Every little thing matters

They may be a simple combination of flour, eggs and sugar, but the cakes coming out of Jean Susdorf’s kitchen represent so much more. For the recipients — children and teens in Family & Children’s Center’s residential programs — the cakes demonstrate that someone really cares about them, that they do matter.

Unlike most kids, many in residential services cannot take those sentiments for granted. For many, it’s the first birthday cake they’ve ever had.

It all began 30 years ago when a colleague introduced Wally Susdorf, Jean’s husband, to Family & Children’s Center. Wally, a Central High School administrator, had a natural affinity for kids and a sincere desire to see them grow into productive, happy adults.

JeanWally “I was in the young people business,” he says. “I liked Family & Children’s Center’s vision for young people and their mission to help them. They give kids a chance.”

Jean liked the center, too, and immediately saw a place where she could help. The nurse and mother of five had earlier formed a group known as the Cake Ladies who baked birthday cakes for children at St. Michael’s Orphanage in La Crosse, Wis. St. Michael’s had closed in 1982. This was her chance to revive the Cake Ladies and she took it.

That was in 1984, and since that time, Jean has worked with around 150 other community women to bake more than 600 cakes for the kids at Family & Children’s Center — each one greeted with a big smile by the birthday child.

But Jean’s work with the Cake Ladies is really just a small part of the Susdorfs story with Family & Children’s Center. Both Wally and Jean have served two terms each on the board of directors. Donors since the 1980s, they were the first to donate to The Children’s Fund when it began in 2002. They’ve also volunteered to help at special events and are to credit for the many baskets of tools and practical household items that the center has successfully auctioned over the years.

Wally says they support Family & Children’s Center because he and Jean have faith in its leadership and mission, employing thrift and vision at the same time. “I like the way they do business. I like them being open to outside voices. They’re going the right direction — both for kids and the community.”

Jean agrees, saying Family & Children’s Center is filling a gap. “It’s so rewarding to see now what they’re doing with the gifts. They have so much to offer.”

With that last statement, Jean may just as easily be speaking of Wally and herself. They have much to offer and have been doing it for the community for decades. It may seem basic, even simple, to them. But like the Cake Ladies’ creations, every little thing means so much to so many.