Spring/Summer 2020 Issue

by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 Ph.D.

When she was four years old, Susan Goebel’s mom and dad took her Christmas shopping in Topeka, Kansas. It was her dad Wilbur’s job to keep Susan entertained while her mom, Betty, did the shopping. Knowing she loved animals, Wilbur took Susan to the pet section so she could see the kittens. But when it came time to leave to find Betty, Susan refused to go. “I am not going; I want my cat,” she said. Wilbur bought her a kitten.

“We went to McDonald’s after that, and she fed her hamburger to the cat,” says Betty. Then they went to buy some fabric, and Susan behaved so badly in the store that Betty threatened to take her back to the car. “She acted up something terrible,” says Betty. “But going back to the car was just what Susan wanted because she wanted to be with her cat. That was only the beginning.”

Susan spent 30 years of her life devoted to the care of cats.

A Life of Caring for Others

For most of her adult life, Susan worked for hospitals caring for people. After Wilbur died suddenly of a heart attack when he was just 49 years old, Susan, then 18 years old, became interested in heart health. “She wasn’t a nurse but ended up working with heart specialists at the hospital,” says Betty. “She loved doing things for people and animals.”

As a young adult, she moved to New Mexico with her then husband and started fostering cats that needed homes. “When a police officer brought her a box of kittens found by the side of the road, she cared for them in the bathtub so they wouldn’t be in contact with the other foster cats,” says Betty. “If she took in cats that needed to be separated, she could put them in a specially heated garden house or in her garage.”

Twenty years later, Susan moved back to Marysville, Washington, and surprised her mother by buying the house next door. “She asked me, ‘How would you like me as a neighbor?’,” says Betty. Betty recounts how every evening Susan would stop by Betty’s house first to say hello. “She was such a happy person,” she says.

Susan got a job at a local hospital and also began volunteering with Purrfect Pals Cat Sanctuary and Adoption Centers in Arlington, Washington, and fostered dozens of cats. Over the course of 30 years, Betty says Susan likely cared for hundreds of cats. “Helping them was the love of her life,” says Betty. “She never quit.”

Susan’s Legacy

When she was 56 years old, Susan was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Just two months later, she died. “It left a big vacant hole,” says Betty.

After Susan’s death, Betty learned her daughter had a will. “Not many 50-year-olds probably have one,” she says. “I’m glad she had a will where she got to choose. Most people don’t prepare for that. We knew exactly where her heart was.”

Susan had made it clear that she wanted to support veterinary education. And her commitment to animal health will make a lasting impact on future students through the Susan Leigh Goebel Memorial Scholarship in Veterinary Medicine at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “If I could have sent her to college, her career would have been something with animals,” says Betty. Susan’s scholarship will help someone else follow their dream to work with animals.

Because Susan never forgot the challenges her own mother faced raising five children, she wanted to make sure that preference would be given to students who face other hardships in life. And because of her dedication to helping animals, scholarship recipients will commit to donate services annually to an animal shelter, rescue, humane society, or other animal related cause.

“She’d been in the cat business all her life and never let one go,” says Betty. “She had a heart as good as gold.”