Suzanne Sheaffer inspires many through her perseverance and strength. Six years ago, she started the Pennsylvania Gold Star Mothers football game at Central Dauphin High School.
“I got the phone call from her and she explained what she would like to do, and it was the very first game of its kind and it took all of about 30 seconds for us to say yes,” CD head football coach Glen McNamee said. “Not only do we have players playing for fallen heroes, but the night before we have our kids and their families get to meet the Gold Star families.”
“It warms my heart because really I’m just being me,” Suzanne said. “I love these young men like they were my own children. Their parents have been kind enough to share their sons with not only myself but my Gold Star families.”
“During the game, the player is announced not by their own name but by the fallen hero they are playing for,” McNamee said. “It’s a really powerful and emotional night.”
A tribute to those lost in the line of duty. A thank you to loved ones left behind.
Suzanne knows how it feels.
“Billy is our hero angel. We lost Billy six years ago, active duty Coast Guard, and found out three days after his passing he had made it to the Massachusetts State Police Academy, the 82nd class,” she said.
That is not the only loss Suzanne and husband Paul suffered. The daughter Sarah passed away from an autoimmune disorder. The two siblings were gone 22 months apart.
“Suzanne took the losses and turned it into service to her community,” Paul Sheaffer said.
Unlike other military branches, Suzanne found out the U.S. Coast Guard didn’t have a Gold Star Family program. She made it her mission to start one and serves as the Coast Guard’s Gold Star volunteer coordinator.
“The families celebrate their fallen heroes at the USCG Academy football game,” Paul said.
Paul nominated Suzanne, a forensic nurse, and touts she’s the first doctoral healthcare policy student at Duquesne University. For now, her project is focused on Pennsylvania.
“And getting next of kin notification more prevalent on our driver’s licenses,” she said, “so that God forbid, if they are killed in an accident, we can make that notification much quicker, giving the families the opportunity to get by that bedside.”
The hope is her effort will go national. Suzanne battles her own pain-rheumatoid arthritis. She’s also Paul’s caregiver. The law enforcement retiree is in palliative care.
Still, Suzanne focuses on the positive and improving the lives of others.
“It’s so easy to take, take, take, but I think you learn the value of that when you give before you receive,” she said.