A classmate with special needs helped point Suzanne Matsen toward her career path. The Spencer native is a special education instructor at Southeast Polk High School.
“I knew I was going to be a special education teacher at 8 years old,” she says. “I had a classmate who was severely autistic, and I thought everyone deserves a good teacher who cares and wants to be there.”
Helping others was also part of her upbringing.
“My parents had high expectations: ‘Do your best in school, give back to the community, and help others in need,’ ” she says. She was ready to continue her education at a community college to save money, but her parents insisted she attend the University of Northern Iowa. She worked three jobs while attending classes, including the KinderCare Learning Center.
Extra-curricular activities were an important part of Matsen’s life in Spencer. She was a cheerleader throughout high school, a spot she worked hard for.
“My first year, I tried out with 120 people for only eight spots,” she says. “I prepared by early morning practices at 6:15 a.m., reviewed with veterans to work with me and practiced with friends.”
She was also involved in Spencer community theatre, both behind the scenes and onstage. She had a part in the production of “My Fair Lady.”
“I loved the fun hats,” she says. “I wore a colossal black and white hat with lots of feathers on it.”
Matsen met her future husband, Nick, while in college. He also had a cause he was dedicated to.
“He kept pursuing me until I would go out with him,” Matsen says. “Our first date was the worst movie ever — ‘Death to Smoochy.’ Forever we are plagued to watch bad movies.”
Matsen and her husband live in Altoona with their two sons, Scott and Reed.
“We spend a lot of time outside in the summer playing ball, riding bikes, going on walks, and attending vacation Bible school,” she says. She also enjoyed sleeping in and having fun in the sun.