Susan Shanard Burns-Stidger hated obituaries and funerals, so when she died of cancer on Dec. 10 at age 68, she had already written her own tribute — a simple, humor-filled note declaring that she had been “excused from the table.”
On Jan. 7 — after the holidays because she didn’t want to bother anyone — her husband, Gene Stidger, will host a happy hour at the Wayzata American Legion, in place of a funeral.
“That was her,” Stidger said. “She had a very smart wit about her. And a celebration of life, that’s it, was what she wanted.”
A Minnetonka native, Burns-Stidger grew up at the Panama Canal, where her father worked as a lawyer for Cargill. The family moved back to Minnesota when she was a teenager. Burns-Stidger graduated from Orono High School and went on to earn a four-year degree in Virginia.
She was an avid book lover, known for reading a book in a single day. As a young adult, she opened her own book shop. Later, she and her husband made a spare bedroom into a library, which they filled with nearly 3,000 books.
Stidger said they met later in life (both had been married previously) but had a passionate marriage, rarely separating and never going to bed angry.
About a decade ago, Burns-Stidger was nearing the end of her 43-year career working in the Hennepin County child protection services. She was looking for a golf partner to join her and another pair of friends at the Orono public course. Stidger was at the course that day and volunteered to play a round with Burns-Stidger. They hit it off and quickly started dating. And soon, they decided to adopt — a 115-pound black Labrador named Brut.
Six years later, they were married at the nine-hole golf course where they met.
When friends asked why they were getting hitched after living together for some time, Burns-Stidger would reply with a smile: “Well, we have to make the dog legitimate.”
Behind the quick humor, though, was a heart of gold, Stidger said. His wife — a woman who loved to drive fast, bet on horse races and grow flowers in shades of yellow, her favorite color — never had children of her own but was a mother figure in her community.
At the Wayzata American Legion, where she and her husband often went for happy hour to watch Wild games and visit with friends, she’d often lend money to folks who were down on their luck.
“She’d give people $50 or $100 to get back on their feet,” Stidger said. “Sometimes she’d pay their rent. And she never asked for it back.”
Both she and Stidger, 71, retired in their early 60s and spent much of their time traveling, taking their pontoon boat out on Lake Minnetonka near their Wayzata home and golfing in mediocre fashion — the ball occasionally going straight, Stidger said with a laugh.
“She was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he added tearfully. “She’s my angel in heaven, looking down.”
When Burns-Stidger got sick in August, she urged him not to tell anyone. She died quietly, at home.
In her obituary, she wrote: “Never lost God during my illness; wasn’t aware I’d misplaced him,” and urged people to “direct any memorials to a friend in need.”
Stidger hopes that friends, family and acquaintances will come for the celebration of Burns-Stidger at the Legion in an outpouring of love for the witty, giving love of his life.
“I’ll miss you,” she wrote to the impending crowd in her tribute. Then she added, in parentheses: “Well, most of you.”