The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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February 14, 2014

Communities rally around Wolfe family

CLINTON — Every flashing photo and video told a story.

The slideshow of wide smiles, family portraits and adventure painted a picture of the lives of Sarah and Susan Wolfe.

A steady stream of people paid their respects Thursday during a visitation for Suzy and Sarah at Jesus Christ Prince of Peace Church in Clinton.

Suzy and Sarah were shot to death last Friday at their home in East Liberty, Pa., and since then, the message of community has resonated across the country.

(For the Clinton Herald's entire coverage of the Wolfe sisters' story, click here)

Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith traveled to Clinton on Thursday in support of the Wolfe family and of his colleague in the Iowa House of Representatives, Clinton's Rep. Mary Wolfe, a sister of the two women.

"I know Mary has appreciated all of our support," said Smith about Suzy and Sarah's oldest sister. "All week long people have been asking about Mary, and people have communicated as much as they can."

Six hundred miles away in Pittsburgh, one of Sarah's colleagues set up a memorial fund. Tracy Protell began taking donations Monday. By Thursday night, the fund had reached $12,510 of the $20,000 goal.

"The loss of our friend was senseless and tragic and left many of us wanting to do something," Protell said in a post on the memorial's website. "This fund is being set up with the goal of helping her family through this very difficult time and hopefully creating a scholarship in her name and for her memory. Sarah touched all our lives and nothing will make her loss better, but I hope we can carry on her spirit of giving and caring so much for others."

More than 130 people have donated to the memorial.

At the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad opened his weekly news conference Monday offering condolences, and the Iowa House and Senate observed a moment of silence.

"It demonstrates that although we have differences on issues sometimes in the Legislature, we always have regard for the person," Smith said.

Despite the outpouring of condolences from those communities, the most support of all has been generated in Clinton.

Former Rep. Polly Bukta, a Democrat from Clinton who recruited Mary to take her seat in 2010, said the area has rallied around the Wolfe family.

"I think the support around town has been marvelous," Bukta said. "From what I have heard from the Wolfes and neighbors, it's just been overwhelming. They're very grateful for it."

The Wolfes' roots run deep in the Democratic Party.

Jack Wolfe, Suzy and Sarah's father, came to Clinton in 1975 as Clinton's first public defender. His family soon followed him here, with seven of the children graduating from Mater Dei High School, and Sarah as the lone Clinton High School graduate.

During those years, the family became involved in the political scene, with Jack serving as chairman of the county's Democratic Party.

Current Democratic Party Chairwoman Jean Pardee said the family has been involved in many ways during the years, with Jack spearheading most of the efforts.

"When Mary was recruited to run for the Legislature, she used her father a lot, with him driving her around and getting signs out," said Pardee, a 14-year chairwoman. "Jack has been an amazing adviser for the county party for as long as I've been around."

Mom Pierrette has helped with organizing and Suzy was always willing to help Mary along with her campaign at every stop.

Bukta said Suzy joined parades and set up fundraisers for Mary. Her goal, Bukta said, was to do anything to get Mary elected.

"This has always fit into their philosophy of helping people and how much they believe in that," Pardee said. "That's why Jack was a public defender. He really believes that everybody deserves a lawyer and a fair hearing."

That connection to the Democrats, along with the community, has generated several requests to Pardee on how people can help. Plenty of food has been given to the Wolfes, and Pardee has fielded phone calls and emails on how people can help.

And while Pardee believes the gestures are great, there's not much people can do now to alleviate the family's pain.

"Most of us who have experienced family loss know that (the support) has to continue," Pardee said. "We have to be there for them for some time in the future. It doesn't just go away because the funeral is over."

For Bukta, the pain of seeing a tragedy happen like this to a family so close to her is something she cannot understand.

"I just keep thinking how sad I am that bad things happen to such good people," Bukta said. "To me it's very sad. That's the thing that has been running through my mind, and they are truly good people and they hold no grudge against this person or persons."

The funeral service for Suzy and Sarah took place today at the church.


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