By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Susie Speer: From an empty nest to fulfilling dreams
BLANCHARDVILLE - When Susie Speer became an empty-nester, she needed to fill a void inside her. She searched and found a way to stay busy, help others and keep the children in the community where they have always been - at the forefront of her life.

She's still enjoying, relishing and seeing success as the executive director of the Green County United Way and has made her life's work about others.

She was born in central Indiana in the small town of Tipton. Speer was much younger than her siblings, and was happy to be a part of an active family in a small community. In high school, her mother was involved and knew everyone, so her choices were often good ones, knowing that whatever she did would be found out.

"My parents were and are a guiding force in my life," Speer said. "We were comfortable and secure, but we weren't wealthy."

Her parents were giving people, active in church, youth groups, politics and clubs, she said. During the holidays, Speer and her family would help deliver meals to families, and were taught a strong awareness of giving back.

"That sense (of giving) came early for me and I'm grateful for it," Speer said.

She was very involved in high school, and served as the president of a 200-student cheer block, the honor society, drama club, debate club, chorus, FHA and FBLA.

After graduation from Tipton High School, Speer worked for the superintendent of public instruction after being recommended by a teacher. Two years later, she and her husband Denny, who was in the Navy at the time, moved to Charleston, South Carolina.

Denny was a lab technician on a nuclear submarine during his service and would be gone for three months at a time. Speer enjoyed the area and kept herself busy as a temp, and managed an office.

When the couple moved back to Indiana, they spent seven years at Purdue, where Denny became a veterinarian.

It was the dairy cows, Speer said, that brought her family to Wisconsin in October of 1981. Denny had been called on a recommendation for a doctor in Blanchardville.

"I could see my husband's eyes light up," Speer said of when they came to see the area. They hadn't heard of Monroe, but they recognized the Swiss Colony Christmas mouse from the catalogs.

Speer worked as a paralegal and office manager for a law firm back in Indiana, but shortly after the couple moved to Wisconsin, they had their first child, and she decided to stay home.

Her own mother was a homemaker, and it was important for Speer to do the same.

"Family has always been my focus," Speer said.

Speer was the mother who joined in almost everything her children were part of. She served as a Girl Scout leader, was on every school-parent committee she could get on and worked hard with schools during referendum time.

Through the years, Speer took charge of several children's events, egg hunts, fundraisers for team uniforms and became known as the "Halloween Carnival lady" after starting the popular event. What once started in the Legion building now fills the gymnasium. She's still running the event, now with help from her son and a few others.

She loved being involved the same way her own parents were. But it wasn't long before Speer found herself at a crossroads.

"When my youngest son went to college, I found myself without that drive or purpose that I felt as a mother caring for my kids," Speer said.

She saw an advertisement in the newspaper for United Way and decided to send in her resume. Although her background was a homemaker, Speer continued bookkeeping for her husband's Blanchardville Veterinary Clinic as well. It wasn't exactly the most impressive resume, she said, but with all of her volunteer commitments and working with so many businesses, she was certainly well known.

She was a perfect fit. Speer became the administrative assistant for United Way in 2002 and began working closely with the executive director and said it was exactly what she needed in her life.

"I learned so much about compassion and respect for others," Speer said. "My time with her helped me be a better person."

Today, Speer has filled the executive director role for United Way and takes on the part-time position with pride. She works to ensure that 85 cents of every dollar goes toward community programming.

She seems to be made for the position, and feels inspired by being a part of finding solutions to problems in the community.

"When our kids were gone, life was not quite as full," Speer said. "I was looking for something purposeful and that's what the United Way is."

She works with groups, programs and school districts, faith groups and government offices to look at problems and find better ways to solve them.

The United Way goes through a significant process to determine funding, and Speer is part of refocusing, meeting needs and developing new programs.

"It's really exciting," she said. "I've been blessed in life. Everything I was looking for is right here."

Her husband has now retired from his veterinary practice but Speer is still enjoying her work. She also serves on the United Way of Wisconsin board of directors to represent smaller United Way groups.

In her free time, Speer enjoys flower gardening as a form of therapy and said her children and now her three grandchildren have become the delight of her life.

"They are the most lively, wonderful path to exhaustion," Speer said of her grandchildren.

Speer said when her parents were killed in a car crash, she realized how much she hoped to be like the couple that raised her to be involved, appreciative and giving.

"We weren't wealthy but Dad would always say we were rich in ways that mattered," Speer said. "The security I felt and gave to my children is something all kids are entitled to."

Speer encourages anyone to check out United Way's newest project, a website in collaboration with other agencies offering an easy way to reach out: