Susan Storch, 1939 – 2011, remembered

03/03/2011

Suzanne Storch, a woman much loved in West Marin and the numerous places she traveled, passed away last month from cancer. She was 71. Suzanne’s life was filled with triumph and sadness. A brilliant entrepreneur, Suzanne led an accomplished and tremendous life.

“She loved the community. She loved people. She really did,” said Suzanne’s friend, Kitsy Lee. “Everybody knew her. No matter how busy she was, she always had time to talk to you.”

Suzanne was born December 22, 1939 to Henry and Marsha Storch in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Henry was a physicist, who was employed by oil companies to find more efficient ways to access deep crude reserves. He was noted for designing a bomb that penetrated deep into the earth. He passed away when Suzanne was a young girl Marsha passed away in 1994, at age 94.

Growing up, skiing was Suzanne’s greatest interest. She remained an avid skier until she injured her hip in 2003.  “I remember it surprising me, how graceful she was on the snow,” said her friend, Nick Whitney. “She was a real ski bum,” added Suzanne’s daughter-in-law, Emily Sontag.

Suzanne had a passionate spirit, even as a young woman. After high school, she fell in love with a young man, whom she wanted to move in with. Both of the young lovers’ parents said that they would allow the move only if Suzanne married the man. They were married, and separated a few weeks later.

After her brief first marriage, Suzanne decided to seek higher education. She enrolled as an English major at the University of Connecticut, earning money working as a ski instructor. There she met and fell in love with a young artist. They married, and separated soon afterwards.

After earning a masters degree in English, Suzanne started a new life living with The Tribe, a commune on the shores of Coventry Lake, in Connecticut. “It was a true-blue commune; one of the first hippie communes,” Emily said. “They lived together, and shared food and everything.” One of The Tribe’s members had a high risk of being drafted for the military, so Suzanne married him to keep him from being sent to fight in Vietnam.

The Tribe eventually moved to San Francisco, to experience the culture revolution in Haight-Ashbury, and Suzanne returned to the University of Connecticut to work towards her Ph.D. in English. There she met her fourth and final husband, Michele Venghiattis, a French student majoring in philosophy.

The couple dropped out of college, and decided to tour South and Central America. They collected artifacts along their travels, which led them into trouble while passing through Colombia. “They were crashing with someone, and the whole town somehow turned on them. They thought they were stealing,” Emily said. “They chased them out of town with clubs.” Neither of them knew enough Spanish to convince the village that they were not thieves.

Michele’s brother, Christofe, owned a large rice farm in Nicaragua. He found a job for the couple managing a hotel on Corn Island. They stayed for a year before moving to California.

Suzanne had heard about a new phenomenon in California called a “Renaissance Pleasure Faire”, with thousands of people coming dressed in flamboyant clothing at Black Point, Novato. “It was the mother of all Ren’ faires,” Emily said. “It was part of the hippie culture, and they loved it.”

The thousands of visitors needed to be fed and Suzanne and Michele, who were great cooks, needed to make money. The couple began making crepes and coquilles—pastries stuffed with seafood—to sell from a booth at Renaissance faires across the state.

The couple moved to a small cottage in Inverness Park and baked thousands of quiches in the back of Perry’s Deli. “We used to raise some pigs, and Michele brought around the quiches that didn’t sell each week to feed the pigs,” Nick said, “That was the best pork ever.”

The business grew, becoming “Michele’s Famous Quiches.” Suzanne and Michele took freshly baked quiche to local businesses, using the money to build a larger home in Inverness Park. In 1975, Suzanne gave birth to their daughter, Kara. Two years later, on the night celebrating the completion of their new home, she gave birth to their son, Antoine.

When Kara was three, she was diagnosed with leukemia. She was a strong child, and lived another seven years before finally succumbing to the disease. The indescribable grief associated with the loss of their daughter contributed to the end of the quiche business, as well as Suzanne and Michele’s marriage.

“Losing Kara affected her whole life, but she never stopped being a mom to me,” Antoine said. “She was such a good mom. She was so generous, to a fault. She would do anything for me, and did.”

Suzanne returned to school again to study horticulture at the University of California Berkeley Cooperative Extension, in Novato , and eventually became a master gardener.

Suzanne started a landscaping business, committing much of her time to public works—including at the Point Reyes Clinic. She also rented out her Inverness Park home and second unit as a bed and breakfast.

She started managing other neighborhood cottages as bed and breakfasts, and eventually managing upwards of 12 units. Suzanne loved to shop, and had impeccable taste, so she was delighted with the task of furnishing a dozen cottages to her liking.

Suzanne was a generous employer. She gave cell phones to all of her employees who could not afford one, and gave jobs to any hardworking neighborhood youths. “Everybody worked for her at some point,” said her friend Isabel McCudden. “She loved those kids, all the way to adulthood. She would go to all the weddings, all the baby showers.”

Suzanne loved to entertain guests. “Her parties were wonderful,” Isabel said. “Her fantastic Easter egg hunts and lobster dinners. The first time I ever saw a Christmas tree with candles was [at Suzanne’s home]. It was fabulous!”

Suzanne loved music, particularly jazz—the intricate, demanding jazz that turns most tourists away from the genre. “She was always willing to go and hear music, anywhere, anyplace,” said her friend, Bobbi Loeb. “She would work a whole day, get home at 9 o’clock, and then she’d go see some live music.”

Suzanne’s successful rental business allowed her to resume traveling the world. Over the last five years of her life, Suzanne visited Ireland, France, England, Mexico, Hawaii, New Mexico and Savannah, Georgia.

Three months ago, Suzanne was diagnosed with cancer. Her condition deteriorated three weeks ago, and she passed away suddenly and peacefully in her home on February 10.

 

Suzanne is survived by her son, Antoine; daughter-in-law, Emily; and granddaughter, Clara Belle. A public memorial will be held from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 12 at the Dance Palace, in Point Reyes Station. There will be a potluck, so please bring some food and libations.