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.