Above: At the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia – August, 2000 (Photo by John Lupton)
Suzi Wollenberg (1952-2009)
Longtime Green Willow President and member of the Board of Directors Suzanne “Suzi” Wollenberg passed away suddenly on August 8, 2009, leaving a void that we continue to struggle to overcome. During her tenure as Green Willow’s chief operating officer, spokesperson, booking agent and much more she worked tirelessly to not only bring in the highest quality performers available, but also to make Green Willow well-known and respected not only in the United States and Canada but in Ireland, Britain and Continental Europe as well. For countless performers, a Green Willow gig included staying in Suzi’s home and making lifelong friendships.
Suzi’s leadership also led to the establishment of Green Willow as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization under the auspices of Folk Alliance International, and she was a well-known figure at both that organization’s annual international conferences and the North East Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) conferences. For several years she was one of the coordinators of the annual NERFA Folk DJ Showcase, and following her passing that event was renamed the Suzi Wollenberg Folk DJ Showcase in her honor and memory.
Suzi was also well-known in the Delaware and Pennsylvania folk music community through her role as the Tuesday morning voice of Roots, the weekday folk music show on WVUD 91.3 FM, the listener-supported station of the University of Delaware. After moving to Delaware from her native Richmond, Virginia area in the mid-1970s she began her radio tenure in 1977. Not long after, she met Green Willow founder Mike Dinsmore, who originated the Celtic music specialty show Green Willow on WVUD (then known as WXDR). With her mother’s Irish heritage providing a love of traditional Celtic music, Suzi began helping Mike and his wife Carla after they began The Green Willow (named for Mike’s show) to provide local audiences the opportunity to see touring traditional Irish, Scottish and British performers. In the early 1990s Suzi took over the task of booking and arranging most of the Green Willow schedule, which in some years would number as many as 12 – 15 shows per year at a variety of venues, many of which no longer exist, mostly in Wilmington, DE: O’Friel’s Irish Pub, Immanuel Episcopal Church, Sheet Metal Worker’s Union Hall (Elsmere, DE), Kennett Legion Hall (Kennett Square, PA), Costa’s Restaurant, New Castle County Irish Society Center, Tatnall School, St. Elizabeth’s High School, Buzz Ware Community Center (Arden, DE), Blue Ball Barn and others.
In her professional life Suzi spent more than 30 years as a Music Therapist at the Terry Children’s Psychiatric Center in New Castle, Delaware, the only such facility in the state. Over the course of more than three decades she helped countless psychiatrically and emotionally disturbed children deal with their problems through the medium of music. Her passing was mourned as much by “her kids” and her Terry Center colleagues as by the folk music community in the region, and in the Fall of 2009 a tree was planted and dedicated in her name in an inner courtyard at the Terry Center.
In the early 2000s Suzi conceived and began the implementation of a program under which musicians who played for Green Willow (such as Old Blind Dogs, who made several visits) spent a day visiting with the Terry Center kids, playing music for them and talking to them about it. It was a hugely rewarding project, not only for the kids, but for the musicians as well, and Green Willow is proud that we have been able to continue this program in the years since Suzi left us.
Among the many musicians who called Suzi’s house in Radnor Woods their “Delaware Vacation Home” was Scotland’s Jim Malcolm, who visited many times during his years with Old Blind Dogs, and then later as a solo performer. As part of his 2011 release Sparkling Flash he wrote and recorded a tribute, “Suzi Wollenberg”. An audio excerpt can be heard on Jim’s site at www.jimmalcolm.com/music/. We want Jim to know that Suzi’s prized Martin D-35 is still in good shape, and he can come back and play it any time. Also, the Old Blind Dogs dedicated their 2010 Compass Records release Wherever Yet May Be to Suzi.