Sunday, May 11, 2003

Perseverance pays

Parents of 5 gut out XU degrees


Five little factors compelled Rodney and Evelyn Suesberry to go back to college.

Those five factors kept the Forest Park couple striving for bachelor's degrees through personal struggles, job losses, even a near foreclosure on their home.

Now the five factors - Dasia and Demetrius, Marcus and Rolando and Bethany - will witness the end of their work. The Suesberry children will see their parents graduate from Xavier University next Saturday. Both of them majored in communications.

The children, ages 7 through 15, were the focus of Rodney and Evelyn's five years of perseverance, scholarly struggles and professional hopes as they labored toward their degrees.

After 15 years of steady work at manufacturing jobs, both Suesberrys were laid off. Without college degrees, they knew they'd never earn comparable wages, much less achieve lifelong dreams.

'It's never too late'

Their youngest, Dasia, was a baby when the couple enrolled in Xavier.

"We wanted to show (the children) that it's never too late to go back" to college, says Rodney, a project leader at a publishing company in Over-the-Rhine.

"We wanted to show them they should go to school while they're single, get their degree taken care of, so when they have a family, they don't have to sacrifice (time with) them."

Like Rodney and Evelyn did.

Rodney confesses sadly that he missed five years of his kids' band and orchestra concerts, as well as their football and basketball games, because he attended Xavier on Saturdays and some Sundays.

Evelyn missed fewer events but she missed more sleep. She took classes two nights a week, studying after the family went to bed.

Rodney says often he'd wake in the morning to find his wife where he'd left her, on the living room floor with her books.

The couple said they went to school for their children. But they learned from their children, too: Any struggle for education pulls strongly on family bonds.

They endured more than five years several untimely layoffs and mounting student and personal debt. Twice, their home was nearly foreclosed on. Twice, one of their kids was hospitalized.

One of their cars was always broken.

Through it all, friends encouraged the Suesberrys to give up on college. Attend to more immediate goals, they said. Pay the bills. Work two and three jobs if necessary.

Evelyn did take a year off school, but she went back.

Evelyn says she wanted to pass down a work ethic to her children. Bethany, 15, may have gotten a greater dose than intended.

Bethany grew from baby sitters' helper to chief baby sitter, then to "second mother" making sure the kids completed their chores. Now she's the family's chief cook.

'If we can do it ...'

All the kids encouraged their parents to stay in school.

"I wish we could take all the kids across the stage with us," Rodney says, "because this degree is just as much theirs as it is ours."

Evelyn plans to substitute teach this fall and to get further training in special education.

Rodney says he plans to mentor other African-American fathers trying to improve their family's lives.

"I see so many homeless men and so many ladies with three and four babies," Rodney says.

"They just need to get somebody to believe in them, and they need to believe in themselves. If we can do it, anyone can."

E-mail, or call 768-8395.

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