By Anthony D. Ávila
Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Rehabilitation senior Kyle Mutz lifts weights at the new Disability Resource Center yesterday afternoon. Mutz is a member of the UA wheelchair track team, and was part of the U.S. Paralympic team that competed in Helsinki, Finland, over the summer. The new DRC opened last year in Highland Commons.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, October 27, 2005
Disability specialist's final wish establishes fund to help students
A retired UA disability specialist who had a passion for mentoring students died last month, but students can still be influenced by her work through a scholarship that she left behind.
Sue Wilemon, who worked at the UA from 1983 to 2002, died at University Medical Center Sept. 21 after a brief struggle with gallbladder cancer. She was 68.
One of her last wishes was to have donations made in her memory distributed in a way that would benefit students with learning disabilities, said her daughter Amy Wilemon.
Numerous people have donated to the Susan Williams Wilemon Memorial Scholarship fund, said Ken Bacher, the director of the UA scholarship development office, but he could not provide an exact figure of the award because donations are still being made.
Once organizers set eligibility requirements for the scholarship and other details, the money will go into a specified account and could be awarded as early as spring, Bacher said.
The scholarship fund is significant because 75 percent of the 1,500 DRC students have learning disabilities, even though they receive the fewest scholarships, said Christine Salvesen, assistant director of the Disability Resource Center.
Salvesen, who knew Wilemon as a student and later as a co-worker, said the scholarship is a testament to the specialist's lifelong passion to encourage and motivate students.
When Wilemon needed to find work after a divorce in her 30s, she was inspired to use her education degree to help others in need after watching her younger brother struggle with dyslexia, Amy Wilemon said.
Wilemon later came to the UA in 1983 and was the first employee of the SALT Center, a tutoring service for students with learning disabilities, before moving to the DRC in 1993, said Ellen Walters, a DRC disability specialist who worked alongside of Wilemon for almost 20 years.
After Wilemon retired, she continued to tutor and mentor UA students as an independent consultant, providing resources regardless of cost or convenience, Walters said.
For donations to the
Susan Williams Wilemon Memorial Scholarship
Make checks payable to:
Send to address:
Scholarship Development Office
1111 N. Cherry Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85721
For more information about the scholarship call 621-1029
"She would take students under her wing, literally," Walters said. "She would house them if necessary or hire them to do yard work if money was an issue, which many times it was."
Wilemon helped the "neediest of the needy" and always made students feel comfortable while still holding them to a high standard, Salvesen said.
Students whose lives were touched by Wilemon throughout the years sent e-mails, left voice mails or visited her during her last month in the hospital.
Walters' eyes watered as she replayed a voice mail in her office of an alumnus who called 10 years after he graduated to say he heard Wilemon was sick and wanted her to know how much she meant to him.
Reuben Naranjo, an American Indian studies graduate student, said he wouldn't have finished his bachelor's degree and continued to graduate school if it weren't for Wilemon's unconditional support.
Naranjo, diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder in 1998, said after he struggled on his own for 10 years to finish his undergraduate degree, Wilemon's understanding helped him address the challenges of his learning disability.
Naranjo said when he visited Wilemon days before her death, she was making phone calls from her hospital bed to check up on students and make sure others were OK.
"She was an incredible person, and there are few people like her," Naranjo said. "It was a sad day when she retired from DRC but even more so when she left this world, because she helped so many people."
Dalia Lockhart, an alumna who now counsels student dropouts, was tutored and mentored by Wilemon from 1988 to 1994 and lived with her after graduating until she could get back on her feet.
"She always favored the kids that nobody quite believed in, who didn't seem like they would amount to anything," Lockhart said. "And I'm one of those kids."