From Chicago to West Virginia, Ohio to El Salvador, Guatemala to Sarasota, Suzanne Freund has just about seen it all. Married to an El Salvador native, and the only child of an engineer during World War II, Suzanne is no stranger to embracing new places and new cultures.
During World War II, Suzanne’s father moved their family from Chicago to Charleston, West Virginia. After the war, they were transferred to Toledo, Ohio, and Suzanne spent her summers in Madison, Wisconsin, visiting her grandparents. Throughout her childhood, Suzanne always took piano lessons, as she had started playing at the young age of four.
So, while Suzanne’s location often changed, her love for music remained constant. At the age of 15, she was enrolled in Milwaukee-Downer Seminary, an all-girls day and boarding school, and the lessons continued. When she graduated, Suzanne went on to attend the University of Wisconsin, where she studied music. Little did she know, however, that she would develop a love for something else during that first year of school – Roberto Freund, a junior at Wisconsin, originally from San Salvador. The two met on a blind date, and the rest is history.
Two years later, in 1949, Roberto graduated from school and moved back home to take over his family’s rather prominent hardware and construction material company. In February of 1950, the two were married, and Suzanne relocated to San Salvador. The couple’s first purchase as newlyweds? A piano.
At the time of her move, Suzanne was only a junior in school. So, at the request of her parents, Suzanne promised to finish her degree – although it turned out to be more difficult than she originally thought. “It took forever,” Suzanne says, as she recalls having to take an English credit via correspondence. After that, she elected to spend two summers in Madison completing her coursework.
The move from the United States to San Salvador was a bit of a culture shock for Suzanne. She had no phone, little access to mail, and only two years of Spanish classes under her belt. “In those days, when you studied a language, you didn’t necessarily learn how to speak it,” she says. And while she could read and write in Spanish, she jokes that it took her quite some time to master the art of speaking. “I was told not to speak to our kids in Spanish because I couldn’t roll my R’s,” she laughs. Eventually she caught on, and like her three daughters who were raised in San Salvador, she’s now fluent in Spanish.
Business was booming in El Salvador. In addition to hardware and construction material, the company began manufacturing paint after the establishment of the Central American Common Market. Following that, during the Kennedy-era, Roberto attended a U.S. government-sponsored seminar in Miami regarding the development of savings and loan associations. These types of institutions were non-existent in El Salvador at the time, and Roberto took it upon himself to establish the country’s first savings and loan bank.
While Roberto focused on running the family business, Suzanne set to work volunteering within the community. Not only was she involved in the equivalent of the Parent Teacher Association in San Salvador, she was active in the American Society of El Salvador, serving on the Board and planning local events. She also helped establish the American Women’s Society – an organization that is still around today – serving as the second President. Additionally, she volunteered at the local maternity hospital.
In 1972, things in El Salvador took a turn for the worst. While business was lucrative, the family began to fear for their safety. Family friends and neighbors were kidnapped for ransom, and some never returned. Finally, in 1975, after the son of the most prominent family in the country was kidnapped and murdered, the Freunds decided it was time for Suzanne and their youngest daughter to leave San Salvador (their two eldest were in boarding school at the time). Suzanne moved to Madison, and Roberto remained in San Salvador until 1980, when he moved to Guatemala City to run the business remotely.
That same year, all savings and loan institutions in El Salvador were nationalized and that was the end of banking for the Freunds. However, the hardware and construction material and paint manufacturing business remained, and today it’s run by Roberto’s two nephews. In 1981, after years of long-distance marriage, Suzanne and Roberto reunited in Guatemala City. They lived there for one more year before they relocated to Siesta Key. They purchased a condo in the hopes of expanding it; all the while Suzanne was in search of yet another piano.
Eventually, she located a piano that was originally owned by Owen Burns (yes, as in Burns Court), and was for purchase from a woman by the name of Cerita Purmort – a woman who would eventually become her neighbor here at Plymouth Harbor. “It’s such a small world,” she says.
Their first contact with Plymouth Harbor was in the 1980s when Suzanne’s mother was a resident here. The couple moved into Plymouth Harbor in 2006, and Roberto passed away in 2011. Her mother played the piano for both the Chaplain and residents of Plymouth Harbor, and Suzanne continues this legacy by playing for the Chaplain’s Sunday service in the Smith Care Center.
In addition to her musical interests, Suzanne has always had a keen interest in architecture. Today, she serves as a volunteer for the Sarasota Architecture Foundation, and as a docent for the Dr. Walker Guest House designed by Paul Rudolph at the Ringling Museum of Art. On Saturdays, she also serves as a volunteer for the Center for Architecture Sarasota.
Prior to her architectural involvement, Suzanne spent 25 years working as a volunteer with the National Council of Jewish Women in conjunction with Prevent Blindness performing eye screenings in preschools for Amblyopia (lazy eye syndrome). She also served as a volunteer for the Symphony Showcase House for several years, and provided lunches for dancers of the Sarasota Ballet on performance days.
Above all, however, Suzanne enjoys spending time with her three daughters, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.