Suzanne Teate

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

Q.  Your career and volunteer work at the local, state and national levels – beginning in the ‘70s – focused on building liaisons between government, business, education and cultural arts. Bring us up to date?

I’ve become the primary fulltime caregiver for my 96-year-old mother Merle Dekle Teate and am again a student. I’ve learned how aging can be the most difficult challenge adults face – whether as the caregiver or the person receiving care. I’m a passionate supporter and advocate on behalf of caregivers and the Caregiver Coalition of Northeast Florida.

Q. What is the Caregiver Coalition?

Local nonprofit organizations and the City of Jacksonville partner to form the Caregiver Coalition: Community Hospice, Alzheimer’s Association, ElderSource, Mayo Clinic Memory Disorders, Aging True and AgeWell Institute at Baptist Hospital. The Coalition offers support, networking, resources, education, workshops and events for caregivers of seniors or anyone with chronic illness.

Q. Can you describe the experience of caring fulltime for your mother?

Caregiving is so important and its value is priceless. My wonderful mother has taught me more as an adult daughter than I ever thought I needed to know about individual life, love, loyalty, liberty and aging with dignity in a loving, nurturing environment.
Suzanne_Teate
Q. You’re deeply concerned about caregivers. Can you explain why?

There’s much to learn about caregiving and handling mixed emotions: love, loss, anger, sadness, guilt and frustration. Caregivers must balance a personal life and caregiving with time management: coordinating doctors, social workers, arranging services, going to appointments, phone calls and picking up supplies and prescriptions. It can be expensive, exhausting, isolating and stressful for caregivers, who may become depressed or lose touch with their own lives. They often neglect their own physical, mental and emotional health, with little time for personal relationships, family members or friends. Caregiving interferes with jobs, goals, dreams and hobbies because caregiving continues around-the-clock: finding substitute sitters is difficult.

Q. You’re writing a book for
caregivers. What led you to this?

I’m driven to write about caregiving, to help and inform caregivers. I previously held high-profile, challenging career and volunteer jobs. I worked for Florida’s Department of State (Chairman of International Cultural Exchange & Director of Cultural Affairs); the Florida Arts Council (Visual Arts & Art in State Buildings); National Endowment for the Arts (Statewide Museum Services Coordinator), U.S. Department of Education (Special Arts Project Director); interim director for the Jacksonville Art Museum and cultural arts liaison to local nonprofits for Jacksonville’s Office of the Mayor. My bachelor’s degree is in Art History & English (‘69), master’s in Art History (‘72) and a doctorate in Philosophy (‘95). One of my most important civic volunteer roles was an appointment by President Reagan to the White House Committee on Business and Education. I held administrative and faculty positions with University of Florida, Florida State University, University of North Florida and Edward Waters College and taught students in the U.S. and abroad. I’m a speaker and wrote a time management guidebook. Caregiving is the most challenging task I’ve ever faced. Yet as we give back to our loved ones, providing normalcy and support, there is great joy: we become even closer as a family.

Q. You have long demonstrated commitment to women’s’ and gender issues, human rights and cultural arts. Which of your activities were most important?

Volunteering to raise funds and submit the application for Jacksonville to be named a Top Ten City among America’s Most Livable Places (2004) before the Super Bowl Game was important. On the Florida Arts Council I worked to ensure inclusion of local human rights activists James Weldon Johnson & Stetson Kennedy in the Florida Hall of Fame. I asked Mayor Godbold to reinstate the all-volunteer Commission on the Status of Women, which he did and that group is active and effective. I’m proud to have worked on the programs Art in Public Places, Art in the Capitol and Art in State Buildings which were innovative in the ‘70s.

Q. Where do you volunteer now?

Because my time centers around caring for my mother, I volunteer behind the scenes for several local nonprofits. I help with marketing, promotional ideas and networking. Our local history is important to me and right now I’m helping the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society in urgent efforts to preserve and relocate the historic old St. Joseph’s Catholic School for African American students, circa 1889. Nuns originally taught the children of freed slaves in the 600 square foot clapboard school, now located on private property the owner wishes to sell. Half of the $100,000 needed to relocate the structure to Walter Jones Historical Park on Mandarin Road has been raised, but time is running out to save the historic school, according to Mandarin Museum & Historical Society Vice President Karen Roumillat. For information visit the society’s website, www.mandarinmuseum.net.

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