B.S., Portland State University, Ore., 1977; Director of Admissions, Thomas Aquinas College (1979–2004); Director of Gift Planning (2004-)
Looking back at how his career at Thomas Aquinas College came about, Tom Susanka muses, “It was because of my sloth.”
Because his father had a job that bounced the family all over the western states, Tom had gone to 10 schools before the family settled in Portland, Ore., where he found himself a sophomore at Portland State University. He was listlessly pursuing a pre-dental program and trying to find an easy elective during registration one term. He picked up a piece of literature off the gym floor describing a course on “Survey of Musical Literature,” taught by one Dr. Molly Gustin. He thought, “That looks easy enough for me; it’s at a time when I can sleep in, and the name ‘Gustin’ reminds me of a St. Augustine’s school I once attended.” The enrollment changed his life.
Dr. Gustin’s course was riveting as she challenged Tom with evidence that reason was the key to understanding life. He then took her courses in philosophy and music theory. One day in his junior year, she announced she would not be at class the following week. She had been invited to give a lecture at a brand new school, Thomas Aquinas College. She returned from her visit animated.
Soon afterward, Dr. Ronald P. McArthur, the College’s founding president, came to Portland to give a talk about the College. Tom attended and, in turn, also became animated. That fall of 1972 Dr. Gustin came to the College as a tutor and Tom came to the College as a student.
Tom absorbed the College program. But midway through, and now in his mid-20s, his attraction for classmate Therese Rioux made him reflect on how he might hurry and settle down, complete a degree, and come back to the College to work or teach. He married Therese, moved back to Portland State, finished his degree, and started a master’s program in biology.
But in the course of his graduate studies, College Chaplain and Tutor Fr. Thomas McGovern, S.J., asked Mr. Susanka if he would come interview for the position of Admissions Director. Mr. Susanka jumped at the opportunity. Sporting a heavy beard, he met Fr. McGovern at the airport. The facial hair was needed, he explained, to hide his youthful appearance while student-teaching. “Great beard, but it’s got to go before you meet the hiring committee,” warned Fr. McGovern, who lent him his razor as soon as they got on campus. Mr. Susanka shaved and got the job. That was 1979. He’s been clean-shaven since.
Thanks to Mr. Susanka’s work as Admissions Director, hundreds of young men and women received the good fortune of being recruited to the College, something he found to be indescribably satisfying. In 2004, having firmly established the College’s Admissions program, Mr. Susanka undertook a new challenge by becoming the Director of Planned Giving. He now continues to help young people receive the gift of a Catholic liberal education by working with the generous benefactors who make it possible.
Mr. Susanka sees divine comedy at work in his professional journey. “I am your classic case of someone who came, unexpectedly, to good things for absolutely trivial reasons. I am forever thankful that I picked up Molly Gustin’s schedule off that gym floor.”