The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

February 12, 2014

Wolfe family remembers Susan and Sarah

By Scott Levine
Associate Editor

CLINTON — Susan and Sarah Wolfe were always considered the little sisters.

Sarah would follow around her older sister Jenny, assisting in the record distribution company as a grade schooler. Suzy would find ways to help her older siblings, just to catch a moment of their time.

Helping others came easy to the two sisters.

Sarah spent five years caring for older sister Mary's son, thinking Mary was doing her a favor by letting her help raise John.

Suzy would lend her vehicle to her neighbors while teaching in the Chicago Schools system.

That's just the way Jack and Pierrette Wolfe raised their children — all eight of them to be exact.

And when Sarah and Suzy were found shot to death Friday in their home in East Liberty, Pa., the Clinton and Pittsburgh community have rallied around a family that was taught long ago about the importance of helping others.

"I am grateful for the hundreds of people that have reached out to me, just to let me know they are thinking of me and my whole family," said Iowa Rep. Mary Wolfe, the oldest of the Wolfe siblings. "That means so much to me and I'm proud to be representing such loving and compassionate people."

No arrests have been made in what Pittsburgh police are calling a homicide.

The incident has been difficult to process for the family, and for Pierrette, the situation doesn't seem real.

"I'm surprised I can keep functioning," Pierrette said. "I'm surprised I'm not totally falling apart. It might hit me later. And I guess, I also have the feeling that lots of people in this world suffer and have horrible things happen to them. We're not immune."

With that suffering comes a possibility of seeing the person or people responsible for this crime.

It would be easy to want vengeance. It would be easy to feel anger. It would be easy to hate.

Those attitudes wouldn't honor Sarah and Suzy, the family said.

"They were so compassionate," Mary said. "They were the first ones to give someone the benefit of the doubt. They believed in second chances and they would want us to forgive.

"They would want us to move on and not waste time hating whoever did this."

A life of service

It wasn't always easy for Sarah and Suzy.

They struggled. At times, there were serious struggles with mental health.

That didn't deter them. They coped and eventually used those trials as launching pads for successful careers.

"They both overcame it," Jack said. "In Sarah's case, she overcame it and became an outstanding doctor. She's a symbol that people shouldn't give up on their dreams or on their lives or on their selves if they do have mental illness or depression."

Sarah graduated from Clinton High School, and eventually earned a Masters of Public Health in 2004 and a MD from the University of Iowa in 2007. She recently completed her residency of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

A career in medicine wasn't always in Sarah's sights.

It wasn't until late in college that she decided she would enter the medical field. Despite being later to the field, it didn't diminish her aptitude toward psychiatry.

"She was 26 years old and started taking calculus and organic biology," older brother John said.

At one point, a professor was so delighted with one of Sarah's responses to a calculus question, the teacher posted the answer on the door for all the students to see.

"She turned out to be a brilliant, accomplished person," John said. "She was so understated, you wouldn't know it."

For Suzy, her passion gave way to a life of service.

Much like Sarah, she loved her nieces and nephews, and cats. Her passion extended to politics, labor organizations and to teaching, something that she had just traveled to Pennsylvania to do.

Before becoming a teaching assistant at the Hillel Academy in Pittsburgh, Suzy's life was spent on and off in Clinton, showcasing her love of children and making a difference.

"She had this powerful joy that would come bubbling up, and she would have this explosive laughter," John said. "And kids responded to it. She wasn't pretending to like what they liked. She loved it."

Suzy graduated from Mater Dei High School in Clinton (now Prince of Peace) before earning a B.A. in English from the University of Iowa in 1999 and a B.A. with Honors in Elementary Education from Mount St. Clare College in December 2001.

And although both of them had the degrees for success and high status, neither one cared about those symbols, the family said.

Suzy didn't want a job where she wasn't helping someone. Sarah would go to the doctor's lounge to heat up soup for a family in need.

Those are the ways the Wolfe family is remembering the two sisters before visitation Thursday and the funeral service Friday.

"I was gone before they hit grade school and I am just amazed to learn so much about them," Mary said. "I wish I had known these things when they were alive so that I could tell them how incredible they were and how proud we are of them. We're blown away of how proud we are of them."

Family and friends will have the opportunity to bid farewell to the sisters and show support for the family from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday at Prince of Peace Church, with a reception following at the Wild Rose Casino and Resort.

The funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the church.

That will give the family one last chance to say goodbye to the little sisters that Jack and Pierette raised.

"Suzy and Sarah adopted that condition on life of you do what you can do for people," Mary said. "For family, you take care of them, and put them first and that's what our parents always did for us. And I'm proud that Suzy and Sarah clearly went out in the world and did the same thing. They didn't have children to take care of on their own, but they took care of so many people on their own."