Never too late to educate
Sue A. Williams Memorial Scholarship assists women returning to college
Former Clark employee remembered for her commitment to education
When Sue Williams ’96 went back to school at age 40, she enrolled at Clark College for an education, which led to a long career and a loving community during her tenure. That love is now being shared in her memory.
The former director of human resources for the college passed away in August 2020 at age 66. Friends, family and coworkers are raising money for a legacy scholarship. The Sue A. Williams Memorial Scholarship will assist women returning to college by attending Clark.
Williams, a mother to a 12-year-old at the time she enrolled, hadn’t taken a course in 20 years. During her first term, she took a required speech course and discovered that although she was afraid of public speaking, she had a knack for it. Her instructor and forensics coach Orv Iverson asked her to join the speech and debate team.
She accepted the challenge and, according to her husband, Jerry Rhodes, “tore up every tournament she was in” for two years, earning the informal title, “Queen of Platform Speaking.” She earned a silver medal in a national tournament and her name is engraved on a trophy permanently housed in a Clark College trophy case.
During her last week of finals, Williams interviewed for a job in the college’s human resources department. Katrina Golder was director of human resources at the time and hired Williams.
“She had just an infectious smile, she was so welcoming,” Golder said.
Golder, whose office was across the hall from Williams’s, said she envied the tidy desk and admired Williams’s organizational skills. Human resources can be challenging work, Golder said, and it requires strict confidentiality. Williams excelled in it and was well-loved even as she navigated the thorny conflicts that any human resources professional must handle. They worked together for 13 years until Golder retired.
Williams ended up working at Clark for 23 years, earning several promotions before retiring in May 2019 as director of human resources. While she worked for the college, she took classes part time at Washington State University Vancouver and earned a bachelor’s in six years.
Williams was a single mom, working as a receptionist for the Lane County Commissioners office when she met Rhodes, a reporter. The first thing Rhodes noticed about Williams was her competence. She was friendly and professional and great at her job.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, (she’s) just the best receptionist that I’ve ever met.’ I wasn’t thinking about dating or anything like that, I was just speaking professionally,” he said.
When they got married, commissioners from both political parties attended the wedding.
They moved to Vancouver, Wash., when Rhodes took a job as a reporter for The Columbian. Three years later, as Rhodes embarked on a freelance career, Williams’s employer went out of business. That’s when she enrolled at Clark College.
Erin Bobeck, Williams’s daughter, said she and her mother used to do their homework side by side at the dining room table. Williams set an example—as a student who was dedicated to academics and extracurricular activities and used education to elevate her life. Those actions inspired Bobeck’s path to success.
Bobeck enrolled as a Running Start student, eventually graduating with honors from Clark College. Bobeck then earned a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from WSUV, as well as a master’s and doctorate. She completed a post-doctorate fellowship at Carl Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City and is now a neuroscientist managing a brain research lab and teaching at Utah State University.
Williams was a staunch supporter of women who returned to school later in life. She taught classes on résumé writing, job applications and job interviews in the Women-Returning-to-College program.
As a nod to the institution that helped define her, Williams collected penguins, amassing dozens of stuffed animals and figurines.
“For people who don’t collect things, it’s a large collection,” her husband said.
Williams brought a stuffed animal penguin when she traveled and took photos of it on top of the Empire State building and at Stonehenge.
The penguin’s name?
“Oswald, of course,” Rhodes said. “They were all named Oswald.”
Anyone can donate to the Sue A. Williams Memorial Scholarship securely online. Select “Other” under Select an Area to Support and type in Sue A. Williams Memorial Scholarship.
For questions, contact Angela Torretta at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-992-2782.
Story by Lily Raff McCaulou