Art Instructor is Ready for Retirement
By Melissa Jones
For the first time in nearly 50 years, Sue Marion is going to be able to relax this summer. That is, if you call entertaining her 11 (soon to be 12) grandchildren, spending time with her children, and traveling to her “little place of ‘heaven on earth’ in the Adirondack Mountains,” relaxing.
OK, maybe that last one qualifies.
After teaching for more than 40 years, 28 of which she spent as an instructor of art/education at Mary Baldwin, Marion is ready to enjoy to the next phase of her life. But her impending retirement doesn’t come without a little sadness.
“I have a passion for art and teaching,” she said. “When you have a job you’re passionate about, it stops being a job and just becomes the fun thing you do every day.”
That passion is evident. As advisor to many MBC students seeking teacher licensure, Marion has inspired countless numbers of MBC students to be the best teacher they can be.
“She is a great mentor and has a heart of gold. She has taken so many future teachers, artists, and even students with no background in either under her wing,” said Leanne Patton ’13, a studio art major and education minor, who was a teaching assistant for Marion in the fall. “She has really helped me prepare to become an art educator and has a lot of stories, insight, and tips for someone who is just getting started.”
Colleague Jim McCrory agrees. “In  years I have not heard even one negative comment about Sue Marion from a student. There have been many positive comments about her of course, but this lack of negativity stands out to me as evidence of her exceptional teaching in art education at MBC over a span of many, many years.”
In addition to teaching art and advising student teachers at MBC’s main campus, Marion teaches Adult Degree Program (ADP) classes, sometimes traveling across the state to work with students in different regional centers. She’s also an artist-in-residence in Staunton and Augusta County schools, holds workshops for local art teachers, and works with gifted and talented students, as well as those with Asperger’s Syndrome and autism.
“When you teach you never know what lives you touch,” Marion said.
About 20 years ago, Marion was visiting a former student’s classroom and she met a little boy who didn’t know much English and couldn’t write very well, but he could draw. He came up to her and said, “Thank you for teaching my teacher how to teach art. Now I can draw stories and eventually I will be able to write them.” Today that little boy is a writer.
“Teaching blows my mind sometimes,” she said. “I love when a student is very negative on the first day of class, and then over the semester she blossoms, and by the end I’m blown away by what she has created. I’ve had parents tell me that they never knew their daughter was so talented.”
When Marion started teaching at MBC in August 1983, her classroom was in Deming’s attic, but had to move to an SMA building to accommodate 20 students. Her next move was to the swimming pool in that building (which she loved) and, after that, there was a short stint high up in the attic of Little House. Her final home was a medium sized room in the basement of Pearce.
“I was a little apprehensive about moving into Pearce because of its biology focus,” Marion said. “But I will never forget the first day I walked into the science center basement entrance and turned the corner and saw a sign on my door that said, ‘Welcome Sue Marion, Artist-in-Residence at Pearce.’ It made me feel so welcome and I wanted to live up to their expectations and make sure art was a viable academic subject in that building.”
Marion incorporates all subjects into art education. When she teaches Georgia O’Keefe, she doesn’t just teach the students how to draw the flower, she wants to make sure that they know each part of the flower’s the scientific names. She doesn’t just focus on shading when she teaches about O’Keefe’s bone sketches; she also works in a small anatomy lesson. She also uses the work of M.C. Escher to teach math.
“Sue has a gift for showing new teachers how they can unlock doors to all content areas by placing art in the center of the curriculum,” said Nicole Oechslin, former associate professor of education. “She has been a devoted mentor to elementary and art education students especially in their student teaching experiences.”
Marion has no regrets about her life so far. To her success is not measured by awards, degrees, or recognition from anyone but her students. Perhaps that’s why she was so touched when the students chose her to be the speaker for Charter Day in 2000.
Marion has been approached to continue teaching workshops in local schools, but for now, her plans focus on taking a break — and creating wonderful memories as “Grandmother Sasue.”