Catchin’ Up with Sue van Aken

From left: Susan Spence Hill ’83; Mary “Sissy” Gravely Reinhardt ’82; Sue van Aken '83 and Ginger Harris Taylor ‘83. They met at Maryville College and have been fast friends for 30 years. This picture is from homecoming.

Class Year: 1983
Major at MC:  Recreation
Senior Thesis Topic: "Prison Recreation"
Current Town/City of Residence: Franklin Park, N.J.
Occupation: Superintendent of Recreation for the Township of Franklin
Family: Mother, Betty

Describe your career path since graduating from MC.

Right after graduation, I worked three different jobs in Tennessee and Virginia (Summer Secretary for Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Parks & Recreation; Director of the Rockford Day Care Center, Rockford, Tenn.; and Child Care Counselor at the Presbyterian Children’s Home of the Highlands, Wytheville, Va.), until returning to New Jersey in September of 1984. I started in my current position in October of 1984

Describe your job or a typical day “in the office.”

As Superintendent of Recreation, my major role is program planning and development for pre-school to senior citizen age groups. Basically, I come up with the “fun” things for the residents of Franklin Township to participate in! Planning “fun” involves a lot of work behind the scenes before, during and after the actual programs, though. I need to prepare and monitor personnel and operating budgets; interview and hire part-time staff to supervise 100+ programs; supervise and manage as many as 175 part-time employees; research, write and administer grants; plan and organize all special populations programming; communicate extensively with schools, program staff and local officials; prepare and distribute news releases, cable TV announcements, newsletters, fliers and website updates; order program equipment, supplies, awards and T-shirts; prepare the part-time payroll; conduct on-site supervisory program checks; and prepare evaluations and final reports for all programs. Luckily, I have three co-workers who directly coordinate some of the bigger programs and assist me! Of course, there always seems to be last minute changes, new situations, staff absences and weather-related problems to add more to my average day!

What has been your most exciting/enjoyable professional experience to date?

The Department and I have been recognized numerous times with awards for innovative programming and disability advocacy, which have been very enjoyable experiences. But, I have to say that nothing can beat these experiences: Seeing a child receive his or her first medal; a special needs individual create a clay masterpiece; a low/moderate income child see the ocean or ski for the first time; seeing at-risk youth use their mentoring program knowledge to get theirfirst job; a senior citizen do Zumba; or an entire community “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” over the 4th of July fireworks.

How did your MC experience prepare you for your vocation and/or life?

MC prepared me in many different ways for my career and life in general! The strong liberal arts education gave me a multitude of skills that I wouldn’t have gotten if I had gone to a non-liberal arts school. The small class size and approachable professors helped me adjust to being away from home for the first time. The campus life allowed me to grow as an individual and make some of the best friends I’ve ever had. To sum it up, MC helped me go from a quiet, shy teenager to a more self-assured, confident woman. I still consider my four years at MC the best years of my life!

What are your hobbies? What do you do for fun?

I love to travel and read, and just recently I started taking a ceramics class. For fun, I love going “down the shore,” making trips to Atlantic City, catching a Broadway play in NYC and trying new restaurants!

Professionally or personally, what’s still on your “bucket list”?

Personally, I’d like to take golf lessons and play on a regular basis; parasail; go to Tahiti, Bora Bora, Hawaii and Alaska; and buy a house on the beach somewhere!

Complete this sentence: My classmates may be surprised to learn that …

… I’m pretty superstitious!