Susanne Murphy’s heart of gold spreads kindness to all

WORTHINGTON -- When Susanne Murphy arrived in Worthington in 1979, she brought with her a suitcase, a bicycle and hands ready to help friends in need.

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Susanne Murphy and her chocolate lab, Mocha, take a break at her rural Worthington home. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - When Susanne Murphy arrived in Worthington in 1979, she brought with her a suitcase, a bicycle and hands ready to help friends in need.

It was love that kept her here.

Susanne grew up in Illinois, graduated from college in LeMars, Iowa, and planned to attend grad school for guidance counseling. Plans, however, have a way of changing.

She was 12 days shy of gaining residency in Colorado - a requirement for grad school - when she received a phone call from friends in Worthington. They had opened a restaurant and needed help. It was supposed to be temporary.

“And then I met Tom Murphy, fell in love and never went back,” Susanne said. “I called my sister and said, ‘You can have whatever you want. I’m in love, and I’m staying here.’”


The two met when Tom walked into the steakhouse one night.

“I looked into his eyes and I felt like I knew him,” she said. They were married for 20 years.

“It’s a good story, but I’d have wrote a lot more pages. This March will be 20 years that he’s gone already.”

Tom died March 9, 1998, leaving Susanne heartbroken and suddenly in charge of her husband’s business, TR Murphy Contracting.

“He might have left me, but he left me with a good crew, a good reputation, a good fleet of equipment,” she said. “I had a meeting with the guys and said, ‘I believe we can do this.’ For 17 years, we did.”

Not only did Susanne take the reins of her husband’s company, she also had her own business to lead. In 1991, she started Worthington Excavating under the umbrella of TR Murphy. As a female in a male-dominated industry, she formed her company as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, which she likened to an insurance policy.

“I always said I didn’t really need to be an excavator, I was more of a motivator,” she said. “I move the men, and the men move the dirt. That’s how we did it.

“I always knew if I wanted the moon, those men would go get it for me, but I didn’t want the moon, I just wanted to move some dirt,” she added with a laugh.


Susanne sold the company in 2014 to Duininck Inc., on three conditions - it kept the business in Worthington, kept everyone on the payroll (her included) and honored the relationships she had with contractors in the community.

“It’s been a great move,” she said.

These days, Susanne’s role in the business is public relations. She makes contacts and plants the seed for business opportunities within a 60-mile radius of Worthington, and she doesn’t plan to retire.

“I’m always going to do something,” she said. “I’m having fun doing volunteer work while I’m working. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Passion for others Following Tom’s death, Susanne filled the tremendous void in her life by volunteering in the community.

“I realized the best medicine for me was to do something for somebody else,” she said. “That’s what filled me up the most. Then the list happened.”

The list is something Susanne created when she was honored with First State Bank Southwest’s 2017 Community Pride Award. It identifies her involvement with King Turkey Day, Sunset Hospice Cottage, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pat’s (a young widows group), the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce, her church, a handful of outdoors organizations and numerous other committees.

What the list fails to mention are the random acts of kindness Susanne delivers on a daily basis - like the time she gave the coat off her back to a woman walking in a blizzard, or the days she spent painting rooms in a house for a family displaced in a Christmas Day fire. Last fall, she organized a donation drive for Hurricane Harvey relief, encouraging the community to fill a semi trailer with food, water, household supplies and money. Smith Trucking owners Phil and Rita Smith hauled the load to Cuero, Texas.


Earlier this year, Susanne coordinated a fundraiser for the Feit Club to help friend and fellow King Turkey Day family member Traci Feit, who is battling cancer.

If someone is in need, Susanne finds a way to help.

“I always believe you should never pass up an opportunity to help someone,” she said.

“Susanne is a tremendous asset to the community given that she’s got such a kind and generous heart,” shared Colleen Bents. “She’s always the first person, when there’s a need, asking ‘How can I help?’ She puts her heart and soul into an effort to make sure it’s a success.”

A few years ago, Susanne created a young widows group after a fellow widow asked Susanne to accompany her to a support group meeting.

“We were the only ones that weren’t over 80,” Susanne said. “We thought this maybe wasn’t our fit, so we called some other young widows and got together to talk.”

She’d found another way to make an impact - to help people in need. Susanne calls it a God thing.

“We’re not real organized, but we know we’re safe to cry and laugh and pray and eat - and cry and laugh some more,” she said. The core group numbers a dozen, but another 20 to 30 women have reached out to Susanne in search of some help along their journey.

“Susanne does a lot for so many people that I feel very fortunate that I’m one of the lucky recipients,” said Robyn Moser, who found comfort in the widows group after the death of her husband a year ago. “As Susanne says, we’re all on a different journey and nobody’s journey is the same. It’s nice to be around people who share those experiences - they can give you advice, be someone to lean on. We all need that at certain times and Susanne makes that real easy. She is definitely a caring and giving person.”

