Person of the Week
Marie Sunderland: Nearly a Century of Ongoing Service
Marie Sunderland has spent her life as an educator, a social worker, and a volunteer for St. Clare’s Church, a church she has known since its founding. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier)
With the help of her education and her faith, Marie Sunderland, 98, has spent her adult life helping other people.
Marie says her own childhood was a good one and she likes to find a way to give back some of what she’d had. She grew up in the Bronx with her parents, her brother, and three sisters.
Marie’s father, a deputy chief at the fire department, encouraged her to go to college. Her first degree was in sociology, but she later went to Fordham University to earn a degree in social work, which she practiced during World War II in New York through Catholic charities.
Though her career changed to teaching when she came to East Haven, Marie finds ways to help people even today.
“I’m still a social worker because some of the girls who come in here talk to me about their personal life and I try to give them [advice],” Marie says. “I like to help people.”
One of the women who helps her in her home has even returned to school after Marie advised her to do so.
“I try to be a good listener, which is hard for me,” Marie says. “People love to talk about their own problems and you learn in social work school that you have to be a good listener.”
Marie became a teacher after her adopted son, Daniel, entered school. She started out as a substitute before earning her teaching certificate from Southern Connecticut State University and going on to teach kindergarten and 3rd grade at D.C. Moore where she would teach for 25 years.
Even with all her education, Marie was responsible for a lot of “zipped coats and opened milk cartons” she says. “But I like teaching.”
“I love the 3rd grade…They were a little mature. They could work on their own, really,” she says. “I liked [teaching] more than social work because you weren’t always dealing with problems.”
When she was still working in New York, Marie met her late husband, Danny, at a party he was attending only because he was stuck in town after a snow storm.
“I was going with another fella. He hadn’t called for New Year’s Eve. Danny asked me out…When [the other guy] called, I said I was already busy,” Marie says.
The couple was married in New York, but soon moved from the Bronx to Connecticut where Danny worked for Coca Cola. Marie’s home in East Haven was, at one time, her husband’s family summer home. After some remodeling, they moved in.
“[Danny] came up here and he told me before we were married that when he could make a connection on a job, he was moving to Connecticut, so it was no surprise to me,” Marie says.
Marie has lived here for more than 60 years. She became involved with St. Clare’s Church by way of the Women’s Club, for which she was secretary. Soon, Marie’s husband also got involved with the church and they both began to volunteer.
“We used to give so much a week and then we’d have dinner and a dance every year and we would always go,” Marie says. “Both of us really were Catholics who practiced.”
With St. Clare’s, Marie would help out by cooking for the homeless. Together, she and her husband did a lot of volunteer work.
“The ladies loved my husband because he would wash the pots,” Marie says.
Danny also did work for the Ronald McDonald house. Marie continues to help out when she can through donations or helping out her friends in the neighborhood.
“I love people,” Marie says. “And I try to help them even today.”
Marie and Danny were married for 57 years before he died from a stroke at the age of 87. Marie says she took care of him while he was ill, just like she took care of her mother, who lived with them for three years.
Today, the great joys in Marie’s life come from her many nieces and nephews, most of whom live out of state. Her family is already planning her 100th birthday, which she’ll be celebrating next November.
“I have a wonderful family,” Marie says.
To nominate a Person of the Week, email Nathan Hughart at n.hughart@Zip06.com.