VanBenthuysen started the North County Women’s Resource Center
ATASCADERO — Chances are, if you’ve been a part of the Atascadero Community for the last four decades, you have seen Suzanne “Suzie” VanBenthuysen’s name and face in the local paper, volunteering with local organizations, starting the North County Women’s Resource Center, or running her clothing boutique Second Hand Rose. Though she was an Atascadero resident for most of her life, Suzie lived with her son Dan for the last couple of years in Henderson, Nevada, until her passing on July 7 at the age of 79.
Back in 1981, Suzie and her family moved to Atascadero when her husband Pete got a job at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
“I guess my earliest memories are my mom had a little second-hand clothing store right there on Traffic Way on the bottom corner where the Carlton Hotel is. It was called Second Hand Rose. I still have the sign out in my shed,” Dan said of the store his mom started in the early 1980s.
It made sense that Suzie would open a second-hand store in her beloved town as she was a bargain hunter who managed to always find the deals she was looking for, whether it was frequenting thrift stores or using coupons.
“One time we went to the Safeway [when it was there], and somehow, I don’t know how she did it, but she came out with all this Tide laundry soap,” added Dan with a laugh. “So much it filled the whole cart, and we kids were in the car. She somehow found a coupon where she got all this Tide for free. I don’t know how she did it.”
In her 42 years in Atascadero, Suzie also founded the nonprofit North County Woman’s Resource Center. Her experience as a battered woman, when she was in her first marriage, gave her a heart for other women in the same domestic abuse situation. Later, she was put in a position to be able to do something about it. The North County Woman’s Resource Center is still helping women in the area today.
“She was in a previous marriage as a battered woman, so she started — I don’t know how she did it; I was a little kid at the time — but she wrote the grants, and she got North County Woman’s Resource Center [open],” Dan continued. “She would play bunco with these women and stuff like that. She ended up opening these two homes that were battered woman shelters. I remember, as a child, I would go on calls with her. I remember going down dirt roads and picking women up and having the husband chase us down the road.”
The Atascadero chapter of Quota Club International also benefitted from Suzie’s selflessness and want to constantly help the community she loved so much.
“Suzie loved to wear hats. That was her thing. She wore lots of hats, and they were really cute on her,” stated Dyann Shepard, who knew Suzie through Quota for 15 years.
Shepard said that Suzie got a kick out of participating in the Colony Days Reception every year at the receiving desk. Shepard chaired the event for many years and stated that you could always find Suzie there.
“Suzie loved to be the person checking people in, to say hello to her old friends, and to greet people,” he said. “That was something that she really enjoyed doing. Her heart certainly was to participate and to give as much as she could with what she had.”
Suzie was also involved with Camp Hapitok, a summer camp for children with speech and language disorders that closed in 2015. She also worked with the American Cancer Society and a project called Canines in the Park that raised money to purchase a new police dog for the Atascadero Police Department.
“She cared about her community, and of course, she cared about her children,” stated Pam Froman, who met Suzie when their daughters played softball together. “She was just interested in people’s lives. She cared about my children, my grandchildren. She had an interest in people’s lives.”
Her care and love for her community also included Atascadero’s homeless population, and you could find Suzie making bundles that included sleeping bags, clothes, and toiletries that she would take down to the creek, where she would gift them to the homeless population.
“She was just always involved in something,” Dan stated. “Even a few years ago, before we moved her out here, she was having a hard time getting around, and she was in a wheelchair half the time. She was still trying to volunteer down at the ECHO (El Camino Homeless Organization) homeless shelter. I remember she had to make a big casserole, and I helped her make it. To the bitter end, she was just trying to be involved.”
No matter how you knew Suzie, she and her caring heart will be missed here in Atascadero.
“She was very bold, and she just did what she wanted. She was always involved in something in Atascadero,” concluded Dan.
Feature Image: A photo of a young Suzie VanBenthuysen is shown. Contributed Photo