To say Susan Turner has a lot going on is an understatement.
On a typical day in her office at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, the senior director of Advancement and Alumni Relations jumps among emails, meetings and phone calls. It’s enough juggling to make even a circus clown dizzy, but Turner does it all with ease and grace.
“Okay, uh, what were we talking about?” she asks with a chuckle.
That’s a good question, because Turner is involved with so much, she could be talking about any number of things: community service, SMWC, or her husband, Isaac, and their dog, Isis.
A native of the Wabash Valley, Turner spent half her life living in Indianapolis before making Terre Haute her home as a college student at Indiana State University. She graduated in 2002 with a degree in communications and got her first job at the then-Wishard Health Services in Indianapolis. After a few years of experience, Turner returned to Terre Haute as the marketing manager for UAP Clinic, a position she held for nearly seven years. During that time, she was a founding member of the Essence of Red Luncheon. She also joined numerous community organizations, including Terre Haute Young Leaders and the United Way of the Wabash Valley. For Turner, giving back was something instilled in her at a young age through her mother’s work as a minister for the United Methodist Church.
“It really started because I was a member of the United Methodist Church. All of the things that the United Methodist women used to make me do as a child, it really made an impression on me, and that is how I live out my faith is by volunteering,” Turner explains. “And I know the power of a small group of people to make a difference because I have seen it in the United Methodist Church.”
Not only has Turner seen the power of what a small group can do, but also she’s been part of small groups that have done big things. While working toward her Master of Leadership Development at SMWC, Turner partnered with friend and colleague Rachel Leslie to create the Wabash Valley Leadership Institute. The two designed and created the program as their master thesis. The deal was that if they could prove the intensive, weeklong leadership course could work in Terre Haute, they would have to implement it. The result of their efforts proved the thesis, and Turner gained a new position at The Woods.
“I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to keep up my end of the bargain if I worked somewhere else,” she explains. “I knew it would all work out. And it did.”
Turner began her new position at SMWC in July 2014. Her duties include alumni relations and the Leadership Institute, which recently graduated its second cohort.
“I don’t have kids, but I have to think it’s the way a mom feels when her child accomplishes something,” she says of the WVLI as tears form in her eyes. “I am so proud of this program. And I just know it is going to make a difference in this community. I know it is.”
Turner says the program has already worked with dozens of community leaders who are making significant strides in the community, but she’s excited for the future. Describing it as a marathon, not a sprint, Turner says she’s anxious to see what impact the institute and its graduates have over the next 10 and 20 years.
“I want to see it grow. I want to see it become something bigger and better,” she says. “I want to it to be not just a flagship program. I want to see us do programming for young leaders, for women, for high school students. I want us to become a true leadership institute. And I think we will.”
Claudia Tanoos, a graduate of the very first Leadership Institute cohort and vice president of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp., worked with Turner through the years on community events and while Turner was the marketing manager for the Vermillion Rise Mega Park. Tanoos describes Turner as someone who constantly has her eye on the prize.
“She is a great young lady and I really respect her,” Tanoos says. “I know she wants to be successful in everything she does and she always has a goal in mind, and so far, she has reached every one of those goals.”
Turner says she’s in a great place, working, volunteering and spending time with her family, which includes her 4-year-old nephew, Mason. What’s in store in the future is still up in the air, but Turner doesn’t mind a little more juggling in her act.
“I know it sounds so hokey, but I just feel so fortunate,” she says. “I love Terre Haute and I love this community. I like the fact that I know I am making a difference in this community. I would probably make a difference in any community that I live in, but Terre Haute is my home.”