KENDALLVILLE, Ind. (WANE) – SuzAnne Handshoe doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

“I’m going to brush myself off and I’m going to figure out how to get it,” she said.

Breaking down gender barriers started with her time in the Marines.

“There were schools I applied for and they said ‘Women don’t go to that.’ and I said why and they said, ‘Well, I guess I don’t know. We’ve never had a woman go.’ and I said, ‘Well, why can’t I be the first?'”

Handshoe’s 24 and a half years in the Marine Corps took her overseas and across the country. She spent time in Hawaii and then in Michigan where she helped with 42 military funerals. From there, she went to Okinawa, where she met her husband, who’s from Kendallville. The couple went to Washington D.C. where Handshoe worked at the Pentagon. They moved back to Kendallville, but were only there for four months before she was called up for Desert Storm.

“I was with the infantry and women couldn’t serve on active duty and infantry in those times,” Handshoe said. “So, I started with the artillery and I went all the way into Kuwait and the whole thing and the majority of my unit was back in Saudi Arabia. They didn’t really actually go through the punch. So, it was kind of odd.”

After Desert Storm, Handshoe went with her unit back to Chicago and then transferred to Fort Wayne before being moved out to Grissom. She then was called up for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“They decided to leave me here in the United States and I was Indiana and Ohio’s casualty assistance officer, so I was the one knocking on the door and notifying families of their loved one. It was a really hard duty, but I treated each one as if it was my own child,” she said.

Handshoe retired from the military in 2003. Just two months later, she became Kendallville’s mayor.

“I have always been the type of person that if you don’t like something, change it or try to get involved. Don’t complain. Get involved,” she said.

She became the town’s first and only woman mayor to date. But, through her work with the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, she’s inspiring the next generation of woman leaders.

“Don’t let somebody tell you you can’t do something because we’re all capable,” she said.

“They’re learning that being a woman, you can be strong and you can be a leader and you can shake the stigmatism that sometimes goes along with that because she really is an excellent leader,” Kristen Johnson said.

Johnson has known Handshoe for about 20 years. They first worked together on a Toys for Tots campaign and still work together on many projects and grants and on the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council. Johnson is the the Main Street Manager for Historic Downtown Kendallville.

Johnson also nominated Handshoe for WANE 15’s Remarkable Women of Northeast Indiana. Out of 75 nominations, Handshoe is one of four finalists.

“She’s not a 9 to 5 mayor. She’s at every community event. She just loves this community and it really shows,” Johnson said.

For 20 years, tied for longest serving mayor, Handshoe made her community her priority. But, that chapter is now coming to a close. She’s decided not to run for reelection.

“For my health, because I don’t know how to slow down and they had hoped that I would by now. I need to. I said I have two speeds: fast and faster,” Handshoe said.

Seven years ago, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable bone marrow cancer.

“It’s in and out of remission,” she said. “I said in the very beginning, I was not going to let cancer define me and I haven’t.”

“I know there are days when she comes in and she’s in physical pain. She pushes through and she does everything she needs to to get the job done. It’s incredible,” Johnson said.

Or you could say, remarkable.

“I have to say I lean on my faith. I’m not doing this by myself and I know the Lord has a plan for all of us and He just has work for me to do still,” Handshoe said.

After her term ends in December, she’ll focus on her health. But, she already has her next job lined up.

“I have four beautiful grandchildren who range in age from three to 11 and that’s a full time job,” she said with a smile. “That’s what keeps me fighting. They don’t know I’m sick. The only thing they know is I can’t do is cartwheels anymore. I think that’s what keeps me going and pushing. I want to bet here for graduations and I’m going to do everything in my power to stay healthy.”

Handshoe also plans to travel when she leaves the mayor’s office. Topping her list are the Grand Canyon and Paris.

Every Wednesday in March WANE 15 will feature one of the four Remarkable Women of Northeast Indiana finalists on First News from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. The winner will be announced on March 29 live on the news at noon.