Wednesday, March 25, 2009
In Memory of a Wonder Woman
During an era where a majority of women remained at home, the late Dr. Sue Earnest juggled the roles of wife, mother and academic trailblazer.
Dr. Sue Earnest
Many who admired the late Dr. Sue Earnest imagined she wore a cape as well as an energetic and kind persona. That's how Darlene Davies, long time friend, SDSU alumna and emeritus professor, will always remember her.
"To all who knew her, Sue was akin to the comic book super heroines," Darlene said.
Sue's story, like any classic comic, begins with innate daring and an admirable do-good attitude that remains her legacy at SDSU.
A road less traveled
Born Sue Wolfer in 1907 – the same year as legendary actors Katharine Hepburn and John Wayne – she was part of a generation that would witness many "firsts" in American history.
"To all who knew her, Sue was akin to the comic book super heroines."
When Sue graduated from San Diego State and married classmate Lester Earnest, the world was in awe of Amelia Earhart's flight across the Atlantic Ocean. As the women's rights movement gained momentum, Sue's journey as a female academic trailblazer was about to take flight.
Her achievements -- master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Southern California; teaching and serving as an administrator in San Diego City schools -- were remarkable given the era. Years later, when the end of World War II meant a return to hearth and home for many women, Sue instead joined her alma mater as a faculty member.
"Sue set the pace and provided a role model for a myriad of students and faculty," said Darlene. "She had more energy, curiosity about the world and faith in positive outcomes than anyone likely to come our way for a long time."
A professor of speech arts, Sue witnessed the evolution of that program into the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at the newly named San Diego State University, where she taught for 26 years, and served 18 years as chair.
A hero's influence
Her legacy now lies in the School of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. In conjunction with UCSD, its doctoral program in language and communicative disorders ranks 4th in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Graduate Schools" 2008 edition.
"The vision of individuals like 'Dr. Sue' provided the inspiration to aim higher, try harder and stay focused on encouraging excellence," said the school’s director, Dr. Beverly Wulfeck.
Sue also contributed to the community. As co-founder of what evolved into the SDSU Speech and Language Clinic, she helped build a highly respected community resource. To this day, the San Diego-based clinic offers diagnosis, treatment and appropriate referrals to clients of all ages.
Honoring "Dr. Sue"
Sue's intellect and enthusiasm had a profound impact on many lives. To honor her legacy through future generations of Aztecs, the Dr. Sue Earnest Fellowship Endowment, a graduate fellowship in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, has been established. Consequently, Dr. Sue's contributions and innovative spirit will endure at SDSU.