ICQ 2003/4 


Inauspicious Beginning

Although their first encounter was less than romantic, Susan Wayne McKee '67 and Lance McKee '66 have made up for it since.

by Antonia Saxon

Susan and Lance at home near Syracuse
Photo by Brantley Carroll

Susan Wayne McKee remembers exactly where she met her husband. And she remembers exactly what she said, too: "So you're Lance McKee." She was an outspoken junior, majoring in English and working as an editor at the Ithacan. She and some friends were trying to start a new service sorority on campus. Lance was a senior business major and president of the Inter-Fraternity Council, which wasn't eager to give the new chapter the go-ahead. "This is the guy who's been giving us problems," she thought to herself. Not exactly love at first sight. But now, nearly 30 years later, they remember the moment.

They might have continued that way, as cordial adversaries, except for a campus tragedy. A catastrophic fire in a fraternity building took the lives of two students and put Lance and another fraternity brother into the hospital with severe burns. Recovery and rehabilitation took most of the semester; Lance spent weeks after his release living in the infirmary. "He got to be sort of famous on campus," Susan remembers. "His hands were bandaged, and he used to go up to people and say, 'Hey, want to see my hands?' We used to bump into each other in the snack bar all the time; it was the center of social life." They can't remember which of them first asked the other out, but as the Ithacan's features editor, Susan got tickets for many events, and their first date was an evening at a play. "My hands were still in bandages," Lance says. "I guess I was a pretty safe date."

At their 1967 wedding

Their romance grew along with the new South Hill campus; their affection for each other seems bound up with their affection for their school. "We love Ithaca," says Susan. "We were there when the College was still being built. It was partly downtown and partly on Quarry Street. Buses ran between the locations. We watched [the buildings on South Hill] go up around us. When our parents came to visit, they'd point to the buildings and say, 'Those are our bricks.' " Within a year Lance and Susan were engaged. They married three months after Susan's graduation and moved to Syracuse, where Lance finished his M.A. in accounting and went to work for Price Waterhouse; Susan got an M.A. in education and took a teaching job. They were toying with the idea of moving to a sunnier climate when Lance was posted to Copenhagen for three years. "And that was the start of a love affair with Europe," Lance says. They traveled, read, traveled some more, and became interested in wine -- so interested, in fact, that they still make several trips a year to France to visit vintners and to add to Lance's well-stocked cellar. Their son, Brian, now 28, works as a wine importer in New York City.

When they returned to Syracuse in the early '70s, Lance continued work as an accountant, starting his own firm in 1978; several Ithaca College graduates have served as partners and on the staff over the years. He has stayed close to Dean Howard Erlich and administrators at the business school, and is currently serving on the committee that will choose the school's new dean.

Susan stopped teaching when their son was born; afterward, she started an antique business, specializing in 18th- and 19th-century Americana. The couple's interest in period furniture and architecture led to the purchase of a Federal-era drover's tavern -- complete with a ballroom -- that is now on the National Register of Historical Places. When Susan is asked whether the house isn't just a warehouse for the antique shop offerings, she laughs but says no; purchases for the house can be made only after careful evaluation for period authenticity.

Although she has served on a number of community boards, Susan has recently taken on a new role as an advocate for breast cancer awareness. Rather than soft-pedal the details of her ordeal after her own cancer surgery a year and a half ago, she speaks openly about it with anyone she senses might be afraid to ask questions. "If I can help just one woman," Susan says, "it's worth it."

The positive attitude with which Susan fights breast cancer sounds a lot like Lance's upbeat reaction to his own long convalescence 38 years before. It is perhaps not the kind of virtue two people can recognize in each other in a single meeting of the Inter-Fraternity Council. But it is the kind of virtue that ensures a marriage will last through the bad times as well as the good.  


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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 29 April, 2004