Susan Stearns, longtime community supporter, philanthropist, and Board Member of Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice for more than 25 years, was an absolute inspiration to all who met her.
“When it comes to Mount Evans there are those that come in and make the Angels. There are those who offer support to meet the daily needs of our community, like delivering groceries. There are those that serve on the board. Sue did it all, and she never asked for anything in return, she just wanted to make this a better community and make some people in need a little luckier than they would otherwise be,” extolls Greg Dobbs, long-time friend of Susan and former Mount Evans board member.
We were so incredibly fortunate to have had Susan’s giving spirit as part of Mount Evans for more than 25 years and honored to have taken care of her in her time of greatest need as she was fighting ovarian cancer. Susan lost her fight January 29, 2021. Her legacy lives on through everyone she touched with her kindness and generosity, and her story will live on to inspire even those who didn’t have the privilege of knowing her.
Susan grew up in Ohio, and her love of skiing and the mountains drew her to Colorado when she enrolled at Colorado State University, where she graduated in 1976 with a B.A. in History. Susan went on to law school at the University of Colorado in Boulder, graduating with a Juris Doctorate in 1979.
While in law school, Susan met the love of her life, Frank O’Loughlin. In 1979, Susan and Frank moved to Red Lodge, Montana to begin their law careers.
Susan reminisced, “We met in law school at CU, and Frank was thinking about moving to Denver to be with me. Frank had taken two years off while he was in law school to be a private investigator and paralegal for an attorney named Frank Kampfe in Montana, and they were very close. Kampfe was negotiating with Frank to keep him in Montana, and Kampfe says, ‘Well, I’ll give you full use of the two airplanes.’ And Frank says, ‘No, I need more money, or I need health insurance.’ And they kept going back and forth.”
“Then Frank said ‘I’m thinking I might go to Denver and be with Sue.’ And finally, Kampfe looked at him, picked up the phone and punched in a speed dial number and on the other end, I am working on my resume. I pick up, and Kampfe talks for a few minutes. I knew him pretty well because I’d been up there, and I’d done a couple projects for him, and he goes, ‘Would you like a job?’ Well, what’s this? I mean Frank must know about this or Kampfe wouldn’t be offering me a job and I say, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And so I hung up and that night Frank calls, and he tells me about the other side of the conversation where they’re negotiating, and so Kampfe hangs up and he goes, ‘Well, now what do you think?’ And Frank says, ‘Well, I think I’ll go to work for you. How about those airplanes?’”
“So, we ended up working together in the same firm for the first two years and tried a couple pretty big cases. One was for a couple hundred thousand dollars for a barn that an insurance company refused to rebuild after it burned. Well, what they did was they messed their calculations up, and they calculated for half a barn, and so we turned it down and got everything we wanted but that isn’t my forte. I don’t like that. Because I like people. I don’t like controversy. I was never going to be a litigator. That is Frank’s forte, not mine. Mine is I like people, I like what I do, and I feel like I’ve done a good service for them with the estate planning. Elder law came a little later. Probably more about the time I first got on the hospice board.”
In 1981, Susan and Frank moved back to Colorado to pursue their legal careers. “I went to Robinson and Mallon in ’81,” she recalled, “I really always knew I wanted to do estate planning, and when we moved back to Colorado, and I went to work for Jim Mallon, he pretty much let me develop an estate practice. I kind of developed it on my own, and I really liked that. It became clear that an estate practice was going to go hand-in-hand with elder law.”
“Jim Robinson had been the Chair of Mount Evans and his three year term was up, and he thought they were really the premiere non-profit and that we should stay involved with them and asked me if I would want to be on the board. Well, when the Senior Partner in your firm asks you if you want to be on the board, you don’t say, ‘No.’ I really did it because the hospice tied in to the elder law and to the estate planning.”
Susan began her own law firm in 1990 and retired from her legal career in 2013. She then worked part time as a Gift Manager for Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice in Evergreen until 2018, fully recycling more than her pay back into the hospice.
Giving had been part of Susan’s entire life. “It goes way back to my mom,” she explained, “My mom was in Junior League in Ohio and from when we were very small, we’d walk around the block with UNICEF boxes and collect money for this or that. Because of mom’s involvement in the League she always had us kids volunteering for all kinds of local groups that needed help. My parents always taught us to take care of others in our community physically, financially or anyway we can. My mom and dad were pretty incredible.”
Susan also learned a very valuable lesson about giving from Kathleen Batson, who used to work at Mount Evans. She explained: “I always sold Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast tickets, and I asked Kathleen to buy a Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast ticket and she said, ‘Yes, I will buy some’, and then she looked at me and she said, “How many did you buy?” I said, ‘I bought four.’ She said, ‘Good, because I’m more than willing to buy these from you, but I wanted to know you were invested in your cause too.’”
