GALVESTON — Susanne Sullivan keeps a framed copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If —,” with lines memorized long ago still guiding her.
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,” is the verse many might pin on the spunky New York native.
The nursing student who fell in love with a Galveston cowboy has made such an impact on her adopted home that she will receive one of the community’s highest honors this week.
“The (Steel Oleander) selection committee enthusiastically chose one of the community’s most important and accomplished women, Susanne Sullivan,” said GHF Executive Director Dwayne Jones in a news release.
“GHF is pleased that she will take a place among the list of very significant women in Galveston who have made and continue to make the island a wonderful community.”
A reception honoring Sullivan is set for Tuesday evening at Bishop’s Palace. The award, a cast oleander blossom, will be presented at a luncheon Wednesday at the Garten Verein Pavilion.
“I’m in the company of some very nice women,” Sullivan said. “I’m really very honored.”
The mother of five and grandmother of 12 is known for her can-do attitude and cheerful leadership.
She was chairwoman of the University of Texas Medical Branch School of Nursing’s advisory council and the school’s first development director.
Sullivan was among the core group establishing the Ronald McDonald House in Galveston and supervises the kitchen and dining room renovations there.
She’s active in beautification efforts for the city and in support for preservation of Bishop’s Palace.
She’s also known for a sweet reasonableness in persevering.
“We really have a wonderful community,” she said. “You do learn there are people who question motives — who question why you’re doing things, and tell you can’t do it, or it’s never been done that way, or that that’s an impossible task.
“I think you just have to stay the course. Now, it doesn’t mean the course doesn’t change somewhat,” she said. “You have to be willing to change; you have to be willing to re-evaluate occasionally; you have to be willing to compromise.
“But I think strong communities happen when the citizens are involved.”
She attributes her community mindedness to her parents, both World War II veterans who volunteered in church and school activities with their four daughters.
The family moved to Texas by the time Sullivan set her sights on a nursing career like her mother’s, finishing schooling at UTMB.
She was at a medical fraternity party when she met Gerald Sullivan, son of a Galveston rancher. Their courtship often caught her by surprise.
“The first time he came to take me out, he was in bluejeans and cowboy boots and took me down the island and we went riding horses,” she said.
The couple passed along a legacy of stick-to-it-iveness to their children; all five worked throughout high school and college.
“They know the value of hard work and long hours,” she said.
They also have seen first hand how one person can make a difference.
“I think the island is full of other Steel Oleanders that are just waiting to recognized,” Sullivan said.
“We have a lot of outstanding women in the community. And I encourage them to be diligent.”
At a glance
WHAT: Cocktail reception honoring Susanne Sullivan, Steel Oleander recipient
WHEN: 6 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Bishop’s Palace, 1402 Broadway, in Galveston
WHAT: Galveston Historical Foundation’s 21st annual Steel Oleander Award Luncheon
WHO: Susanne Sullivan
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Garten Verein Pavilion, 2704 Ave. O, in Galveston
TICKETS: $55 each
DETAILS: Tickets for the reception and luncheon are $80 per individual; tables for both events are $1,000; a reserved table for eight at the cocktail reception is $350; a reserved table for 10 at the luncheon is $750.
The Steel Oleander award, a cast oleander blossom sculpted by the late Galveston sculptor David Moore, is given each year to salute an outstanding Galveston woman whose community service reflects the ideals and independent spirit of Miss Bettie Brown of Ashton Villa. Frost Bank is the major sponsor of the event, with additional contributions by Stewart Title. Proceeds from the event benefit Ashton Villa.