1949 - 2021
Susan M. Ylitalo 1949 - 2020 Susan Ylitalo died on December 26 of colon cancer. Susan was born in Hibbing, Minnesota. Her family moved to Madison, WI where her father Dr. William Ylitalo conducted his pediatric practice. Susan was a sensitive and gifted poet, artist, and musician. She played classical and folk guitar as well as the cello and bass. Throughout elementary and high school she was actively engaged in the arts. Susan and her twin Sally acted with the Madison Repertory Theater. The twins also sang in a trio that performed at a wide variety of events throughout Madison with Susan accompanying on guitar. Sue credited her guitar instructor Roy Plum, protégé of the Master, Andres Segovia, with her mastery of the instrument. While attending the University of Wisconsin, Sue also sang and played guitar at a variety of Madison restaurants. Throughout her life, Sue wrote poetry and kept a journal. Many of her poems were published in journals highlighting Madison's poets. Two of the family's favorites, written about her struggle with schizophrenia, were, "These Windows have been Cloudy for so Long, I Thought They were Walls", and "Hope": "Hope is a clear gem. A pure water-fed crystal. And I awaken every morning with hope." After completing her undergraduate degree in education she accepted a position teaching 5th grade in Portland, Oregon. Students, colleagues, and parents regarded her as an enthusiastic, dedicated teacher positively impacting the life of every child under her charge. In her late twenties, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her father contacted Dr. Fuller Torrey, the international expert on schizophrenia and author of the book "Surviving Schizophrenia", for advice. For several years, Sue and her twin sister Sally participated in a twin study on schizophrenia conducted by Dr. Torrey that included 60 twins. Susan and Sally were also featured in a PBS documentary on schizophrenia, which was frequently viewed by students majoring in education, social work, or psychology at the UW and other universities. Tragically, her delusions, a byproduct of her illness, overcame her and voices told her of awful things that family members and friends were doing. No amount of rational talking could convince her otherwise. The delusions and altered brain chemistry sadly prevented Sue from continuing teaching and realizing her educational dreams. She volunteered at Meritor Hospital in Madison after she could no longer teach. When Sue's delusions escalated, she left home by bus and made it to South Dakota. She would hitchhike through the west and mid-west after finding towns with colorful names like Deadwood, Mars, Clarinda, and finally, Shenandoah, Iowa. Once she was prescribed clonazapine by her doctor there, her delusions were virtually eliminated. She lived independently in Shenandoah for 22 years and volunteered at Meals on Wheels. A serious case of sepsis with encephalopathy in 2017 left her wheelchair bound, and she moved to Garden View Care. Throughout her life, Sue's faith was extremely important to her. She attended First Day School at the Friend's Meeting house in Madison from first to eighth grade and Covenant Presbyterian Church during high school. . Following her diagnosis, she began exploring many of the world's great religions, devoutly diving into each. She was a devotee of the Sufi Master Pier Vilyat Khan for many years. She read numerous books about the Catholic saints and volunteered cooking meals at a Catholic monastery in Chicago for several years. Her delusions and disease prevented her from serving in a Carmelite convent she had hoped to join. She studied the Jewish mystics, and was particularly fond of Martin Buber. She was also a devout born again Christian. She spent most of the last 25 years of her life in Shenandoah reading the Bible and praying in tongues for the world for hours a day. Susan is survived by her siblings Jo Ylitalo Sullivan (St. Paul), Sally Ylitalo Maxton (twin) (Baltimore, Maryland), Ann Ylitalo Jensen, (Minocqua), and Bill Ylitalo, (Woodstock, N.Y.) as well as nieces and nephew whom she dearly loved. Ashindi and Asia Maxton, Brigid and Maggie Sullivan, and Erika and Adam Jensen . Her great-nieces and nephews include: Azania Maxton Gethers, Bridey (Sullivan) Eberhart, Ivy and Iverson (Sullivan) Williams, and Ava and Tristan (Jensen) Klecker. She was preceded in death by her parents, Dr. William Ylitalo and Mary (Wit) Ylitalo, Uncle and Aunts E.W. (Joe Ylitalo)and Faye Ylitalo, Helen Richter, and cousin Joseph Ylitalo. The family will hold a private Zoom memorial service. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) or Garden View Care in Shenandoah, Iowa, the nursing home that provided kind and exceptional care for her for the last three years of her life.
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Published by Shenandoah Valley News Today on Jan. 13, 2021.
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11 Entries
Sue wrote some beautiful poetry but some of my most vivid memories are of her singing, so beautifully and in harmony. My earliest memory is of Sue, Sally and Ann singing the Snap Crackle Pop jingle which I thought (& still think) was so clever and pretty cool. Sue was always kind to me, and I´m glad she prayed for the world. We need the help.
Nancy Miller Goodden
February 1, 2021
I am so sorry to read of your sister's death. she sounds like she was very courageous in her battle with mental illness. I am so glad she had all of you to help her.
Jane Geppert Richard
January 16, 2021
Dear Ylitalo family- The obituary for Sue was so beautiful we could feel her presence among the words. Her Life was so full of everything- happy & tragic. I love hearing and reading her poems with Wit and to hear all your lovely voices during so many Miller-Ylitalo sing alongside. Your family is still special in our memories- sitting in your parent´s living room with your Mom at the piano at Christmas time is still one of my favorite memories. We love and miss you all.,
Mark & Jo Miller
January 14, 2021
Such a full, honest and open obituary. You have had such a big loss. I especially appreciate the factual description of Sue´s schizophrenia and her passion for music as well as religious studies. (from a current member of Madison Friends Meeting)
Rachel Potter
January 14, 2021
Just like Van Gogh- I understand how you suffered for your sanity-this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.
January 13, 2021
I remember being moved by sue"s rendition of Imagine at Paco's Restaurant. She looked so painfully sad but after listening that night the lyrics h ave never left me.
January 13, 2021
Loosing a sibling is hard. I am sorry for your loss and pain. Nothing ever fills the hole left in one's heart and life when loosing a loved one. The love of and for family, friends and God can help keep one's attention on the filled parts of one's heart and life. Not always easy. Knowing your family a bit, I trust the such love is there. I have an ubpbeat memory of seeing the bass playing twin "skating" her bass to and from West High with the help of a roller skate. Navigated a steep hill! Sending thoughts of peace. Norda
Norda Bardwell Gromoll
January 11, 2021
Dear dear family. What a challenging life Sue had. She so deeply blessed my life. Sounds like she continued to find ways to bless others all through her life. I have been thinking about all of you for the last few months since i recently moved to Madison.Please lets connect. ([email protected])
Linda Cedar Leeper Moss
January 11, 2021
Ann & Family I am so sorry to read of the passing of your sister. I truly hope that you have some treasured memories that will keep her in your heart & mind forever. Sending you big hugs and lots of prayers. Love, Nancy Turner Alvey
Nancy Turner Alvey
January 10, 2021
Sorry to hear about your loss, Bill.
Steven Schmitt
January 10, 2021
I am so sorry to read of the passing of Susan. As a youngster living in University Heights I knew all the Ylitalo's fairly well. My sympathies to her family.
Marjorie Grant
January 10, 2021