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Hawaiian Native Anxiously Awaits First Park City Winter

Steve PhillipsContributing Writer

Katharine Suessman never dreamed she’d be spending a winter in a rustic mountain cabin 8,000 feet up, overlooking the Snyderville Basin and Park City’s ski resorts. But that’s what this native Hawaiian is about to do. She’s traveled a long, winding and steep road to get here. For many aging veterans of snow country, eyeing the South Pacific for retirement, it may seem like reverse migration. Surprisingly, she’s looking forward to it.

Suessman was born in Honolulu, territory of Hawaii, a few years before the islands attained statehood. She was the youngest daughter of Winifred and Donald Mitchell. She has an older sister, Margaret Ann.

Her father came to Hawaii from the flatlands of Kansas to teach school. Her mother was the daughter of the Navy Admiral in command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor through the late 1930s.

She grew up on the campus of Kamehameha School, a private school established for children of Hawaiian ancestry. "My father had great respect for the native culture," explains Suessman.

"He taught Hawaiian culture and language and spoke Hawaiian fluently. It was a huge campus, with boy, girl and prep school students separated into their own group. "We lived on the boy’s campus so it was like having 250 older brothers."

"I remember we would all go to the beach to swim and picnic and go barefoot. I watched my dad and the students prepare huge feasts for the annual Hawaiian festival. I would help string the leis," she says.

Suessman met her best friend, Carolyn, on campus. "She was four and I was five and we’re still friends after almost 50 years. We road our bikes all over campus and I pretended mine was a horse," she recalls.

"I don’t know why, but I’ve always been a horse-lover like some people are cat or dog lovers," says Suessman. "They’re so big and beautiful. I don’t know, I just always had this innate attraction to them. Maybe it’s because I was born in the Chinese year of the horse."

On a trip to Kaua’i when she was nine, Suessman got to ride the horse that Elvis Presley rode in the film, "Blue Hawaii." Finally, at the age of 12, she got her very own horse.

"I was obsessed with riding and became heavily involved in 4-H. I competed all the time and won a lot of ribbons and trophies along the way," she says.

Like most Hawaiian kids, Suessman was a casual surfer. "I liked it OK but didn’t love it. I was more of a boogie boarder."

Suessman graduated from Castle High School in Kaneoh’e and worked in the food industry for a few years. She married at age 21and was soon a stay-at-home mom. She has two grown children, Kanoe, age 32 and Hulali, 29 and eight grandchildren.

When her marriage ended in 1982, Suessman joined the ranks of working single moms, taking a job in the travel industry in Honolulu.

She began her mainland journey to the high country in 1991. Family ties dissolved when her parents passed away. "I was sort of lost and looking for a new start. I had wanted to experience life on the mainland for several years. It was certainly a big change," she reflects. She landed in Eatonville, near Seattle, her two teenage daughters in tow.

She was introduced to her future husband, Mark, through mutual friends. "We had a lot in common and liked to do the same things," says Suessman. "I was a single parent and he’d been married once before but never had children. He took the kids on as his own and was a great role model and father figure." They dated for a year before marrying in an outdoor ceremony at Reflection Lake on the slopes of Mount Ranier in 1992.

Over the next several years the Suessmans were involved in a variety of business ventures. They owned and operated an art and framing business in Seattle and, later, a restaurant in Yelm, Washington. When her husband went into the construction business, she became a working partner. The two also owned and operated a Quizno’s sandwich shop in Yelm in the early 2000s.

Suessman continued her love affair with horses in Washington. I rode all the time and was on the women’s state equestrian drill team for eight years. I miss the friendships and the year-round practices," she says.

The move to Park City came last summer. "We had some good friends living here who were bullish on the area," says Suessman. On an exploratory trip, her husband Mark had found the area better suited to his primary line of work, building custom homes. "We were ready to start a new chapter and thought, why not. My only regret was selling the horses. We were concerned that the winters up here might be too hard on them."

Suessman enjoyed her lifestyle in rural Washington and looked for a similar setting here. The couple soon settled on an existing home high up in Tollgate Canyon. "The views from up there are amazing," she says. "I really love the outdoors and wildlife. We see moose, deer, elk, hawks or eagles almost every day.

The Summit County lifestyle fits Suessman like a glove. "I’m very ‘outdoorsy’and enjoy hiking and camping. We’ve been on a few camping trips with our friends already and I’m looking forward to lots more."

She has no complaints about the area so far. She does, however, echo a familiar refrain. "People around here drive way too fast and, for some reason, they’re extremely impatient," she observes.

Everything is still so new here," she confesses. "Every day is a new adventure. I love to take our dogs to the ‘dog pond’ near Gorgoza to fetch and swim. Just walking and browsing on Main Street is great fun. There’s so much to do here all year round. I’m really looking forward to my first ski season in years!"

"I’m so glad to be here and I love this community that so many people have worked so hard to make," Suessman says. "I look forward to new friendships and opportunities in the years to come."

For Suessman, there is one thing missing. "I like riding around on my four-wheeler," she says, "but I’m already thinking about another horse. I just need to find a good barn and pasture."

If you would like to suggest someone for a profile, please email stevep2631@comcast.net.


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