This story first appeared in the September-October 2018 issue of Soybean Business.
From a young age, Suzanne “Suzy” Sukalski learned to embrace the unexpected. After all, she is a farmer’s daughter.
“Things aren’t always what you expect them to be,” Suzy says. “Sometimes things are more wonderful than you could ever imagine.”
Suzy has Down Syndrome, but she doesn’t let that define her. She instead turns her genetic disorder into a strength and focuses on the abilities she has.
Growing up in southern Minnesota, Suzy was told what she can’t do instead of what she can. When she struggled to read in second grade, Suzy’s teacher told her she had no need to read.
In 5th grade, when all of her other classmates got to compete in the science fair, Suzy was not expected to participate because the teacher thought she wouldn’t care.
In 6th grade her entire class got to go skiing while she was asked to stay home because she wouldn’t know what she was missing.
“I know it takes me longer to learn new things,” she says. “I try my hardest, but it’s still frustrating.”
Despite being told no, Suzy has had a rock-solid support system. Her mother and father encouraged her to learn to read. She competed in the 5th grade science fair, and with the support of her family and volunteers, she learned to ski.
“Many doubted her abilities. Many doubted her desire to fit in,” says Diane Sukalski, Suzy’s mom. “Suzy had to have courage to overcome those doubts and those obstacles. She also needed strong support.”
Now Suzy shares her story in a PowerPoint, teaching others to focus on the abilities that people have to offer. She recently was the keynote speaker at the Minnesota Environmental Health Association conference, has presented to Cargill, high school and grade school students, rotaries and chambers of commerce. Her personal mission is to nourish the soul, celebrate abilities and inspire possibilities.
“It’s all about abilities and we all have different abilities,” says Suzy’s father, Lawrence Sukalski, a United Soybean Board director. “We couldn’t more proud of the person Suzy is.”
But Suzy’s story doesn’t stop there; she’s just getting started.
Suzy is a savvy entrepreneur. She labels and packages her own brand of Sunshine Suzy’s Super Crunchy Corn Nibblets. Suzy has been inspected and licensed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to sell the corn nibblets.
“Sunshine Suzy’s Super Crunchy Corn Nibblets” can be found at various locations in Fairmont, Minn. These locations include: True Value, HyVee, Fareway, Sterling Drug, Center Creek Orchard, Green Giant Visitors’ Center and Hilton Honors at the Hampton Inn.
Anybody can order her corn nibblets online for wedding favors, graduation goodies and special giveaways for businesses. Her corn nibblets come in three different flavors: Ranch, sea salt, and barbeque.
“They’re really good” Diane says. “This business has become bigger than we thought. The wonderful community support has been instrumental in promoting her business expansion into surrounding states.”
Suzy is active within her community of Fairmont, Minn. She holds a position at the Hampton Inn as a breakfast hostess.
Jason Subbert, general manager of Torgerson Properties Inc. in Fairmont, met Suzy when she was in high school while she was taking a class sampling different jobs in the community. Subbert remembered Suzy when a breakfast hostess job opened at the Hampton Inn.
“I saw in the newspaper that Suzanne was graduating and thought she would be a good fit,” he says. “I went and saw what her future plans were and suggested applying for the job opening as a breakfast hostess.”
Suzanne has changed the way the staff help each other. They realized that although Suzy needed more training, their investment in Suzy was worth it in the end.
“Sometimes employers look at a challenge and look the other way because it will take more work,” Subbert says. “We took a challenge and worked with it to find the talents that Suzanne held.”
Suzy uses her creativity to have fun at her job. She asked her boss if it was okay if she wore fun aprons over her uniform. He said yes, and Suzy and her mother have designed different aprons for the different seasons. She has made over 30 aprons that she can wear to work.
Suzy also uses her abilities to make handmade seasonal cards for the guests of the hotel. From that, she receives many positive comment cards from the guests.
“People aren’t expecting to get that,” Subbert says. “It shows how well of a hostess she is and how much she cares about others.”
The Hampton Inn was ranked first in service for two months in a row out of the 1,200 Hampton Inns worldwide. Not only did Suzy contribute to these rankings, but she brought forth a change to the way the employees of the Hampton Inn go about their own jobs.
Suzy has helped lead the way through the process of helping others and has taught the Hampton Inn to build something and sustain it. As a result, the Hampton Inn now has hired another girl with Down Syndrome as a breakfast hostess.
Suzy’s efforts and upbeat demeanor have not gone unnoticed. In January 2017, she was honored with Minnesota Lodging Association’s Head of the House award. This award recognizes an employee who offers exceptional service and care to guests and co-workers.
“She surprises a person with what she can do,” Diane says. “She really is amazing.”
Despite the challenges Suzy has overcome, she continues to strive with a positive attitude, using her abilities to inspire others as a motivational speaker.
There’s no place for the dark in Suzy’s life. Only sunshine.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something,” she says. “You can do anything if you work hard.”
Sunshine Suzy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 507-238-2118.
More information on the corn nibblets can be found at www.sunshinesuzy.weebly.com.