a few days before and she seemed well. She was a good and wonderful person and I will never, never, forget her.
— Margaret Togni Fox
We first met Sue at the BC Touring Council and Assembly of Arts Council annual conferences in the early 1980s and became fast friends and mutual allies in our pursuit of advancing the arts in our communities in each of our northern regions.
Her passion, endless energy, ambition and persistence in developing the arts and forming partnerships with different sectors in the community laid the groundwork for the inclusion of the arts in community development today. Her tireless efforts in showcasing arts events in Fort St. John to the rest of B.C. put Fort St. John on the map and enticed us all to visit this exciting and creative community.
But Sue was not all work and no play. We have many memories of good times and lots of laughs at many conferences, festivals, workshops, meetings, and many other festivities—celebrating her 40th birthday in Vancouver with breakfast mimosas, happy hour with Black Russians, and performing waiters at dinner, and work in between of course! Sue even convinced the taxi driver to come in to the restaurant and have birthday cake with us because we weren’t ready to go back to the conference — only Sue could do that!
It was very energizing to be with Sue, a kindred spirit, who was so passionate about the same goals. Our continuing camaraderie whenever we were together had Jack Anderson (former arts Executive Director, B.C. government) nicknaming the three of us Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail (we never wanted to know who was who!).
One of Sue’s more versatile positions was in 1985-86 as Regional Producer for the North East tourism area for Expo ‘86. Each tourism area had a week to showcase performers from their area at the BC Pavilion. Auditions were conducted in communities in the region, selections were made, and then professionals were brought in to work with the performers to enhance their performances for a world stage. Between us, there were over 600 performers brought to Expo to perform on three stages along with numerous volunteers to assist. It was a very exciting time to showcase what amazing talent there is in the far reaching corners of our province.
Sue was a force to be reckoned with. She will be missed, but let’s remember her passion and determination, no matter what the obstacles, as inspiration for us to continue her work.
— Geri Fletcher & Penny Stewart
It was in a dark little office called The Arts Space in the basement of a building on 100th Street in about 1990 that I first met Sue. She was taking pennies from gallon jars and rolling them into brown paper tubes in her efforts to support the building of a Cultural Centre for Fort St. John. At that time, I was trying to find out who to talk to about my idea to write a play to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Alaska Highway, and I remember thinking what a tremendously determined person she was. She was like a force and always had sparkle and a smile. She was full of ideas but focused on what she wanted to accomplish. Rolling pennies for a project that cost several million dollars to build might seem hopeless to some – but not to Sue. It’s her efforts that helped us get the beautiful North Peace Cultural Centre of which we are so proud.
— Deborah Butler
I cannot hold back the tears. Such a great loss for the ‘energetic city’ and the north in general! Sue, I adored you since I first met you at an Assembly of BC Arts Council’s conference back in 1997! I envied your certainty, and right until we last spoke in the fall of 2019, your passion and fortitude were ever present. Please start an arts program in heaven. There’s a lot of newcomers there who could use your gentle, loving and creative guidance. My condolences to your loving husband Sorin and all who grieve your loss.
I met Sue in junior high school in 1960 when two grade schools combined for junior high. Yes, junior high existed even in our small town back then. I found a memory written in my high school year book by Sue reflecting back to our meeting in 7th grade, which I had actually forgotten. Evidently, Sue and I socialized too much during class. We sat in the back and thought that no teacher would notice. Well, a yardstick was laid on the floor to mark off the distance between our desks - social isolation!
Her organizational and promotional skills started in junior high. Her church’s youth group had several recreational and dance events throughout the year. Her thought was: how do we expand attendance? Her answer was to invite youth from other churches as guests. Hence, Sue’s idea and promotion gave the town’s youth a great social outlet and also promoted an ecumenical unity of churches. I don’t believe that we thought of the ecumenical aspect at that age and time.
Sue’s love of music also encouraged her to convince the junior high music teacher that she had a girls’ quartet ready and willing to perform during various school programs. Naturally, Sue found our music and made sure that we practiced. She was our motivator, a skill that continued with her through all stages of her life.
Sue’s inner drive and talent for organizing stayed with her as she journeyed through life. During her periodic visits to the Illinois Valley, she always managed to contact a group of old friends for a night of dinner and socializing. It was our visiting friend from Canada who made the plans, not those of us living here!
— Diane Samolinski Marchesi
The comment from Sue that I remember most and made an impression on me was made in the Hall High School cafeteria after our prom: “I really liked the dress you wore to the prom! It was unique! You were the only one wearing a black and white dress.” It was meaningful to me that someone cared enough to mention the style and compliment me. Her positive energy and personality was always supportive to her peers in helping people feel good about themselves.
Several years after high school graduation when Sue would come back to visit her family in Spring Valley, she decided to contact classmates so that we could get together for dinner and conversation. She could never understand why so many of us still living in the area didn’t get together except when she came home. Now, with her encouragement, all of these years later, we do get together monthly (or did before the pandemic). We hope to resume whenever we are all vaccinated and have some sense of normalcy again and will always remember our dear friend, Sue.