“So, I’ve always tried to teach other people that if you’re going to ask someone to buy something from you, you have to believe in what you’re selling and be willing to support their cause as well.
“People got so that they’d know if I was calling them, it was to buy tickets for the gala or tickets for Mount Evans or the Freedom Run, or to become a sponsor or to buy Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast tickets. They always knew if I was calling them, it was for something,” she observed. “I learned from the way other people reacted. Some were very generous and said, ‘Yes, I’d love to buy five tickets for that. It’s a good cause,’ and someone else would say, ‘Ask me next week after I get paid.’ If someone asked me to support them I always wanted to say yes and give what I could give.”
Susan was truly all things to Mount Evans: board member, donor, volunteer, staff member, and lastly patient. “I’ve been involved with Mount Evans for the longest amount of time,” she remarked. “It hit me, the passion. I learned a lot of this passion from Carol Linke’s (founder of Mount Evans Hospice) example. The way Mount Evans was founded by Carol Linke, it was because of love and caring about the patients, and I see that in today’s field staff just as much as I saw it in the early days. It’s amazing what the field staff brings to their patients. They all care.”
Speaking of her own care team, Susan remarked, “They’ve all gone out of their way to do something special for me. When Kristine was on the beach back East in Maine, she brought me a heart shaped rock. It’s just amazing how caring they all are.”
She explained, “Because they’re [the Mount Evans care team] giving right to the patient, I want to give back to them. I want to fundraise so that they can make a fair wage and be able to stay with us. I love Mount Evans, and I love what we do, and I love the care I’m getting. It’s amazing. I think those people actually giving the care are so special.”
“And I just loved working at Mount Evans. All the people inside and outside. All the donors that I got to meet. They all loved Mount Evans, and you’d learn from them too. I would ask ‘Why do you love Mount Evans?’ and they’d answered ‘They took care of my neighbor, took care of my son, they did grief counseling with us, we want them to be there when we need it.’ There were just so many reasons. Evergreen and the surrounding communities are so generous, and I do think Mount Evans is very deserving of a lot of those dollars.”
She added “I credit an awful lot of my ability to be philanthropic to Frank. He truly cares about our community, and he’s supported me in all of this, and he’s very, very impressed with Mount Evans.”
The example that Susan leaves us all with goes well beyond planned giving. Ginny Ades, long-time friend of Susan observes “The courage, the grace, and even the sense of humor that she displayed during an incredibly hard transition in her life. It truly was inspiring to me. I feel like she taught us all just exactly how a person can fully live even in the face of death.”
Susan’s neighbor Aleta Karen Smith recalls, “I had been out running an errand and not having a good day after a year of COVID. Feeling very sad for myself, woe is me. And as I turned the corner to my house I see Sue and her husband, Frank. Frank was carrying Susan’s oxygen tank. So I stopped, and we had a brief conversation about how she was doing. And I looked at her and thought she is absolutely glowing. Glowing with happiness. I got home and I said to my husband ‘I just learned something again. We can all choose our happiness. We can choose how we get through life. How we deal with upset, things that happen in life. She’s just an inspiration for that right now.’”
Susan lived an extraordinary life and shared this advice: “I worked hard and didn’t smell the roses so much as I went along. My good friend, Gay, played golf every Tuesday, and I just didn’t take the time off to do a lot of that stuff. When I had my hip infection four years ago, after that I decided I was going to retire and travel. Since then, I’ve gone to Morocco, Malta, Mexico City, and Portugal. I’ve had a blast and really done a lot of traveling. I had plans to go to South Africa on a thing I bid on at the gala and Scotland. I’d be in Scotland right now if it weren’t for COVID and cancer. C squared. I got hit by C squared.”
“I’d say, maybe take that Tuesday off and play golf. Don’t wait until the last four years of your life to try and cram it all in.”
She concluded “I liked to be remembered as a fun person that was respected.” You will be Susan, that, and so much more. She gave her time, her enthusiasm, and her financial support to many local organizations. She showed us all how investing of yourself in your community makes a difference.
In recognition of her legacy and all that she gave to Mount Evans and our mountain community, we’ve created the Susan Stearns Legacy Circle as a way to say thank you to Susan and all those members of our community leaving legacy gifts in support of Mount Evans.
Keri Jaeger, President & CEO of Mount Evans explains, “Susan’s background in estate law made her instrumental in leading our planned-giving program designed to educate area residents in the many ways they can continue to support the agency far into the future. With that along with her generosity and support of Mount Evans for the past thirty years, it only made sense to name the Legacy Circle she was helping create in honor of her.