Sue Rosenfeld In Memoriam

Friends of Niger acknowledges the passing of our colleague and friend to so many, Sue Rosenfeld, who spent many years in Niger. We are sharing this brief obituary from her brother Josh below and we invite you to share your thoughts using the comment function on this page.

Sue Rosenfeld, 72, a New Jersey native who spent the majority of her life as an educator in Africa, passed away on October 10 in her home town of Niamey, Niger, after a lengthy illness. A native of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and the daughter of two teachers, her international adventures began when she spent a year abroad studying in Perugia, Italy while attending Dickinson College, where she graduated in 1970 and majored in Classical Studies.

She left for Africa in 1977/8 to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Joal, Senegal, and would live in Africa for the rest of her life. After years in Senegal Sue was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and moved to Bujumbura, Burundi, where she would remain until she moved to Niamey. She taught English at the American Cultural Center and served as the coordinator for Boston University’s foreign study program in Niamey until the program was terminated in 2010. She remained there as a teacher and educator until her death.

One of her students in Niamey was Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). “Our program director, Sue Rosenfeld, once told us that students who apply to the Niger program are ‘self-selected’”, Ocasio-Cortez said in a March, 2010 article in Boston University’s Daily Free Press. “In other words, young students who make the commitment to spending four months in the Sahel of West Africa tend to have a thirst for adventure that is not easily quieted by concern.”

In addition to her roles with the Peace Corps and Boston University, she spent much of her life teaching English as a second language (TESOL).

A serial correspondent, she communicated on a regular basis with hundreds of friends, colleagues, students and family around rather globe, many of whom commented on her ability to bring diverse and unlikely groups of people together. She is best-remembered for her willingness to mentor and aid others, including assisting several African students to attend college in the United States.

She is survived by her brother, Josh, who remains in Elizabeth, and her long-time companion Ahmadou Mbaye of Dakar, Senegal. She is the cousin of author Judy Blume and also survived by her dogs, and Bebe, a chimpanzee she cared for in Niamey.

Her body will remain in Niamey, while her soul remains in all who knew her. 

The outpouring of memories about Sue and the impact she has had will be recorded below.  It is worthy to note that Sue was a member of the Friends of Niger Board beginning in 2006 as the Niger Liaison.  In that capacity for many years Sue helped guide the activities and investments which FON made in Niger.  One of the traditions that Sue began was to provide the National Hospital Pediatric ward with chewable vitamins that had been hand-carried over to Niger by FON members and other travelers. 

6 thoughts on “Sue Rosenfeld In Memoriam”

  1. Rest in Peace, Sue Rosenfeld.
    She passed away around 10pm on 10/10/2020, and I find that appropriate because as a friend goes she was a perfect 10.
    I met Sue shortly after moving to Niamey in 2012 and we quickly became friends, having lunch together every few weeks and conquering the monthly Quiz Night at the Rec Center as often as we played. The last time I saw her in person, was in August 2018, as I was about to leave Niger 8 months pregnant with my second child, Zac. But we kept up via email, as she was great at keeping in touch with her many, many friends all over the world. Once it was clear that she was very sick and likely to pass away soon, we exchanged some final, meaningful emails and I was able to tell her how much I admired and appreciated her.
    Sue loved to tell stories, and her life was rich and full enough to have endless amounts of stories to tell. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal 1977-1981 and made Niger her home for over 35 years after that. She spoke more languages than I could keep track of and loved to use them. Sue ran the BU Study Abroad program for many years; from an article last year, “‘We need more Americans to be empathetic to Africa, to have experience in Africa, to care about what happens in Africa,’ Rosenfeld wrote. ‘Peace Corps is probably the best vehicle for making that happen but after Peace Corps, I’d say well-planned and well-executed study abroad programs are the next best thing.’”
    Sue also taught alongside my father-in-law early in her time in Niger, and was involved in youth basketball leagues as well. A young 4-year old Kaocen would often accompany his dad and older siblings to the games, and when Sue got a bigger chair she’d let Kaocen use her small wooden stool. When she ran into me and Kaocen at a restaurant in 2012 (when we were not yet dating) she was thrilled to see him for the first time as an adult, since he’d returned from studying in the US. Later, when I told her that we were dating and then engaged, she was our biggest cheerleader and loved that she knew us separately and then together. Sue also informally helped pave the way for countless Nigerien students to study in Arkansas (including my husband & multiple members of his family). When we got married, she gave us that wooden stool that Kaocen had sat on as a child next to her. Our kids use it all the time. ❤️

  2. Sue and I go back to my training with Peace Corps Niger. I was posted at the University of Niamey, and I lived in the Terminus neighborhood, down the road from where Sue lived (at the time). Hence, I saw her a lot; we did a lot together and talked about everything at one time or another during my two years as her neighbor. We kept in touch all this time, and I saw her whenever she was in Chicago. During Peace Corps, she was a goldmine to me. She knew everything and everybody. (A side note–Sue just didn’t have a “Rolodex,” she kept notecards of names and addresses (or locations) and specialties of people–where the best bread was sold, who cut hair the best, tailors–You name it, she had a card for that person.) I married an RPCV from the Solomon Islands (Frank) and she became friends with him too. She always lived life on her own terms, unlike anyone I have ever known. We will miss her terribly.

