Sky Scene 07

Suzanne K. Van Poortvliet

August 5, 1936 ~ December 7, 2023 (age 87) 87 Years Old

Suzanne Van Poortvliet Obituary

Topsham - Suzanne VanPoortvliet was a loving mother, grandmother, sister and wife. Born in the midwest, her 87 years included major chapters on both the west and east coasts. 

Suzanne Kelly was the first of three children. She was born in 1936 in Rochester, Minnesota, where her father Hobart Kelly was studying obstetrics at the Mayo Clinic. Her parents soon moved their new family to Riverside, California where Sue grew up, eventually joined by siblings Roxanne and Donald. An outstanding student, Sue graduated college from Stanford University in Palo Alto, where she met her first husband, a native Californian, Stephen Welch. As she would later recount, in those days, “career day” for women, even at Stanford, focused exclusively on nursing or teaching. Sue chose the latter and completed her Master’s in Education at Stanford. She taught school for several years in the Bay Area and then moved to San Diego to teach, where she re-connected with Steve, who was stationed there in the Navy.  They married in 1962 and relocated to Berkeley where sons Gregory and Douglas were  born in 1963 and 1965 respectively.  The young family lived close to campus and while they were a bit older than most “hippies,” the Free Speech movement, and budding 60s era swirled around them. They attended concerts and protests against the Vietnam War. Sue let her hair grow past her waist, a signature she would carry (literally) until her late 70s.  Her commitment to helping others lasted her whole life.    

With neither having ventured east before, Sue and Steve moved their young family to Connecticut in a VW Bus in 1967. There Steve had a position teaching Economics at the University of Connecticut and Sue taught part-time in a Montessori School. It was there that their youngest son, Benjamin, was born in 1971. In addition to parenting, Sue remained engaged in early childhood education and women's issues. But neither UConn nor a subsequent position at Kenyon College in Ohio worked out for Steve, so the Welch family moved for a third time to Fredonia, New York for an economics position at SUNY Fredonia. In 1977, Steve and Sue divorced, leaving Sue to raise three boys through secondary school. She went back to work full time as a teacher and administrator at Montessori and Head Start schools -- a California kid, braving 40 miles of Buffalo blizzards to get to work and back.  

After several years on her own, Sue met her true love, A.J. “Van” VanPoortvliet, through friends at the Dunkirk Yacht Club in Dunkirk, NY. A native Dutchman, Van had survived the bombing of his native Rotterdam as a child in WWII and came to America as a teenager alone and undocumented. A Jack-of-all-trades, Van eventually owned a small but profitable furniture business. He was a spectacular sailor and a beloved father figure to Sue’s growing boys. Sue had many adventures with Van, including a 13-month sailing trip to the Bahamas with Ben in 1984-85 and numerous trips back to the Netherlands and throughout Europe. Their various travels brought Sue a wealth of friends from around the globe. She and Van retired to Stuart, Florida where they lived happily in an adorable double-wide mobile home with deep-water dockage until Van’s death in 2002. 

Suzanne had a free spirit. She enjoyed sailing and watching the sunset whenever possible -- especially if it faced west and reminded her of California. She was an avid reader and rivaled her own mother in completing the New York Times crossword puzzle.  

More than anything, Sue was loving and proud of her three sons. She helped with homework, bought all the school clothes, attended every track meet, drove paper routes when it snowed, gave rides to/from various jobs, attended every school concert, clipped every newspaper item, applauded every achievement, and worried about her boys regardless of the rationale. She carried that same love to her professional work with children. And as a grandmother she enjoyed talking with her grandchildren (she could entertain her grandsons endlessly with her “animal stories”) and witnessing them growing into young adults. Sue made friendships easily and cherished those she had known the longest. She will be greatly missed by all those fortunate enough to have known her.

Sue died of heart failure at her home in Topsham, Maine on December 7, 2023. 

Donations in Sue’s memory may be made to UNICEF at 

Arrangements are by Daigle Funeral Home, 819 High Street, Bath.  Condolences may be made online at

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