Veteran, mom, wife, cancer survivor, first-woman mayor of Kendallville, those are just some of hats Mayor SuzAnne Handshoe wears. Even with all those titles, Mayor Handshoe knows she couldn’t do it alone.
“There isn’t one day that I don’t walk up those steps of this 100-plus-year-old building and realize the magnitude of the responsibility on my shoulders,” says Mayor Handshoe.
Running a city is a big responsibility, but it’s one Mayor Suzanne Handshoe’s been preparing for her whole life.
“I was born and raised in the east side of Detroit, and I graduated from high school there. I was raised by a single mom.”
Without a clear direction after graduating high school, Handshoe enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
“You could never, ever use the female card, especially being in the Marine Corp.”
And she didn’t, Handshoe worked through the ranks and broke down gender barriers.
“I was one of the first females to become a combat water survival instructor, and so I was real proud of that. “
She spent 11 years active duty, and 13 years in the reserves.
“I never had an excuse. I never complained, if you fall, you get cut, you get hurt, you suck it up. You just keep going because you want to be considered as one of them.”
Handshoe met her husband in the military. They’re the parents to two children, and now three grandchildren.
The couple settled in Kendallville. It was her husband’s hometown, and one she would soon lead. Her military experience inspired her to run for office.
“It’s always if you see something that needs corrected, you don’t complain about it, you get involved and try to change it.”
She lost her first bid for mayor in 1999. Four years later, Handshoe was called back on active duty in the Marines, but she ran again. She was only officially in the race for a month, rising above resistance.
“I’m not from here, we’ve never had a female mayor of Kendallville, and you’re crazy for even thinking about this.”
Mayor SuzAnne Handshoe won and became the first woman mayor of Kendallville.
In her re-election bid, there were literally signs some people did not want her there.
“It was lower my taxes and ease my woes, no more mayors in pantyhose.”
She took the slams in stride.
“I spent my entire adult life serving to protect that constitution, and people have the right to say what they want to say, and we have to go from there…I just made it a vow that every public meeting I attended I would be in pantyhose, and I have been…It’s kind of strange, I think I get inspired from somebody saying you can’t do that.”
A bone marrow cancer diagnosis in 2016 wasn’t going to stop her either.
“Actually I worked from the hospital, I took my laptop and cell phone with me in the days I felt good, I communicated with everybody…And because I love what I do, I think it helped me heal.”
Also, helping her heal, Mayor Handshoe’s three granddaughters. She tells them “grandma’s girls go to college,” and that’s her message to all young girls.
“That little girl who may be in poverty, thinking she’s not worthy of her fellow classmates or going to college, or whatever, that she is worthy of that.”
If you ask Mayor Handshoe how she does it all, she’ll tell you she doesn’t.
“I think it’s because of my background in the Marine Corps. You’re a team, and you’re only as strong as your weakest link.”
A message she reinforced in this year’s State of the City address.
“As always, I value the suggestions, e-mails, phone calls from concerned citizens, as they give me some of my best ideas. You people are so smart. May God continue to bless our great city and all of you. Thank you”
“But along the way, each difficult thing that you get through you gain more confidence in yourself and realize that you can do this. Do a lot of self talk, I can do this, I can do this.”
Mayor Handshoe is in her 15th year as mayor of Kendallville, and is re-running for a 5th term, all while being in remission.