Sue Ellyn Pagano Huizing, a former Madison Area YMCA gymnastics director who retired from the Y in 2001 was fondly remembered after her passing at a gathering of former Rosettes and coaches at the Madison Area YMCA.
Women who had been Rosettes during the 1980s and 90s and coaches came from near and far including California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to celebrate Sue Ellyn’s life and talk about how she touched their lives as a coach, colleague, mentor, mother figure and friend in “the gym that Sue built.”
“Sue left her mark on our association and more importantly with the many girls who she coached in gymnastics,” said Madison Area YMCA Vice President and Capital Project Director Bob Conley.
Sue was hired in the early 80s to take over a small but growing gymnastics program, long before the Y had dedicated space for gymnastics. The gymnasts and coaches set up and broke down all of the equipment each day. It was under these difficult training conditions that the Rosettes won their first YMCA Nationals in 1983. It was then that the Y determined that a proper gymnastics space would be built in the Y’s facility on Kings Road. Sue spent countless hours designing the dream gym for gymnasts that is still in use today, where the same nurturing and mentoring still happens.
Debbie McCarthy Bell, Sue’s close friend who also coached with her, said, “This gymnastics center is truly the gym that Sue built. She dreamed it, designed it and more importantly had developed a program that would fill it. Of course, much as it is today, it is not the walls and equipment, but the lives touched within the walls that is the story. Sue showed us kindness, loyalty, strength and love.”
“This gym was Sue’s happy place,” said Sue’s sister Cheryl Johanson who attended the celebration, noting that while her sister shaped the gymnasts, they in turn shaped Sue. “Impart all you learned from Sue to others,” she said.
Brooks Kenny said that she was never the best on the team and she told that to Sue. “Sue said, ‘It’s about showing up and being a good team member,’” remembered Kenny. Like many Rosettes, Kenny saw Sue as a second mother.
She said she tries to impart these lessons on her own children today. During her college breaks, Kenny came back to the Madison Area YMCA to help with coaching. Sue attended her wedding as well as the weddings of many other Rosettes.
Kelly Ewing spent 12 years as a Rosette and now her daughter, Colleen, is currently on the team. Ewing said her daughter has found all the things that she herself loved about being a Rosette. “The team becomes your family. You learn life lessons early. It’s not about winning—it’s about supporting friends. You learn what dedication and commitment is about.”
Kiya Tomlin said, “I thought I was Sue’s favorite. I came to realize that each of us was her favorite,” adding that she aspired to positively impact other people, as Sue had shown her.
Upon hearing of Sue’s passing, many of the Rosettes during her tenure (once a Rosette always a Rosette as the women affectionately agreed) posted fond memories and gratitude on Facebook:
- Sue Ellyn and our Rosette family impacted my life in a way I don't think I have ever been able to put into words
- I have tried in different ways over the years to get the message to her that she has had a HUGE impact on my life, that she played a significant role in raising me…
Sue is survived by her two daughters, Audrey and Bridget, and a family of Rosettes too large to list. As she was facing her final days she told one of her closest friends, “Make sure all the Rosettes get a hug from me and that I love them.” A college scholarship in Sue’s name has been established.