An Extraordinary Life: ‘Everyone became a better person for having known Sue’

Shorewood woman was a positive force in among family, friends and the Troy community

Troy bus driver Carrie Miller only worked with bus monitor Sue Horvat for a short time, but they bonded from the start because of their similar interest.

“She really had a gift with working with kids, and I believe they made her young at heart,” Carrie wrote in an email. “There are so many stories but the one stands out the most is this.”

One of the stops for their Troy Community Consolidated School District 30-C bus was at a big house on a large piece of property in Shorewood where two boys lived, Carrie wrote. The first day the bus pulled up to the home, Sue was “super excited” to see chickens surround the bus, for this family kept chickens and turkeys on their property.

Sue had plenty of questions about the chickens, so one of the boys asked if Sue wanted to hold and pet a chicken named Cuddles, Carrie wrote. Sue did, and it made the boys’ day, Carrie wrote.

“You couldn’t help but share her joy and excitement,” Carrie wrote. “As she got off the bus to pet the chicken, I told her, ‘You may not keep it” and “Make sure it doesn’t come on the bus. We don’t need a crazy chicken running all over the bus.’”

Sue was a longtime employee of the Troy school district. She started by helping out at recess, then worked with special-needs kids as a teacher assistant for many years, finally served as a bus monitor. She was 61 when she died unexpectedly March 20 of complications from a neuroendocrine tumor on her pancreas.

Personal connections, good impressions, making a difference

Mark Baumann, director of Troy transportation services and who knew Sue for at least four or five years, said Sue made personal connections with people and always left good impressions. As a bus monitor, Sue “fit that role perfectly,” he said.

“She was the one that the kids would be happy to see and the one that other staff would be happy to work with,” Mark said. “We never ran into an issue where someone would say, ‘Oh, I have to work with Sue today.’ People always wanted to work with Sue. The kids were always happy to see Sue. She will be missed.”

Mark said Sue’s loss was felt all over the Troy school district.

“We need more people like that, who are invested in the community,” Mark said.

Dawn Lys, a Troy bus driver and good friend of Sue’s, said that to understand Sue’s effect on children, one needs to understand how deeply some of those children needed Sue’s positive light.

“We picked up kids at motels and kids that had living conditions that weren’t good,” Dawn said. “She’d say, ‘Gee, I like your shirt,’ even if they wore the same shirt every day.”

Dawn said she and Sue became “Lake Geneva buddies” over the course of their 20-year friendship and loved shopping at a particular boutique at Lake Geneva because it was a “little fundraiser store for an animal shelter.”

“Even if we didn’t buy anything, she would just donate some money,” Dawn said. “She just always felt so great by doing that. She wanted to make a difference, no matter if it was an animal or a person.”

‘Her smile just lit up a room’

Jim Horvat of Shorewood, Sue’s husband, said he first met Sue at Malnar’s Tap in Joliet around 1980. And then met her again about a year later at the former Charley Club in Joliet, which is when he and Sue started dating. They were married April 19, 1983. Sue was the White Sox fan and Jim was the Cubs fan, he said.

“She had a very good sense of humor,” Jim said. “She was very sociable, easy to talk to, just a fun person to be around,” Jim said. “She was a person you could go to for advice. Her smile just lit up a room and she made friends very easily. A lot of people were attracted to her.”

Sue and Jim had five children: Kristin Middleton, Kyle Horvat, Courtney Horvat and Callie Horvat. Another son, Keith Horvat, died in infancy. The couple also had five grandchildren: Blake, Eric, Angel, Logan and Lexi.

Sue was active in their children’s and grandchildren’s activities, Jim said. At Christmas, Sue hosted sleepovers for the grandchildren. She’d play board games, watch movies and bake cookies with them, Jim said. They often had family cookouts.

She also “had a knack with plants” and often brought friends’ dying plants home and restored them to life, Jim said. She loved reading, especially James Paterson books, and she loved puzzles. Sue walked at night with a neighbor. Sue loved attending concerts at festivals, and she’d dance and sing to the music, Jim said.

As a co-worker and friend, Sue was “the best,” Nancy Crickman wrote in a series of reflections she compiled with the help of other Troy school district employees.

“She always had the most positive attitude with her amazing and uplifting smile,” Nancy wrote. “If you were in a bad or negative mood, she would never let you stay that way. She always made you see the best in people or situations. If you were mad at someone, she would remind you that maybe they’re having a bad day or maybe you were. She was so reasonable and down-to-earth. Her advice was always worth listening to. She always found the good in everyone, even if you had to look deep.”

Living life, trusting God

In 2015, Sue saw a doctor for reflux and that’s when cancer was found on the tail of the pancreas and she had surgery to remove it, Jim said. Sue then had periodic scans, which remained clear until spots were found on her liver in 2016, he said.

But even cancer didn’t keep Sue from most activities, and Sue didn’t look as if she had cancer, Jim said.

“She was living life, going to parties, cookouts, vacationing,” Jim said.

About five years ago, Sue and Jim joined Parkview Christian Church in New Lenox, a move that changed their life, Jim said.

“She had a lot of trust in God because of that,” Jim said.

Sue volunteered in the children’s ministry and helped the children in her care learn more about Jesus through the ministry’s structured program, Jim said.

Her legacy? Her trust in God. Her family. And her smile.

“I know I keep bringing it up,” Jim said. “But her smile just lit up a room. And her attitude ... she was just a wonderful person to be around.”

Dawn agreed.

“Her physical presence may have left,” Dawn wrote in an email, “but her spiritual presence will never leave those she left behind. Everyone became a better person for having known Sue.”

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com.

Denise  Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.