Susan E. Payne Memorial Scholarship

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A zest for life, an infectious laugh, loved by everyone — these are the memories of those who knew Susan Elizabeth Payne, who died tragically in a kayaking accident just two years after graduating from college.

Susan was not your typical college student. "Susie," as she was better known, was a nontraditional student who entered college at age 38. She took six credits a semester, worked full time, and raised her son, Jacob, as a single mother. After 11 years of hard work, she accomplished what she set out to do — obtain a Bachelor of Science in natural resources recreation and tourism from Colorado State University.

Although learning did not always come easy for Susie, she excelled in other areas. "She's the perfect example of persistence pays off," says Susie's mother Winnette Payne. "She had a difficult time getting through school, but she never gave up, and the close relationships she had with her professors helped her tremendously."

Brett Bruyere, assistant professor in the Warner College of Natural Resources and director of Fort Collins' Environmental Learning Center, remembers Susie well, both from the classroom and as a volunteer at the ELC.

"She had the most incredible laugh and was always so jovial. She brought that same attitude into her learning and, rather than getting overwhelmed by her studies like a lot of students, she embraced it. She absolutely loved to learn."

Marcella Wells, a former CSU professor who now is a consultant, taught Susie in several classes. "She was so very diligent and wonderful as a student. She was not dissuaded by anyone who said she couldn't do it. She just plugged along and was always optimistic."

Winnette recalls how proud she was when Susie was asked to speak at her graduation and, with a smile, says, "CSU was always so kind to Susie. I will always be grateful for that." During her speech, Susie talked about the Dalai Lama, one of her heroes, including such quotes as "Be gentle with the earth," and, "Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality."

Two years after graduation, Susie was offered a summer position as an environmental interpreter at the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center near Portage Glacier, about 50 miles south of Anchorage, Alaska. "This was her first job with the Forest Service," says Winnette. "She was elated."

It was a beautiful summer day in 2002 when Susie and a co-worker decided to go kayaking on Portage Creek. Susie's kayak was caught by a partially submerged tree that caused it to fill with water and capsize. She was able to hang on to the tree, but before her partner could return to help her, the freezing glacier waters caused hypothermia and she could no longer hang on.

As the devastating news reached the family, and letters and memorial gifts came streaming in, the Paynes knew, without a doubt, that they wanted to honor their daughter's memory by establishing a scholarship in her name. "We started the scholarship fund with the gifts we received from the memorial service and within four years it was fully endowed. We had so many gifts — it was really gratifying to know she was so loved," says Winnette.

In keeping with Susie's legacy, the Susan Elizabeth Payne Memorial Scholarship is designated for a nontraditional student studying in the Warner College of Natural Resources. Peter Mach, a recent recipient says, "The financial assistance this scholarship provides will give me the opportunity, through the Conservation Leadership Through Learning master's program, to focus on environmental issues domestically, as well as in Latin America."

Another one of Susie's favorite quotes from the Dalai Lama was, "Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk." Those who remember her know Susie was willing to take risks and had no regrets. In Susie's own words, "If you want to do it, you'll make any sacrifice to get there."

Susie's legacy — her love for learning, the environment, and life itself — now lives on through the generosity of donors. You, too, can make a difference in the lives of others by leaving a lasting legacy gift to Colorado State University.