Susan Marie (McCullen) Rupp lived her whole life in the small town of Pine Hill, New Jersey – by choice – and loved every single minute of it. Most little girls dream of moving to a bigger, better city and becoming rich and famous when they grow up, but not Susan. Although a dreamer at heart, she never set out to make her mark on the world, she just wanted to give back to her hometown and start a family of her own.
An academic scholar during her school years, Susan attended St. Edward’s Elementary School and Overbrook High School (Class of 1976). She continued her education at Trenton State College, but found herself missing “something” after a short time. It was hard to pinpoint at first, but Susan was not exactly missing her family and friends as much as she was missing her community. She was homesick for Pine Hill.
Susan began volunteering with the Pine Hill Youth Association at the age of 13 as a team scorekeeper. She quickly assumed the ranks as a coach and manager for numerous softball, baseball, and soccer teams. Susan adored spending time teaching “her kids” (as she would call the players on her team) about the game, including its rules, and the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship.
Susan looked forward to “Opening Day” every year, as this special day (yes, it is true that she even considered it a holiday just like Christmas or Easter!) meant she would soon have a new group of girls and boys, and an opportunity to welcome even more kids to her “on-the-field family.”
One spring morning in April 1978 gave Susan a new reason to celebrate “Opening Day.” The annual parade marched her players through the town of Pine Hill, which led Susan to meeting the love of her life, a fellow coach named Norman, who marched with his players right behind her.
Norman and Susan dated for some time, and he quickly found himself welcomed into Susan’s family, sharing in the joys of dinners and group game nights with her sisters and parents. This strong sense of family and love is what Norman and Susan wanted to replicate for themselves.
Susan and Norman married on August 16, 1980. In September 1984, they bought their first home in Pine Hill, and upon moving in, Susan surprised Norman with the news that she was pregnant. After years of trying for a child, their dreams were finally coming true.
Susan and Norman continued to coach their separate softball and baseball teams until Susan practically gave birth to their oldest son, Shawn, in the dugout. Even then, Susan did not stop coaching – she could not let “her kids” down – so, she packed her new arrival up in a stroller and made him his very own “Superstars” uniform to match her players. The addition of two more sons, Ryan and Scott, completed Norman and Susan’s “triple play.” Norman and Susan were happily married for 30 years.
Susan’s unprecedented 39 years of devotion to PHYA is unparalleled in the history of the organization. Although Susan was not a gifted athlete, she truly was an extraordinary spirit. Her commitment to her community was fueled by her love for its children, and she was affectionately known to all as “Coach Sue.”
Susan, originally a teacher’s aide by profession with Berlin Community School, returned to the kindergarten classroom as her children went off to school and was joyfully employed at Dr. Albert M. Bean Elementary School in Pine Hill for almost a dozen years. Susan, better known as “Mrs. Rupp,” brought almost as much joy to the students there as they brought to her life.
Susan had an amazing way of communicating with every child, making each one feel special. She could make each child feel capable of his or her wildest dreams on the athletic field or in the classroom, and she was always the biggest champion of the underdog – a role Susan would soon find herself playing.
Susan was first diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in June 2002 after minor surgery for a perforated eardrum. Doctors believed the anesthesia she received had triggered her underlying Ovarian Cancer into rapid action. At this point, her Ovarian Cancer was diagnosed as advanced Stage IV. Since there is no early detection test for Ovarian Cancer, Susan’s cancer was possibly undiagnosed for years, despite yearly gynecologist visits. Susan began treatment with immediate surgeries and months of chemotherapy. Throughout that summer and the 7 initial years that followed, Susan’s specialists considered her to be cancer-free on all routine examinations.
During those “good years,” Susan continued doing what she loved, working with children both on the athletic field and in the schools. But, it was her overflowing pride in her own children that made Susan smile the most. Her oldest son, Shawn, was a successful administrator at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and had purchased his first home. Her middle son, Ryan, was married to his high school sweetheart, and together they provided the precious additions of her beloved grandsons, Dylan and Colin, who kept her spirits up even on the toughest days. Susan was absolutely beaming over her youngest son, Scott, and his baseball achievements, as he continued to excel athletically, and they talked about the excitement of his last few high school years and helping to plan his future.
In the fall of 2009, a lingering backache that Susan attributed to picking up one of her kindergarten students eventually brought her back to her doctor. It was discovered that her Ovarian Cancer had returned in full force, despite being in remission for all those years. Susan developed many tumors along her spine and her cancer also metastasized to other organs. Chemotherapy quickly began again, but was much more aggressive this round.
Never once, despite becoming paralyzed in both legs for a time, needing a blood transfusion, being hospitalized for days at a time, or enduring daily injections, constant pain, and vomiting did Susan ever display an ounce of self-pity. That simply was not her character, or the example she wanted to set for her sons.
Susan had a seizure in June 2010, and it was determined that she also had some tumors that spread to her brain. She began radiation and underwent daily treatments for two weeks. But, Susan kept that same spirit that she had always portrayed to every child that she had coached or taught over the years. If you believe in yourself, you can do it. This time she was the underdog, but it did not lessen her belief in her goal one bit.
Susan maintained her love of life, incredible bravery, tremendous courage, sheer determination to win, and the amazing smile that was always present on her face until the very end. Sadly, Susan lost her battle with Ovarian Cancer on July 30, 2010 at the age of 52.
As the people of Pine Hill quickly learned of Susan’s passing in the days following, so many commented that they never realized she was sick – again. That was Susan. That was intentional. She never wanted pity, sympathy, or grand gestures for herself or her family. She wanted to continue her life, her way, by her rules, giving and doing what she loved, and sharing her love, hope, and smile with others.
The Susan Marie Rupp Foundation was established in September 2010 in Susan’s honor.
There are numerous foundations promoting Ovarian Cancer awareness, and many large ones with the backing of big corporate sponsors, but the Susan Marie Rupp Foundation vows to continue its mission to spread the message of awareness, first and foremost, in every little town – for that small town girl – just like Susan, who could be your wife, mother, daughter, sister, grandmother, aunt, or friend.
Our foundation has great hopes and big dreams that our efforts, in some way, will one day contribute to finding a cure for this dreaded disease or saving the life of your loved one. Susan would like that – dream big and believe in it. We may be the underdog now, and that is fine, because we know that we have a champion on our side, our angel.
For a small-town girl with all the opportunities life had to offer, Susan Marie (McCullen) Rupp might not have become rich and famous, but she definitely left her mark on what she regarded as “her world.” Pine Hill and the surrounding communities will not soon forget “Coach Sue” or “Mrs. Rupp” and the dreams she continues to inspire in every life that had the great fortune to know her.