Suzanne (Suzi) Huffman Charlton: November 3, 1942 – July 24, 2015
From the Family of Dr. Suzanne Charlton
July 25, 2015
Suzanne “Suzi” Charlton was born on November 3, 1942 to George and Ruth Huffman. Her dad was a superior court judge in Fresno, and her mother a college professor. As a child she was “Sunkist Suzi,” and her smile graced the pages of Harper’s Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post, as she advertised their oranges.
Splitting her time between Fresno, and Long Beach, she enjoyed spending summers at the Buchenau cattle ranch, and working at her grandparent’s Nurmi bakery in Fresno, and the rest of the year attending school in Long Beach, where she pursued her passion for learning and surfing.
In high school she was an AFS exchange student to Italy where she developed a lifelong relationship with her host family.
Suzi started college at USC where she met her late husband Phil and they soon had their first two sons Brad and Cooper. The family first lived at the old El Morro trailer park in Laguna Beach. The family then moved to Europe where they bought a VW van and traveled extensively before settling in Spain, where she studied at the University of Madrid. The family returned stateside for the birth of their third son John, Suzi received her bachelor degree from UCI, and they bought their first home in Laguna Niguel. The family then moved to Mission Viejo where Phil was employed as Planning Director for the Mission Viejo Company. With his position, and her background as a Spanish teacher she was personally responsible for naming many of the streets in the city.
In 1974 the family bought 110 acres in the foothills of the Saddleback Mountains, and founded Rancho Sonado. She raised her boys there splitting time between work and school in the city, and life in the country. Rancho Sonado was a labor of love that eventually turned into a wedding business, and now the OCDE’s Inside the Outdoors Program utilizes the ranch for educational programs, thanks to the subsequent owner’s generosity.
Suzi received her masters degree from UCI, and later her doctorate from Claremont College.
Suzi dedicated her life to education, first teaching Spanish and International Studies at Mission Viejo High School (1972-1986), where she was responsible for starting their Model United Nations Program, and from where she received the distinction of being named California’s Teacher of the Year in 1983, an award which took her to Washington D.C. where she met Ronald Reagan at the White House. She then spent the next eight years at Long Beach State where she was the director of the Center For International Education, and was a foreign language methods and field experience instructor.
For over twenty years Suzi was part of the UCI Foreign Language Project COACH (formerly CSULB COACH project) where she made an indelible mark on how foreign language instruction is delivered to students nationwide. Finally she ended her career at UCI where she was a lecturer in the Department of Education from 1993 until her retirement in 2008 when she was also given the Hal Wingard Life Time Achievement Award by the California Language Teachers Association.
If teaching were Suzi’s first love, then travel was her second. She has taken high school students on numerous trips to Spain, Mexico, UK, and the Netherlands. She has also run multiple summer foreign language institutes in Chile and Costa Rica. Speaking, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and some German allowed her to travel the world with ease and confidence.
Suzi’s world travels served as inspiration for the next phase of achievement in her life. After retiring from UCI in 2008, she stayed active and took up painting. Again she displayed her incredible ability to take on new challenges, and displayed her work at Laguna’s Sawdust Festival in 2012. She also enjoyed singing with her son Brad in the Laguna Beach Chorale, and was a substitute teacher for a water aerobics class for arthritis sufferers in Foothill Ranch.
In 2014 she was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia but even that did not stop her as she journeyed to Africa just weeks after completing her chemotherapy. That same summer she traveled down the Colorado River with three generations of Charlton’s on a four-day, white water river-rafting trip.
Suzi had a zest for life that was second to none. She loved her family, especially her grandson Quinn, and she really loved her enormous group of talented and loyal friends. She touched the lives of thousands of students and teachers alike. She was always working on improving herself and the lives of others.
After a series of falls that came out of the blue between December and March, Suzi was diagnosed with ALS in April. The disease progressed rapidly and as her limbs and breathing failed her, she did her best to stay positive, and see the beauty in everyday things.
Suzi passed peacefully in her sleep on July 24, 2015. She is survived by her son Brad of Laguna Beach, her son Cooper and his wife Erica of Rancho Santa Margarita, her son John and his wife Alisha, and their son Quinn of Mission Viejo, her sisters Betsy and Gini, and brother Bill of Fresno, her brother and sister-in-law Ed and Diana Van Deusen of Dana Point, and a huge extended family of incredible friends.
Suzi looked at death as just another journey, only this one would reunite her with people and dogs, and horses that she had loved and lost along the way. She will be greatly missed by all who knew her, but never forgotten. Per her request, in lieu of flower remembrances, a donation can be sent to ALS Association of Orange County [in Suzi’s name].