— Barb Brandner Husser
As one of Sue’s classmates in high school, I was so grateful for her friendship. Her outgoing personality, her positive attitude, and her talent for bringing people together were always appreciated. Sue’s wit and humor will always be part of my memories of her. Thank you Susie for being my friend. Love and miss you.
—Karen Klein Schlenz
Susie and I were friends since our freshman year in high school. We were typical teenagers in the 60s. We all took turns having slumber parties. Many laughs. We had a lot of classes together, including PE and lunch and had many heart-to-heart discussions. She was always there to listen. Susie’s nickname was SIS but I don’t remember how she got it other than Peggy Picco gave everyone a nickname.
I remember senior year driving to Illinois Wesleyan University in a VW beetle so she could apply for a music scholarship. We had breakfast at a pancake house with a bunch of college kids and thought we were pretty cool. Susie was always involved in the arts. She and Joe Jacobs were the piano accompanist for many productions. However, her best performance was as Mother Superior in the ‘Sound of Music’ our senior year. She stole the show! If there was a Best Supporting Actress award, she would have won it!
Whenever she was going to be “home” she would let me know and I would get our group of friends together for dinner. Everyone always looked forward to her visits. We had a great time at our 50th Class Reunion. Susie gave her pitch on British Columbia, always trying to get everyone to visit. Barb Husser and I made that trip in 2007 and she took us everywhere and we saw things the average tourist wouldn’t get to see. It was one of the best vacations ever.
She was so generous with her time and friendship. I miss her very much and will always cherish our friendship.
The Popesku and Stewart family have many wonderful memories of our times together—camping at Bear Lake (including her brother), skiing and overnight stay at Powder King, spending time together at our Norman Lake cabin. Enjoying the Fort St. John Heritage Festival as Sue and Sorin’s guest was also a treat. Overnight stays at our place on their way to Vancouver resulted in many late night discussions and lots of laughs. On our camping trip to Alaska with four of our friends, Sue invited all of us for her hearty chicken dinner—another example of her welcoming hospitality. Her bubbly spirit, friendly vibes, upbeat manner, and energetic approach to life will always be remembered. We are so glad we were able to share time with her and her family.
— Penny, Bill, Greg, & Lisa Stewart
Achievements in the Arts
1974: Sue comes to Fort St. John to teach at North Peace Secondary School.
1975: Joined Arts Council. Directed ‘Oklahoma’, first full-scale musical performed at the NPSS gym.
1977: Stage North established.
1979/80: Sue became key figure in the project to convert old Hudson’s Bay store into a Theatre/Library complex. Two referenda defeated.
1982: Artspace established as a home for the arts on corner of 100th and 100th. Regional Arts Conference held to initiate Peace River Liard Regional Arts Council. With Peter Vogelaar, organized and got funding for Community mural project to highlight the 1984 BC Winter Games.
1983: Artspace classes established. CAC passed a motion to establish committee to work towards a Cultural Centre. Children’s Concerts. Peace River North Festival was revived – Sue was a founding member.
1985: Partly Arts Concert series. Legacy funds of $1 million from Expo 86 to go toward Cultural Centre. North Peace Cultural Society formed.
1987: “Before Stage” set up in future home of NPCC.
1988 - 1992: Sue led fundraising and advocacy for the development of the North Peace Cultural Centre.
1992: NPCC opens. Arts Council continues to support the Cultural Centre.
1992 - 2000: Sue turns attention to other activities including developing a space for the Arts Council. CAC part of bi-centennial celebrations and Centennial Park planning. Pushed city to bid for the BC Festival of the Arts.
2001: BC Festival of the Arts. Start of development of Ice Carving workshops.
2004 - 2005: High On Ice established. Cultural assessment of the community.
2006: Arts Council sets up ArtsPost in the old Sew It Yourself Shop.
2007: ArtsPost moved to current location on 94th Avenue.
2008: Completed Cultural planning.
2010 - 2020: Sue continued to advocate and fund raise for the Arts Council and served as a volunteer office manager at the ArtsPost. Sue continued to be involved in Stage North, the Tourism Council, and the Regional Arts Council as well as representing the region at a provincial level. Helped initiate and organize activities such as the Regional Juried Art Show, the Flower Pot Project, Street banners, the Artwalk, Alaska Highway 75 year celebrations, Sand Sensations, and much more. As part of North Peace Cultural Society, led fundraising efforts for upgrading the Cultural Centre Theatre.
Sue Popesku Arts Endowment Fund
A fund has been set up in Sue’s name to help carry on the work that she had started and to honour her legacy. In February, the Fort St. John Community
Arts Council received $60,000 to go to the Fund as part of the record-breaking BC Winter Games legacy raised by organizers.
Donations can be made to the Sue Popesku Arts Endowment Fund with an e-transfer to email@example.com, or by cheque to the Fort St. John Community Arts Council sent to Box 6474, Fort St. John, B.C., V1J 4H9.
This Tribute was Compiled and Sponsored by the Fort St. John Community Arts Council
The Arts Council is dedicated to developing arts and cultural opportunities for residents and visitors, focusing on education and training in all creative arts, enhancing the community with artistic programs and activities, and encouraging individuals to pursue their creative talents and skills