PORTLAND, Ore. — A capacity crowd in the Friends Meeting House here celebrated the life of Susan Elizabeth Wheeler Feb. 11 with songs, laughter, tears and heartfelt memories of her contributions to the people’s movements.
Wheeler passed away Jan. 24 at her daughter’s home in Sequim, Wash., at age 63.
Larry Kleinman, secretary-treasurer of the Oregon farm workers and tree planters union, told the crowd that Wheeler arranged for her friend, folk singer Pete Seeger, to perform a benefit concert for the union in 1994 raising $30,000. Seeger sent a letter of regret that he could not attend the memorial but remembered Susan and the concert she organized for him at a local high school during the depths of the Cold War.
Susan’s Oregon Law Center co-workers remembered her as the calm force in defending the legal rights of poor people in the state. Brooke Jacobson, professor at Portland State University, recalled that during the 1970s, she and Susan lived together in a big house filled with single moms and their children. Susan’s home and her dining room table were always a hospitable place for both family gatherings and political meetings, Jacobson said.
Actor Nurmi Husa, the spitting image of Karl Marx, read an excerpt from Howard Zinn’s “Marx in Soho” in which Marx complains that his wife, Jenny, is pushing him to make “Das Kapital” easier for workers to understand. “Are we reaching the people we want to reach?” Jenny demands. A fitting tribute, Husa said, to Susan who lived for the class struggle.
The memorial program suggested contributions to the People’s Weekly World. Political correspondent Tim Wheeler announced that Kathleen Robel had just handed him a check for $100 honoring Susan and another for $5,000 honoring her parents, Gene and Thorun Robel. Thorun Robel was a staunch leader of Women Act for Peace in Seattle. Her husband, Gene, a shipyard worker, waged a long struggle to win back his machinist union membership after being blacklisted during the Cold War. These and other generous gifts were a final push in the PWW’s fund drive.