Date of Birth: July 27, 1933
Date of Death:
Place of Birth: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Place of Death:
Art Teacher & Community Educator
Although born and educated in Philadelphia, Susanne Sklar Remes made a name for herself and the small Jewish community in Grand Rapids—Michigan’s second largest city, and historically majority Christian. The tight-knit Jewish community that raised her served to teach her the importance of committing to the preservation of Jewish life, and to accept all walks of life in this lifelong endeavor.
Susanne went to school at Penn State University and the Tyler School of Art at Temple University before moving to Grand Rapids, where she would continue to learn at Michigan State University and Kalamazoo College before marrying her husband, William, who owned Remes Auto Parts.
Her first teachers were her parents, Rebecca (Goldberg) and Abraham Sklar, who were accepting and liberal, setting the stage for the kind of community member she would become in Grand Rapids—whether through teaching sculpture classes at the Frederik Meijer Gardens or welcoming students into her home to design and knit sweaters.
In the Grand Rapids Jewish community, today is comprised of a few hundred families, Susanne embodied resilience and freedom of expression—qualities that brought the community together. When she wasn’t working at Jacobson’s department store, she was speaking with community members and Christian audiences while participating in a “Panel of Americans” that visited business meetings and town halls. The panel discussed religion and Judaism, for which there was no shortage of questions and opinions. When prejudice arose, Susanne was unafraid to defend the dignity of Jewish people. She also was president of the Grand Rapids chapter of Hadassah, president of Congregation Ahavas Israel’s Sisterhood, and a board member of the local Jewish theater.
Just as her Jewish identity tied her to her formative years in Philadelphia’s Jewish community, so too did it tie her to the wellbeing and character of the community in Grand Rapids. There she always supported the “underdog,” looked for teachable moments, and demonstrated an attitude inspired by her parents and teachers: “open, loving, and respectful of others.”
Written by Noah Krasman