After her own 20-year journey as a widow, Susanne said she didn’t know she could continue to heal, but she has.

“That group has meant the world to me,” she said. “I’d really like to organize, a couple of times a year, (a gathering) to reach out to others. It’s a tough group to belong to; there’s so many hurting people out there that don’t know where to go.”

Susanne, who as a young woman thought of going into the ministry, now realizes she’s doing what she always wanted to do - she just took a different path to get there.

“I do have my own ministry,” she said. “God has put certain people in my life at certain times. I’ve just been open enough to realize it, accept it and love it and that’s what keeps me going.

“I give it all to God.”

A heart for hospice Of all the things Susanne is involved in, volunteering with Worthington’s Sunset Hospice Cottage is among the most fulfilling.

As the owner of an excavating company when the cottage was built, Susanne was asked to serve on the land acquisition committee.

“I loved trying to find the right place to make a vision come true,” she said. “All of the contractors in the area pulled together and made it happen.”

Susanne has served on the cottage’s board of directors for nine years, and joined the Christmas House Walk - one of the major fundraisers for the cottage - decorating committee last year.

Deb Scheidt has served alongside Susanne on the board since 2015.

“In the few years that I have known Susanne I have witnessed first hand her passion for service to our community. No matter what she is involved in she approaches it with energy, a strong heart, a listening ear and a positive attitude,” Scheidt said. “Our community is the recipient of her countless volunteer hours, hard work, enthusiasm and immeasurable caring acts that she so effortlessly gives. She is appreciated by all. She makes a difference!”

Susanne said that as she was working to find the ideal location for the cottage, she’d prayed that was as close to hospice as she’d get.

“But my prayers brought me closer,” she added. “I’ve had a lot of friends walk through those doors.”

Friends in all places Susanne’s zest for life originates with her parents - her mom was active in the community, whether it was church, 4-H or school, and had a wonderful ability to love and care for others. From her dad, she inherited a sense of humor.

“When I was growing up, my mom always said when you give something away, it comes back tenfold,” she said. “That’s what community involvement has done for me.

“Sit through a couple meetings and all of a sudden you’ve got 20 new friends - and food,” she added with a laugh.

“The Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce has been very fortunate to have her as one of our volunteers,” said Executive Director Darlene Macklin, detailing Susanne’s involvement on the board of directors, including her years as a Chamber ambassador, and service on the Community Image and Events committees.

Macklin calls Susanne an angel for everything she does to help people.

“It is incredible how she has time to volunteer in our community, work a full-time job and still help people,” Macklin said. “The world needs more people like her.”

With her chamber involvement, Susanne has volunteered with the city’s annual King Turkey Day celebration for nearly a decade. She was KTD president in 2014, then a member of the winning Paycheck race team in 2015 and 2016.

More important than winning, she said, is the friendship.

“I have a sister down there (in Cuero) - a sister from a different mother - and it’s all because two turkeys raced,” Susanne said.

Life is what you make it “Friends, faith and family - that’s what I’m all about - and chocolate labs,” Susanne said.

In the last year, she has lost two of her beloved labs - Bailey and Bingo. It was Bingo, the energetic young pup whose antics led to her own Facebook page, that captured the hearts of many.

When Bingo died at 10 months, Susanne printed cards and bracelets encouraging people to “Be Like Bingo” - to have a love for life and not take any day for granted. She sent 125 of those cards and bracelets to a nursing home in California after learning the residents had been following Bingo’s page.

“They printed out all of Bingo’s pictures and put them on a wall,” Susanne shared. “The residents would wheelchair up to that wall every day and they’d tell stories about Bingo like she was their own. It gave them a reason and brought a smile to their face and to their heart.”

It was another God thing.

“My mom and dad were in a nursing home, so I could just imagine the smiles (Bingo delivered). It was the most innocent, random thing.”

Susanne has a new pup to keep her company these days - Mocha.

“Every morning I wake up and tell Mocha, ‘This is going to be the best day ever!’” Those are the same words she said to Bingo.

Life is easier with a positive attitude.

“When I couldn’t sleep after Tom died, I trained myself to think of the best thing that happened to me that day and the thing I was looking forward to the most the next day,” Susanne said. “That put me at peace, and I could start to sleep again. I conditioned myself to think good things.”

Susanne lives her life not by seeing age, gender or color, but by seeing heart in others. She sees peace in each day’s setting sun and knows who to thank.

“I’m still not very good at letting go, but that’s the price we pay for loving,” Susanne said. “That’s what grief is and I’d rather love.

“I’d like to see people open their hearts and minds more to each other,” she added. “Everybody has a story.”

As for Susanne’s story?

“I’m just me, and that’s all I want to be.”

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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