“Susie is the most giving, passionate Hoover Viking there is ...,” said Superintendent Jeff Wendorf.

NORTH CANTON Susie Hertler VanVranken has dedicated her adult life to other people’s physical fitness and well-being.


A former health and physical education teacher and active community volunteer, she has served on the North Canton Board of Education for four years. She stepped down this week due to her own health concerns.


VanVranken has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no cure.


Wednesday night marked VanVranken’s last school board meeting. Amid the normal business of budgets and personnel changes, people took time to laud her commitment to the community and its children.


Randy Santangelo and his wife, Sarah, have been close friends with VanVranken since they were teenagers. In the 1970s, Santangelo kept football stats for VanVranken’s late father, legendary coach Don Hertler Sr.


Good for the board


“I’m her brother from another mother; she’s my sister,” an emotional Santangelo said. “The school board is just the latest thing she’s done. She’s been volunteering her whole life. I can’t name all the things as far as this community goes. I can’t remember the last school levy committee she wasn’t on; that’s how many she’s been on. We had some tremendous people on that committee, but nobody was more passionate than Susie.“


A member of the Aultman Women’s Board, VanVranken co-founded the North Canton Alumni Association and the North Canton Alumni Association Hall of Distinction awards banquet. She also served on the North Canton YMCA board of directors as well as the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, and was the North Canton school district department chair.


“Susie is the most giving, passionate Hoover Viking there is, through and through,” said Superintendent Jeff Wendorf, who presented VanVranken with a plant.


“Thank you for showing me the ropes,” Jessica Stroia said to VanVranken.


“She’s done so much for this community; always for the kids,” said fellow board member Bob Roden.


Roden, a retired educator and administrator, said he and VanVranken convinced each other to run for the school board.


“Whatever decisions she made were in the best interest of the kids,” he said. “She’s been really good for the board, helping to make good decisions. And she’s a good friend, above all.”


Don Hertler Jr. said he’s proud of his older sister, who put family and community first, and always does things the right way.


“I don’t think anyone cares more,” he said. “Sometimes, she cares too much. I’m proud of her and I admire her for that. She has really high expectations for herself, she always has. She puts a lot of pressure on herself to do things right, and in turn expects others to do things right.”


Santangelo recalled VanVranken’s hard work in trying to get a school levy passed, a measure that divided some in the community.


“She never let go. She lost some friends. It took a toll on her,” he said. “But she just cares about this district so much. That was the biggest battle in her life until this ALS. It’s turned her life upside down. We’re praying for a miracle.“


The Three As


“It’s not about me,“ VanVranken said. ”I’ve always had a lot of support from my family, friends and the community. I’ve been blessed with a lot of great relationships and friends in this community and outside of it. That’s the essence of life for me.”


Hertler said his sister has been handling her diagnosis with strength and grace.


“She knows that there’s probably no cure, but I know her philosophy is, with her getting this, maybe they can come up with cure for the future. I don’t think any one us can imagine being in her shoes. She’ll keep fighting, she has a lot of live for. We pray for miracles everyday.”


VanVranken said her experience as a teacher helped her as a member of the school board.


“We were at a crossroads when I was elected,” she said. “In terms of leadership and morale. I was very concerned. I care so deeply about this community. The fact that I was a retired teacher, and all of my family are/were teachers, I was able to understand the day-to-day process schools go through in terms of finances and curriculum.”


VanVranken said it’s all about the “three A’s: ”Athletics, academics and the arts.”


“It’s just understanding what it takes to be successful,” she said. “For teachers, it just showing up, every day, and hoping you can inspire your students.”


“She’s a teacher at heart,” said Polly Doyle, the district’s director of communications and a former Louisville High School principal. “She’s old-school. She makes decisions based on what’s best for the students. You don’t necessarily find that with everybody. She carried the same values from the classroom to the boardroom.”


Orange and black


“She’s all about North Canton,” said Jeff Hite, a former softball and baseball coach at Hoover. “I think the big thing people need to understand is, she cares deeply about North Canton.”


Hite said a testament of her love is VanVranken’s decision to serve on the school board.


“That’s a tough job’” he said. “No matter what decision you make, somebody’s not going to like it. I’m sure she lost friends over it. At the end of the day, she cares about the schools and community of North Canton. I just think she’s all orange-and- black.”


A laughing Hertler said his sister attended most, if not all, the football games he coached, but “she never saw the the last play of the game.”


“She’d put her hands over her face from the pressure,” he said. “She probably took it more seriously than I did.”


VanVranken said she hopes that in time the district will be able to build new schools.


“There was some disappointment when the previous levy failed, but we passed an operating levy; that was crucial,” she said. “I’m proud we were able to give our staff raises, which hadn’t happened for at least 10 years.”


As VanVranken and her husband, Tom, await the arrival of their first grandchild in January, she said she’s always tried to live by the following mantra:


“The happiest people are not those getting more but those giving more.“


“It’s been an honor to serve,” she said.