WATERTOWN — Though she didn’t grow up in the area, once Dr. D. Susan Badenhausen moved to St. Lawrence County in 1975 with the goal of bringing health care to those in need, she quickly made it her home.
Her resolve to achieve her goal was so strong that she remained one of few physicians to still make house calls up until her retirement, with her black leather medical bag packed and at the ready — even in the middle of a north country winter.
The retired physician died in September 2018 at 83. Through a bequest following her passing, the Dr. D. Susan Badenhausen Legacy Fund, a charitable fund of the Northern New York Community Foundation, has been established. An enduring tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. Badenhausen, this permanent fund will support charitable organizations that strive to improve the quality of life in St. Lawrence County.
“This incredibly generous and enduring gift will not only strengthen St. Lawrence County now, but for generations to come. As a community foundation, it can provide support that is both flexible and lasting with geographic specificity,” Rande Richardson, Community Foundation executive director, said in a statement on the bequest.
“We feel incredibly honored to be part of something that extends Dr. Badenhausen’s life of service to others and the place she called home,” he added.
Dr. Badenhausen’s longtime friends, Karen M. St. Hilaire and Patricia “Pat” L. McKeown, remember the special times they spent with their friend, doing everything from bowling and singing, to traveling and filling up at the Chinese buffet in Massena each weekend.
According to Mrs. McKeown, Dr. Badenhausen collected her Medicare and Medicaid payments as they came through, but it didn’t matter much to her as she often took her revenue from families in bread, chickens, canned goods, jellies and jams.
“That’s who she was,” she said. “She wanted to provide medical service to the rural area of New York state. Susan herself came from wealthy people, and that is why she left such a sizable estate, she didn’t earn this money from the people that she served in the north country.”
She didn’t take a salary — whatever money she got from insurance she used to keep the operation going and to pay her staff. But she never collected a salary for herself because this was a mission for her as opposed to a business.
Dr. Badenhausen and her practice partner, Joann M. Spatafora, were also the ones who started the home health care business here in the north country, according to Mrs. St. Hilaire — having health care aides going into people’s homes and working with them.
“That’s now grown into a pretty sizable company in Potsdam, but that was started by Joanne and Susan because they saw the need for people to be able to stay in their homes and to have health care,” Mrs. St. Hilaire said.
The three friends made Saturdays their day — going out first to the Chinese restaurant, then next door to the movies.
When Mrs. McKeown would ask Dr. Badenhausen if she wanted popcorn or a drink, her response would always be “no.” Even so, Mrs. McKeown would purchase a large popcorn and make sure to get two straws for her drink, because inevitably, Dr. Badenhausen would reach for the bag or take a sip from her designated straw during the film.
On the way to the movies, Mrs. McKeown and Dr. Badenhausen would bond over their love of opera and play the music at top volume to the chagrin of Mrs. St. Hilaire, who is more of a rock n’ roll fan.
“She was a person who gave back to humanity and then it became contagious and she got back from others,” Mrs. McKeown said of Dr. Badenhausen. “You never know, you give to somebody or a community, and all of a sudden you get back in measures that you never even expected.
“That woman was an anomaly like many of us are when we find ourselves in an environment in which we were not born,” she added. “She forged a life in the north country where she did nothing but contribute to the betterment of it.”
Grant funding will be awarded annually to qualified nonprofit organizations whose missions and efforts align with the fund’s objectives. The following first-time grants were recently approved by the Community Foundation’s board of directors:
Canton College Foundation — $50,000 to purchase three “Nursing Anne Simulators” designed to reflect real-life conditions in a controlled environment. SUNY Canton prepares future nursing professionals through its two-year Associate of Applied Science in nursing and four-year Bachelor of Science in nursing degrees.
Helena Volunteer Fire Department — $50,000 for lifesaving equipment needed to safely respond to fires and hazardous situations. Funding will support replacement of eight Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus and bottles, as well as other safety equipment.
North Country Public Radio — $50,000 to replace critical broadcast equipment as part of a broadcast studio modernization project. This project will bolster reliability and service to the NCPR audience through high-quality local programming.
WPBS-TV — $50,000 for the creation of new content for television broadcast and digital distribution plus outreach and promotional efforts. New programming will include an artist profile series with premiere screening and student showcase, component educational materials, and virtual screenings.
Moving forward, support from the Dr. D. Susan Badenhausen Legacy Fund will be awarded through a competitive process, with about $50,000 awarded annually. Applications for grant funding will be available later this year through the Community Foundation.
“Dr. Susan,” as she was known to her many patients and friends, grew up on Staten Island and graduated from Connecticut College, New London, in 1957. In 1971, she earned a Doctor of Medicine from the Boston University School of Medicine after several years working as a research professional at Columbia University. Shortly after she settled in St. Lawrence County, Dr. Badenhausen established a health care practice with her partner. In addition to the practice, the two formed an organic farm in the town of Brasher.
Dr. Badenhausen’s contributions to health care in St. Lawrence County are extensive. She was the physician director for the Potsdam Nursing Home; a physician for Sunmount Residential Center in Massena; school physician for Parishville-Hopkinton Central School; a public health officer for the towns of Brasher, Stockholm, Hopkinton and Lawrence; served on the St. Lawrence County Board of Health; and a longtime member of the Canton-Potsdam Hospital medical staff.
About five years ago, problems with Dr. Badenhausen’s health were noticed and after a long search for a diagnosis, she was diagnosed with a rare disease known as progressive supranuclear palsy, an uncommon brain disorder that affects things like movement, speech, vision and thinking.
Following the diagnosis, Dr. Badenhausen, Mrs. St. Hilaire and Mrs. McKeown went to a nearby restaurant and cried. Then they decided Dr. Badenhausen needed to have fun with the time she had left.
When Mrs. McKeown’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the family took as many members as it could for a cruise — an idea that struck the fancy of Dr. Badenhausen. The friends then arranged a Carnival cruise with 28 people, sailing around Florida and the Bahamas. Mrs. McKeown said her dear friend definitely had fun.
“She did have fun in her last years,” Mrs. St. Hilaire said. “I think I would have to say that they were probably the worst two years for her physically, but they were the best two years for her emotionally, and with all the people that she surrounded herself with.”