HADLEY - Susanne Naegele (nee Russin) died at the age of 83 at her home in Hadley, early on Saturday morning, March 23, after peaceably listening to her son Matthias play his cello, Bach for the viola de gamba sonatas, the adagios.
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Susanne was a crusty hunk of dark German bread: leavened by nature, fermented by survival. At turns sweet and bitter, organic, full of life force.
Born in Katowice, Silesia (now Poland) on October 9, 1929, her father was a town architect in nearby Beuthen. His sudden death and the outbreak of World War II made for a childhood of scrambling through rubble and cherishing simple luxuries, such as bread. Inside one such pile of rubble, her mother was said to have discovered a kilo of saccharin: it kept them, with its strange sweet value, alive for a year.
Fleeing Westwards in advance of Russian troops, through smoldering Dresden, she made her way to Stuttgart. There she met the violinist Philipp Naegele. They married and departed soon after for America.
Cleveland's famed symphony was their home for eight years, followed by an appointment to Smith College. After the stay-at-home work of raising their son, Matthias, passed, Susanne was done with the constraints of being a faculty wife. She started baking pretzels out of her home kitchen. In 1974, she opened a full bakeshop just down the hill on Trumbull Street. The brick wall had to be opened up to get the over-sized oven in – you can still see the miss-matched mortar on the outside of the building.
By 1977, she moved her business to Main Street (now occupied by The Teapot), becoming one of the leading figures in Northampton's economic renaissance. Purchasing and renovating the building, providing world-class food: this was the vangardess. It was even, occasionally, a venue - on the best of nights, Matthias & Philipp would play duos as she closed up.
Susanne Naegele not only opened the first artisan bakery in the region, but trained and inspired a whole generation of bread makers, such as Jeffrey Hammelman of King Arthur, David Henion of Henion Bakery and Jonathan Stevens of Hungry Ghost Bread. She often related how in the early days, back from months of European research, she was starved for bread when she got home. "I found an old dried-up loaf that had fallen down, behind the counter," she told us, "I simply soaked it in water – dumped it in! - and crisped it in the hot oven. It was delicious! Never waste old bread!"
Old world accents, tastes, judgments and elegance were her trademark throughout. Formal dinners with silver, Wedgewood, candelabras, crystal and exquisite food were her joy. Her Christmas trees sported real lit candles to the end.
After Susanne divorced and then closed her two shops (another in Amherst) in 1985, she designed and built a beautiful home on the green in Hadley. She leaves behind her devoted son, Matthias, who was with her when she died. Also his wife, Els van Oldenburgh, and their two Dutch daughters, Emma and Katja, who will miss their eye-sparkle grandmamma as will many others who knew her and chanced to eat her good works.
Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Apr. 3, 2013