Through her work as a Methodist pastor (as well as the jobs of other family members), Susie Wickiser was on the go for most of her life. When she and her husband Jim retired and settled in Newton seven years ago, though, she saw an opportunity to give back more with the free time that afforded her.
Looking for activities to be a part of in the community, the Wickisers eventually came across the Bethel College Life Enrichment series and soon became regulars. After attending, Susie quickly took on a role on the life enrichment committee to help with planning, scheduling presenters and organizing the lecture topics to fit the interests (i.e. astronomy) of regular patrons.
"My role is supportive of Bethel College's role in the community as a provider of adult education," Wickiser said.
Wickiser has served on the life enrichment committee for four years now. While she has also helped out with Peace Connections and as part of Harvey County Master Gardeners, she has dedicated the bulk of her work with life enrichment and as a volunteer chaplain at Youthville.
Five years ago, Wickiser took a call while working at Trinity Heights United Methodist Church. The Youthville administrator was looking for some local help at the facility, which houses teenagers with patterns of high risk behaviors (i.e. aggression, runaways, etc.).
Quick to lend her assistance, Wickiser now serves as chaplain to a cottage of 12 girls. Visiting on a weekly basis, Wickiser noted she will counsel, listen and laugh with the girls, sometimes even bringing snacks, noting just being there can be a big deal.
"There are times I step back and think, 'what difference do I make,' and then I realize I'm one of the two people who volunteer," Wickiser said, "to see them, to be with them, to let them know someone beyond their four walls cares about them."
Both her and her husband's work took Wickiser around the country (and globe) before retirement, but she noted they began to plant roots in Kansas nearly 40 years ago. Among the many locations she pastored in the state during those years was Moundridge, and there she gained a connection with a local Mennonite clergy group based out of Newton.
Along with the title of "Methonnite," Wickiser noted she got a lot of support from that group, encouraging her to get more involved and pay it forward during retirement.
Faith plays a large role in the support she gives now to those at Youthville, but Wickiser noted it is simply to facilitate a conversation among the girls living there. She acts as a shepherd or guide to them and, in some ways, fills another critical role.
"I'm aware that support systems can be pretty limited for these girls. There's a book that has been helpful for me that's titled 'Motherless Daughters.' I read that and I realized all the girls here are motherless daughters. Whether their mothers are alive or not, the are not with their mothers," Wickiser said. "I'm not a mother replacement, but I'm just somebody who can step in and say, 'I care about you, I know your name.' I walk in the door, I say hi and I know your name."
Given the opportunities she has had as a chaplain at Youthville, like performing baptisms, Wickiser said she is glad to be able to make this investment in the community. It's an investment she encourages others to make if they have the time.
Serving as a pastor, Wickiser's commitment to the communities she was a part of took a different form, but she is glad to still have that chance.
"Now that I'm in a position that I'm retired," Wickiser said, "I still have an opportunity to give."