History Is Herstory
07/24/2014 11:19AM ● Published by Sue Ralston
Photos: Betsy Erickson
Sue Lang, Curator of Redding
Meeting up with Sue Lang for coffee begins with a warm greeting and a compliment of some kind. She settles down with her drink, her green eyes bright and engaging. She’s eager to share stories of her latest volunteer projects, but not before remarking on your scarf, or appreciating the fantastic artwork in the coffee shop.
Lang credits her participation in Leadership Redding more than 20 years ago with spurring her to become more active in the community. “As a kid, we moved around a lot, so that sense of community never really happened for me. I remember Lou Gerard talking about Redding’s history for my first Leadership Redding session. Our class stood looking out over the whole city. After each session, the facilitators would ask us what our ‘aha moment’ was, and right then I realized it was that sense of belonging,” she recalls. “And I’m still friends with people who I met in that group.”
Once she retired seven years ago, she was able to do even more. She’s known for her efforts to help revitalize downtown, first as a board member of Renaissance Redding, then sitting on the board of Viva Downtown Redding since 2003, and serving on the Cascade Theatre restoration committee.
She now serves on the Viva Downtown design committee, where some of her enthusiasm and energy have gone toward helping design the locally made bicycle racks dotting the downtown. “Sue has so much energy. I would certainly call her a force to be reckoned with,” said Sally Marbry, chair of the committee.
Sue and her husband, Buck, came to Redding in 1973 after living in Southern California left them longing for fresh air, mountains and wide-open spaces. When her husband was offered a job in Redding as a medical technologist, “We said, ‘Where the heck is Redding?’” she recalls. “But we knew it wasn’t Los Angeles and we knew it would be better than that.”
After having two sons, Adam and Chris, she worked as an assistant claims manager at State Compensation Insurance Fund, supervising a dozen people. Now she and her husband, both retired, split their time between their home in Redding and a home in Dunsmuir. They dote on their three-year-old granddaughter, Izabel.
Her most recent volunteer effort, a documentary about the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Pilgrim Congregational Church, sprang from her passion for architecture and history. She visited Wright’s western outpost—Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Ariz.—and was disappointed she didn’t find more information on Redding’s church. “It just didn’t seem right to me that our church got only a small mention at the end of another documentary,” she says, “so I knew we had to tell the story.” She collaborated with videographer and fellow Shasta Historical Society board member Charley Williams and Valerie Ing of Jefferson Public Radio to tell the remarkable story of how Redding secured the services of the renowned architect, even as he was overseeing the construction of the Guggenheim Museum in New York in the late 1950s. The film made its debut to a nearly full house at the Cascade Theatre in March and has been rescreened twice, including a showing at the Dunsmuir Arts Museum.
A few years ago, she participated in the Turtle Bay History Players, volunteers who researched a local person of historical significance and portrayed them to area students. She chose Susanna Kruger Kountz, Judge Richard B. Eaton’s great-grandmother. “It was fun digging up stuff on her. I even took on a terrible German accent to play her,” she laughs, “and got an 1870s dress pattern and made my costume.” After the History Players disbanded, she began volunteering at Shasta State Historic Park, where she docents in period costume during events.
At the park, she found herself drawn to the art collection, and was determined to learn more about it. This curiosity resulted in instituting Artist Spotlights, a series of lectures with experts on some of the paintings housed at the museum. “We’ve been operating without a curator. What Sue has been able to do as a volunteer, in changing her focus to art docent, has been nice, because we weren’t able to hire someone to focus on the art,” said Lori Martin, ranger at Shasta State Historic Park.
While some vacationers long for beaches or cruise ships, her idea of the perfect vacation includes hitting the art museums or historical sites in any city where she travels. She recently attended a family wedding in Brooklyn, where she also took in the majestic Brooklyn Historical Society building, which is on the National Register of Historical Places. She also viewed the renowned Barnes Foundation collection in Philadelphia.
“Buck has just learned to like this kind of vacation,” she laughs. “He always ends up having a great time.”