Fitze helps people in Guatemalan town

Melchora and Betty, preschool teachers in Santiago de Atitlan, Guatemala, hold supplies delivered by Dr. Judy Royer (left)
and Susan Kinsel ’69 Fitze. A retired kindergarten teacher and MU trustee, Fitze is a co-founder of the nonprofit BEAMS
in Guatemala (Beads for Educational Artisans and Medial Support). 

Sometimes the best turns in life aren’t the ones we seek, but the ones that find us. Ask Susan Kinsel ’69 Fitze.

Fitze, of New Lebanon, Ohio, is a co-founder of the nonprofit BEAMS in Guatemala (Beads for Educational Artisans and Medial Support), which provides some income for indigenous Mayan artisans in Santiago de Atitlan, Guatemala, and supplies for a hospital, two preschools and a children’s library.

“I thought it was just a one-time thing,” says Fitze. “But I went and I fell in love with this little town in Guatemala and with the people.”

The story begins at Manchester years ago, where Fitze’s son, Chris Fitze ’98, roomed with Chris Royer ’99, son of Dr. Judy Royer, an emergency room physician. Royer and her sister, a physical therapist, made regular trips to Santiago Atitlan to provide health services and, says Fitze, “they fell in love with the place.” Eight years ago, Royer invited Fitze to come along and she was hooked, too.

The women bring back the artisans’ beaded jewelry and sell it at church bazaars and festivals within driving distance of their Ohio homes. About three times a year, they return to Guatemala with earnings that help the artisans support their families. They also take medical and educational supplies for the hospitals, preschools and library. Fitze assists Dr. Royer with wellness exams by weighing and measuring the children.

“It fell in my lap in retirement. I never dreamed of such a thing,” says Susan. “The women and children that we work with are so warm and loving. I can’t even begin to tell you what wonderful people they are.”

Fitze’s spirit of service was cultivated from birth. She grew up in the Church of the Brethren and calls Manchester “a family tradition.” Her parents, an aunt and uncle, and her brother and sister attended Manchester. Most of them became educators, though her dad later answered the call to ministry. 

A sociology and English major, Fitze began her career as a social worker in Maryland, where she lived with her husband, Neal, a, Bridgewater College graduate.  She experienced an epiphany of sorts when she transferred from a job helping the elderly to a daycare center for children of single mothers. “I discovered that I loved teaching,” says Fitze. 

It changed the course of her life.

The Fitzes moved to southern Ohio, where Susan continued social work and started her family. After earning her teaching certification at Wright State University in Dayton, she taught for more than 22 years, mostly kindergarten in a neighborhood of low-income families. “It was very rewarding,” she says.

Today, in addition to her BEAMS in Guatemala work, Fitze enjoys the time she can spend with family. Chris, his spouse Jessica Eller ’98 and their two sons live in Portland, Me., while daughter Megan Fitze ’04 lives with her spouse and son in Columbus, Ohio. 

Fitze also gives back to the “family tradition” by serving on MU’s Board of Trustees. She values Manchester’s beautiful campus, welcoming atmosphere, and faculty who really care about students as people. “I have lifelong friends from my time at Manchester and so do both of my children,” says Fitze. “There’s a real sense of community there.”

By Melinda Lantz ’81