MADISON—Susan Nitzke, 71, of Cottage Grove, the woman who once added colors to our pale skies, has died after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. Susan was born Aug. 23, 1946, in Byron, Wis., to Lawrence and Marcella (Schoofs) Schwartz. She married William Nitzke on Aug. 24, 1968. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and worked for more than 30 years at UW-Madison, ultimately serving as Chair of the Nutritional Sciences Department. Susan battled pancreatic cancer for five years, defying the odds as she did throughout her life and career.
Her determination and courage propelled Susan from a small farming community with a one-room school, to the pinnacle of her profession. She faced all challenges head-on and worked harder if someone doubted her abilities or suggested a goal was impossible. Following her retirement from the University, Susan was searching for a challenge and had always been captivated by watercolor. She took classes, attended workshops and devoted her time to becoming an accomplished watercolor artist. Her art has been showcased in many art exhibitions and she has won several state awards. You can see some of her work at suenitzkeart.com. Early in her career, she traveled the globe in concert with the Food For Peace Program, providing nutrition and education resources to the poorest people in developing countries.
She returned to the University of Wisconsin to complete her doctorate degree and spent the next 30 years teaching and mentoring students, and providing nutrition education resources to university extension colleagues around the state and nation. She also conducted nutrition education research and published her results in nutrition journals. In 2014, Susan was awarded the Helen D. Ullrich award from the Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior, the Society’s highest honor for lifetime achievement. She was a frequent guest on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television and through the media, she helped learners at all levels understand how to apply nutritional science to their lives. Through her service on state and national nutrition committees, she informed public nutrition guidance and policy decisions. Loved and admired by family, friends and colleagues, Susan gave of herself to help others.
She will be deeply missed forever by her husband, Bill Nitzke; children, Angela (Nitzke) Martin and Andrew Nitzke; her son-in-law, Scott Martin; and her precious grandchildren, Sienna Martin and Reed Martin. She is further survived by her brother, Lawrence Schwartz; nieces and nephews, Maureen Kennedy, Bob Geiger, David Geiger, Chuck Geiger, Marry Ella Smits, Lisa Gilarde, Lawrence Thomas Schwartz II and Michael Schwartz; great-nieces, Kimberley Nelson, Katie Wapneski, and Stephanie Kennedy; along with goddaughter, Jill Way, and Carissa Low; all held a special place in Susan’s heart.
Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease that is the third leading cause of death from cancer in the United States, for which there is no cure. Most patients live for only a few weeks or months after diagnosis and there has been no meaningful advances in detection or treatment in the last four decades. A scientist to the end, Susan participated in several clinical trials to help advance the research to help future patients, but this deadly disease ultimately took its toll.
The family would like to give special thanks to all the doctors, nurses and staff at the Carbone Cancer Center, especially to Dan Mulkerin, M.D. and Mary Mulkerin R.N. Susan lived a wonderful, happy, and purpose-filled life. She made it a point to make the world better and brighter through her kindness, her work, her gardening and her art. Now that she is no longer with us, let us continue her legacy in honor of the life she lived. Contributions in her name can be made to the Pancreas Cancer Task Force at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, 600 Highland Ave., Madison, WI 53572, or to The University of Wisconsin Nutritional Sciences Alumni Fund for Community Development, 1415 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706.
A memorial celebration will be held at the FLUNO CENTER, 601 University Ave., Madison, at 4 p.m., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Online condolences may be made at www.gundersonfh.com.