Susan Widmark Ridgway passed away on July 29 at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings.
She was born in New Jersey. Her mother and father, Jane and Norman Widmark, probably had questions when Susan, as a young teenager, asked if she could join a friend attending Elk Creek Ranch, a small camp for teenagers in northwest Wyoming, but they said “yes.”
Susan came West, and kept coming West. After several years, she was asked to join the staff and then became the head of the girl’s program. As she liked to say in later years, with some amusement, “I just kept coming to ECR and ended up marrying the boss.”
Susan and Hap ran Elk Creek Ranch for a number of years before passing the baton on to other Ridgway family members and, most recently, to their own children. Through all of those years, Susan was the heart and soul of the ranch and the program it offered teenagers from around the country and, in fact, around the world.
She especially loved the work with horses. She had three favorites – Meacham, a fleet and wise Arabian; Meacham’s last daughter, Nellie (as in Whoa, Nellie); and Fat Chance. On those great horses, Susan road many of the Sunlight and Crandall trails, pack-tripped into the high country, and enjoyed our Wyoming backcountry.
As happy as she was in the West and in the saddle, she was equally comfortable and effective in other settings. When not at the ranch, Susan joined Hap for most of his educational career in two eastern independent schools. She had played lacrosse and field hockey in her school years and college, and she became a very successful coach in both sports at Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire and lacrosse at Berwick Academy in Maine. She loved working with young women and seeing them succeed and thrive in sports and in life.
That love for sports and what they can do for children fueled Susan’s commitment to her own children’s athletic pursuits. She wore out two mini vans and two Suburbans driving them around New England to lacrosse, soccer, and rugby fields and hockey rinks.
She was not bashful along the sidelines, and sometimes actually got into trouble with her headmaster husband for not setting the best example for other Berwick parents. Undeterred, Susan continued to “advise” the referees and cheer on her children’s play through the Division IIl college level.
Being the headmaster’s wife at an independent school posed an entirely different set of challenges, but Susan embraced them. Hap always like to remind people that, when he interviewed for the position at Berwick, he went through three rounds of visits and interviews but still didn’t get the position. Then Susan joined him for the final visit, and he was offered the position the next day. The school was wise in its judgment, and Susan for 18 years immersed herself in another institution dedicated to young people.
Susan and Hap returned permanently to Cody and Sunlight Valley in 2007. She jumped enthusiastically into the caretaking, horse care, and firewood chores that filled the winter. She remained a force, working for Elk Creek Ranch recruiting ranchers during the winter and being ever present during the summer to help out and, just possibly, to offer a few suggestions to her daughters.
She sought ways to get more acquainted with and involved in Cody from her attendance at Christ Church to her support of the Women’s March to her enjoyment of Center of the West lectures and presentations to her recent step onto the board of directors of FOAL. Friends wondered about the long drive from Sunlight to Cody, but she just smiled and explained that it was the best “commute” in the country.
Her last day, fittingly, started with a nine-hour trail-clearing horse trip in the high country of Sunlight and ended with her most rambunctious grandson nestled in her arms as we gathered around a campfire.
Susan is survived by her husband Hap and her four children and their spouses: Kyle (Andrew) Bishop, Melissa (Josh) Stanley, Alyson (Andy Tenny) Ridgway, and Grant (Aimee) Ridgway; her sister-in-law, Charlie Widmark, and her recently discovered half-sister, Kristine Davison.
As grandmother, Susan was known and will always be remembered as Zuzu, of “A Wonderful Life.” Zuzu’s tribe includes Carter, Beckett, and Ryan Bishop; Flynn and Ridge Stanley; and Porter Ridgway. Zuzu was eagerly awaiting two more approaching grandchildren.
All of Susan’s friends and family will long mourn her passing, but her grandchildren will suffer her loss the most for she, as ever, had many adventures for them.
Susan’s family is planning a memorial service for later in the fall. In lieu of flowers, we ask you to consider support for either Christ Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 1718, Cody, or FOAL (a non-profit focused on the protection of the local wild horse herd and its habitat) at P.O. Box 1043, Cody.