A jewel of a business: Sue Salzwedel makes jewelry, operates home-staging enterprise in spare timeOKABENA — Instead of jewelry, it might have been more prudent for Sue Salzwedel to go into crafting hats, since she wears so many herself.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
OKABENA — Instead of jewelry, it might have been more prudent for Sue Salzwedel to go into crafting hats, since she wears so many herself.
First of all, she’s a wife and mother to three, headquartered in rural Okabena. Outside of the home, her main occupation is as a homeownership educator with Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership. But she also teaches courses in developmental English at the college level.
In her spare time, Sue fabricates jewelry through an enterprise she calls Sue B Honey Originals Jewelry and also runs a home-staging business, Staging by Design.
Sue is the second child of seven born to Ray and Monica Bratsch. She grew up on an acreage outside of Worthington and graduated in 1982 from Worthington High School. At Winona State University, she earned a degree in education and then was accepted into a program that allowed her to immediately pursue a master’s degree while she was teaching.
“I taught in Rochester while I was going for my master’s,” she said about the program that included a mentoring component. “It was a great way to get a master’s degree, although I was pretty sick of school. Because of doing it that way, I had five years’ worth of experience in that one year.”
While attending a WHS classmate’s wedding, Sue met husbandto-be Alan Salzwedel, who had grown up in Lakefield and was the groom’s cousin.
“We met and got married in one year,” Sue detailed. “We met Sept. 5, 1986, and got married Sept. 4, 1987. At the time, Alan was in Arkansas, working as a radio announcer. We didn’t have e-mail back then, so we had to call each other after 11 at night — because, remember, that was when the rates changed? And we wrote a lot of letters. We have two boxes of letters from each other, and each year on our anniversary, we pull out a couple of letters and read them.
“I think it was God’s hand,” Sue reflected about the long-distance relationship. “It shouldn’t have worked. I was planning to go and live in Arkansas, but he said if I could get a job in Lakefield, that he’d come back and farm.”
At the time, the Arkansas station where Alan worked had a country music format; three months after he left, it switched to a black urban sound.
“So he would have been without a job anyway. My parents had already moved to North Carolina at the time, but his family was here, so this was home for us.”
Initially, the Salzwedels lived in a small house in Lakefield, but eventually they moved to the acreage in rural Okabena which they now call home.
“It’s 13 miles from the farm — his mom still lives out there,” Sue noted. “So we both commute to work, and the kids go to school in Okabena.”
Daughter Brenna, 19, is now a student on an honors scholarship at Missouri Western State University. Daughter Arianna is 16, and son Clay, 15.
For seven years, Sue taught in Lakefield, mostly at the secondgrade level. But three babies arriving in the span of four years prompted her decision to become a stay-at-home mom.
“I stayed home for a year, then I got sick, had kidney stones that had to be lasered, and because we had poor insurance, it cost us thousands,” she said. “So I had to go back to work, so I started part-time in Worthington with adult education.”
Through District 518 Community Education, Sue taught a variety of courses, including advanced English as a second language, literacy and computer training.
“I taught at the jail and achieved a high number of GEDs,” she noted. “Because they are there, they show up every time, so many left with a diploma when they got out. It gave them better opportunities for jobs. I probably pushed a few students harder than they wanted to work in jail.”
Needing a change of pace after 11 years in adult education, Sue briefly worked in marketing and editing before signing on for her current position with SWMHP.
“It’s a perfect fit,” she said. “I get to teach, and I get to help people. I think teaching and helping people are the two things I’m about, and I do have an interest in real estate.
“The idea of home ownership is such a pride thing, and a stabilization thing for families,” she continued. “I like to be working with families with that goal. In hindsight, I think this is the way things were meant to be. Everything I did before prepared me for this position.”
As a home ownership educator, Sue travels a wide area of southwest Minnesota to teach the Home Stretch classes required for some first-time home buyers by some mortgage lenders.
“We are here to help people realize their dream of homeownership,” said Sue during an earlier interview to promote the HomeStretch initiative. “We provide a nationally certified class that is really for anyone who thinks they’re going to own a home, even if not this year, but sometime in the future. … Participants who aren’t sure if they’re ready for ownership sometimes find out that they are already in a position to start considering home ownership. It’s exciting to help them realize the dream.”
Sue prefers to work part-time because it allows her to continue other endeavors, such as teaching at Minnesota West.