  3. I did the BU program in 2003. As someone who had spent much of her life trying to fit in, I was amazed and inspired by Sue. There’s no one quite like her, and she never hesitated to show the world her complete unique self and live life on her own terms.

  4. I was a PCV in Niger 97-2000 and Sue was an icon. I stayed on in Niger working for Africare thereafter and Sue became a close friend. There was a small group of us – Sue, Kathy Tilford, Jennifer Burt Davis, Julianna White and myself that got together every Saturday for years to have lunch together at Chez Chin. We would spend hours chatting – my husband said we were like a group of hens and christened our group the Cluck Club which stuck. My fondest memory is Sue having us doubled over in laughter with her stories, the best of which was about the chimp Arafat. Sue went to the Musée one cold season morning to find Arafat completely out of sorts and she stated “in my hubris I thought I could calm him down”. To make a long story short it ended with Arafat ripping off Sue’s dress, tearing it to shreds, and summarily peeing on it! all whilst Sue was left in her undies in the middle of the Musée. We all laughed until we cried. Sue you left a hole in this world when you left – thank you for your friendship and all the laughter!

  5. I will always be grateful for the world Sue opened up for me. I participated in the BU Niger program in 2003 & 2004. From the first week I arrived in Niger, I knew my life would be changed forever. The BU program, in large part thanks to Sue’s leadership and passion, will forever remain the most pivotal moment in my life. I ended up living in Niger for 7 years after graduation, including one year with Sue supporting the BU program, and for over a decade in West Africa, before my Nigerien husband and I moved to the United States in 2018.

    Sue has been such a foundational part of my life over the past 17 years, and has helped me through some extremely difficult personal trials. In 2013, when my life was upside down, she took me in and helped me to find my feet again. Living with her, we became such close friends. During the four years I lived in Burkina Faso after leaving Niger, I would regularly stay with Sue on my visits back home to Niamey. Over the years I have made so many amazing friendships and acquaintances through Sue. I will forever miss story time with Sue, and while Niamey will always be home to me, there will forever be a gaping hole without her there.

    I am forever thankful to have had her in my life,

    Maidukiya (aka Duke)

  6. Sue and I met because we were assigned adjacent rooms in our freshman dorm. Since there were multiple Susans on our floor – six, I think – she became Rosie and I became Richie – based on our last names. Sue was a devoted classics major. She already knew Latin and started studying Greek. I would help her by quizzing her using flash cards. The only word I remember was hey-hippay-hey-too-potamoo (phonetically speaking). It meant “horse of the river” or hippopotamus in Greek. Great for chanting, which we did. After so many years she said it might be the only word she remembered, not that I believed it.

    Sue had her eyes on teaching classics and was very excited senior year to have an interview for a job with a very innovative teacher who headed a special classics program in the Philadelphia school system. It was a perfect scenario for her future – she loved other languages, had two parents who were role models, could use all sorts of new approaches in the classroom, was intrigued by living in Philly, etc. I offered her a ride to the interview. Sue was anxious to make sure she would get there in good time (as anyone who has ever dropped Sue off at the airport knows), so we left really early.

    Rosie might have had a magnificent career as a classics’ teacher! But, she reminded me on her last visit that my junker car had changed all that. It broke down on the highway, and we spent all day at a gas station in Philly trying to get it fixed and pay for the repair. She never made the interview. I felt dreadful about it. But, she told me missing that interview ended up sending her in another direction – still speaking languages, still teaching, still bringing innovation to her work, but in a whole different realm!

    I feel very fortunate that I got to be the recipient of so many good things Rosie found on that new path. I never visited her in Africa, but I felt like her whole world opened up to me as I met many of her friends and associates who visited the States. Many of you. I gained a raft of new perspectives. I got to see how she was respected and cherished by colleagues, students, and friends she made in Senegal, Burundi and Niger. I learned a bunch about chimps. She had an infectious energy, a wonderful sense of humor, the ability to spin a good tale, serious advise when wanted. It drew lots of people in. Just what she wanted. On her trips to DC, once computers entered the picture, she could barely wait to get back online after a night’s sleep or an excursion. It was the lifeline that connected her to all of you.

    I am very lucky that she was my friend! I loved laughing with her more than anything and will miss that immeasurably!

    Susan Richardson Borchardt
    Washington, DC

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