by Keli Ratcliffe
If you’re one of Anderson & Associates’ clients, then more than likely, you know the name Su Clauson-Wicker. She’s been writing about rural communities for almost thirty years, and her prose has graced the front page of our newsletter, the Ampersand, for the past 26. When Ken Anderson contacted her in 1989 to write for the newsletter, she didn’t know what to expect, but she certainly didn’t anticipate that working with Anderson & Associates would be her longest running assignment to date.
She’s continued to work with A&A for a variety of reasons but primarily because of the range of interesting and dedicated public servants that she’s had the pleasure of interviewing and writing about over the years. She also appreciates that many folks say that working with Anderson & Associates is like having an extra person on staff. Su says that those good feelings of helping others have rubbed off on her over the years.
Su exhibits the nature of a true writer; a person who spends much of her time out of the spotlight, observing and focusing on others. Her own story, however, is fascinating. She grew up on Oak Leaf Farm in the Finger Lakes region in the foothills of the Appalachians of New York, where she helped her parents grow certified seed potatoes and strawberries.
A young, socially-minded Su idealized activists trying to change the world. She graduated Cornell University with a degree in Psychology, and moved to Virginia where she worked as the housemother at a girls’ home. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of the orphans she cared for, but soon discovered that the children listened to media and television more than they did to her. Su decided that if she wanted to bring about change in the lives of others, then she needed to shift her career focus to communications.
After earning her MS in Communications from the Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Su returned to Virginia where she launched ahead full-force, working in educational television, writing for the Roanoke Times, Radford University, and working as editor of Virginia Tech Magazine. She was happy with her career and accomplishments until 2000 when her father passed away. Her father’s death had a profound impact on her, and she realized that life was short, and that she should concentrate on things that she felt passionate about.
Thus she shifted her focus to full-time freelance writing about health, hiking, and rural communities in West Virginia. She had always felt a kinship to the Mountain State, and the hardships and struggles its small town folks face. When she was a child, Su had overheard her own hometown being likened to West Virginia, and she had remained curious about it. She imagined that West Virginia folks would be democratic, can-do oriented, and friendly. They were.
Su began exploring its backroads, nooks, and crannies, and through her wanderings, she discovered that the landscape was just as splendid as the people.
Now, she’s a published author of the 4th – 8th editions of West Virginia Off the Beaten Path, Scenic Roads & Byways West Virginia, and the Inn to Inn Walking Guide for Virginia and West Virginia, which won the West Virginia’s Best Book Media Award. She’s well on her way to accomplishing her goal of traveling on every back road in her beloved West Virginia.
Su is embarking on a new adventure now, and is trying her hand at writing a novel. The plot and setting are inspired by her time working in the orphanage, and the girls who lived there, many of whom Su stays in touch with today. She admits, “When I worked as a house mother, I was young and everything was black and white. I wanted to write, but I needed to absorb more knowledge.” Now, she’s ready.
When she’s not writing, Su enjoys traveling with her husband Bruce, and gardening. “It’s in my blood,” she admits. If she grows more vegetables than she can use, she gives them to others. She volunteers at the Lyric in Blacksburg, helping to grow the movie population of the historic theater. She’s also passionate about her volunteer work at the MCEAP (Montgomery County Emergency Assistance Program) thrift store, helping those in need in her own back yard.