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Walters State Retiree Honored with Scholarship
April 14, 2022

Joan Susong retired from Walters State in 1993. She was back on campus recently for a very special reason. Susong attended a signing ceremony in the president’s conference room for a scholarship endowed in her honor by her son and daughter-in-law, Mike and Liliya Susong.
“Meeting Mrs. Susong is a great honor,” Dr. Tony Miksa, president of the college, said. “We are so grateful for the many years she served the college and we are appreciative of her family choosing to honor her in this way.” 
The Joan Susong Business Scholarship will be given to business students, reflecting her career in the college’s business office. She started at Walters State in 1971, just a few months after the college opened. 
Susong accepted the position at Walters State in a leap of faith. She questioned her decision. She was the executive secretary for the president of a local industry, a secure job in what was then a factory town. Walters State, and the concept of a community college, were new. 
“The weekend after I turned in my resignation to start at the college, I cried because I was worried that I had left a good job for a job that might not last,” Susong said. “Of course, I know now it was best decision I could have made.”

Her decision to join the new college was always supported by her husband, Ralph, a career security officer at BASF Lowland. 

“Mom is a lifelong learner, having taught herself  shorthand and how to type on a manual typewriter. Now she is mastering her smartwatch,” said Mike Susong said. “She has always been dedicated to the college as one of the first employees. She saw the value of education and knew how  a community college enriches a community. She celebrated every accomplishment of college as it flourished in the Lakeway area. Our mother dedicated her career to Walters State. With this scholarship, we will continue that legacy.”

Joan Susong quickly earned a reputation as a detail-oriented businesswoman who genuinely cared for her fellow employees and for the many students she met. She was one of the early recipients of the college’s Distinguished Staff Member Award.

The Morristown campus was much different when Susong started her career. When she was hired there was no campus. Classes were conducted in local churches and community spaces. She arrived before the first building was completed, navigating a construction site, and helped move the college into the Dr. Jack E. Campbell College Center after Labor Day, 1971. She also arrived before the first computer.
“In 1971, I kept purchasing records on a 3x5 index card,” Susong said. “Auditors would pick out random records to check. I would have to be able to retrieve those cards in a couple minutes, so we had to stick to a filing system.” 

Needless to say, she was happy when computers arrived. “You could do so much more work. Everything you needed could be found on the computer,” she said.
Susong was also a student while at Walters State, taking many business classes. Her favorite memories of Walters State, though, involve her coworkers and the many students she met. 
“While I worked here, I met so many nice people,” Susong said. “I saw so many students graduate and made many friends. When the college was small, you got to know all of the faculty members and even their families.”
Despite being a founding employee of Walters State, Susong is modest regarding her accomplishments and all the attention. Her family said it is warranted.
“My parents are genuine, salt of the earth people,” Mike Susong said. They don’t expect any accolades.” He is a Morristown native who has moved back to the area after a career with the CIA. He now lives in Sevierville.
The scholarship is endowed, meaning scholarships will be paid from interest earnings. This allows the scholarship to continue in perpetuity. The scholarship is also open to donations from anyone wishing to honor Susong. For more information, contact Chris Cates, assistant vice president for college advancement, at Chris.Cates@ws.edu.
In the photo: The Joan Susong Business Scholarship was recently established with the Walters State Foundation. Seated, from left, are Chris Cates, assistant vice present for college advancement; honoree Joan Susong; and Dr. Tony Miksa, president of Walters State. Standing are Kelly Bowen, advancement services specialist; and donors Mike and Liliya Susong.