“It’s developmental English,” she said about the college course, which switches focus every semester. “This semester, it’s reading and writing. I developed the curriculum, which is ESL-based. It’s for students or potential students at the college, to see if they have the skills to be at the college level. I’ve been doing it for about 10 years.”
Although she loves teaching, Sue found that she needed an outlet for her creative talents, so Sue B Honey came into being about seven years ago.
“Our kids went to parochial school, and I wanted to give the teachers a special gift, so I started making jewelry for them,” she explained. “That led me to buy more beads, more supplies, but I was still doing it exclusively as gifts. I had such a huge inventory that my husband suggested I should sell some of it, so I started doing a few craft shows a year.”
Sue has also marketed her wares on the retail level, and recently began selling through Schafer’s Health Center in Worthington, which has expanded into some boutique items to fill a niche in the community.
“I’ve been doing a lot of custom work,” added Sue. “People will say, ‘I like this color. I like this style,’ and I’ll make one or two. People know they can call me to do wedding jewelry, prom jewelry.”
And prior to February each year, Sue undertakes one big commission job for her father, fabricating jewelry pieces for him to give all the women in his life for Valentine’s Day.
“Each year, I have a theme for that,” Sue noted. “Next year, my parents will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and I want to do something with mom’s wedding dress; they’ll all get a piece of mom’s wedding dress somehow.”
The Internet has provided Sue with another outlet for selling her creations. In addition to a Facebook presence, she maintains an online shop on etsy.com, a website that specializes in handmade goods (http://www.etsy.com/shop/suebhoney).
“It’s a place for my family and friends to go” in order to view her latest creations, Sue noted, although her work does get purchased by strangers via the website.
“If I don’t renew things every day, it doesn’t get noticed,” she said. “People who are really serious about it put something new up every hour in order to get on the first 25 pages of listing. I just do it to display my work.”
Because she likes to work in a variety of art forms, Sue finds it hard to characterize her creations. She hasn’t learned to fuse glass or forge metal, but she’ll try her hand at just about anything else, including polymer clay and wire wrapping.
“My style is I don’t have a style,” she said. “Something will just catch my eye, and I will experiment with it until I find something I like. I try to make something that will get noticed. My sister who lives in New Jersey, she has a piece that every time she wears it, somebody comments on it, and in New Jersey, she says nobody comments.”
Most of Sue’s profits from Sue B Honey go back into the business, funding her bead-buying habits, and she donates many pieces to worthwhile organizations.
“I do charity pieces, mostly for schools — education things and benefits,” she said. “I always make a piece specifically for that benefit. That’s my fun, too. I’ll look at the theme and design a specific piece to fit it.”
Because she knows women like to switch out their jewelry, she prices her creations accordingly.
“I like to keep them reasonable, so if you get tired of wearing it, you don’t feel like you have to wear it for the rest of your life,” she said. “And I like to make things to match what I wear. I have to display what I make. It’s all a lot of fun.”
Sue’s other sideline, Staging by Design, provides the opportunity to dabble in another passion — home décor.
“In a buyer’s market, homes need to look move-in ready,” she explained. “People need to simplify and organize their spaces. As a consultant, my time is what they pay for. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see, with fresh eyes, how to create a different look for the house.”
Most often that entails decluttering and depersonalizing a space so the buyers can envision themselves living there. A self-proclaimed “organizational freak,” Sue shares her expertise in accomplishing those tasks as well as providing notes on improving the décor on a limited budget.
“One- to $200 can give it a finished look,” she stressed. “The little things can make a big difference in how you sell your home.”
Time for togetherness
With so many things going on in her life, Sue has become an expert juggler — keeping many balls in the air at once. It’s a trait she shares with husband Alan. In addition to farming with his brother, he owns a marketing agency and does voiceover work for radio productions; operates two message-on-hold businesses; is part-owner of two eye clinics for which he oversees management and marketing; has been the director of their church choir (in which Sue sings, of course) for 20 years; and is a volunteer basketball coach.
With such a whirlwind of activities on both their schedules, Sue and Alan have to find dedicated time together.
“We golf,” said Sue. “We decided to do that together eight years ago. I took classes, because I was horrible. Now I call myself a pro duffer — a little bit above a duffer. In the summer, we play couples league every week. That’s our social event.”
Although their lives may be a bit hectic at times, Sue stresses that it’s all about organization and achieving harmony between personal and professional obligations.
“If I worked full-time, I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I do,” she said. “I had to learn to balance everything and still have time for myself.”