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Orchid Gems



Youthful Interests, Lifelong Passions - Susan Mallen

By: Pam Horter-Moore

I was eager to interview OSWP member Susan Mallen because she lives within walking distance of me in Zelienople. I was also curious about the moniker “Larva Lady” in her email address. After spending time with her in her home, I left knowing a lot more than I did when I came.

I discovered to my delight that Susan shares my interest in butterflies and moths, but she has gone further than I by raising these beauties, collecting larvae, and propagating their habitat. It’s a passion she inherited from her grandfather, whose specimens she still displays.

Since both parents have degrees in horticulture and the family had a long farming tradition, interest in indoor and outdoor gardening came naturally to Susan. “When my children were young, I could still work in the garden and keep my eyes on them while they were playing,” she jokes.

It doesn’t take me long to discover that Susan’s interests are not confined to butterflies and moths, or even to gardening. She has many passions and commitments that keep her plate full and her schedule busy.

Natives of upstate New York, Susan met her husband Tom at SUNY Oswego and married in 1986. Tom came to Pittsburgh to earn his PhD from Duquesne. Their first home was Monroeville, but they eventually settled in Zelienople and raised two children, Ryan and Erin, now young adults. Tom recently retired from Sherwin Williams Corporation, Packaging Coatings Division.

Talking with Susan was a learning experience for me. I have lived in the apartments next to Glade Run Lutheran Services (GRLS) for over three years, and I’ve noticed a barn, farm equipment, and horses. Sometimes I could see youngsters playing in the creek. I wondered what was going on.

Knowing that my hometown is Rochester, Pennsylvania, Susan reminds me of Rev. Dr. William Passavant, who was born in Zelienople and who founded several homes for the disadvantaged. This included the one that was situated on the hill behind my high school. “GRLS was established by Rev. Dr. William Passavant in 1854, as the Orphans Home and Farm School,” Susan explains.

She told me the history of GRLS and its mission of providing programs and resources for those with mental health issues and developmental disabilities. One of these programs is animal husbandry, which is known to have therapeutic benefits. Participants in this program learn the give-and-take of animal care, interacting with chickens, rabbits, cows, donkeys, and horses.

The equine program at GRLS Adventures drew Susan and her daughter Erin to the facility over 17 years ago. As a child, Susan been an English rider, saving her babysitting money for the stables. The activities at Glade Run Adventures reignited Susan’s love for horses, and she has been volunteering ever since, spending fifty hours a month caring for horses and mentoring other people in the care of horses.

Horses are fed, and water buckets filled. The horse must be groomed and checked for injuries. The stalls and bedding must be cleaned and freshened daily. There are other things that might demand attention.

Susan understands the full scope of horse husbandry, having volunteered, and learned from the ground up. Her time in service, as a volunteer at Glade Run Adventures is exceeded only by that of the director.

She laughs when I tell her that the last horse I rode ran away with me. “You have to remember that horses are like teenagers; they know when someone is unsure of themselves, and they will take advantage.” Understanding the horse’s personality and physiology is also a vital part of horse husbandry.

“Horses are prey animals,” Susans informs me. Like most prey animals, their eyes are located at the sides of their heads to give them a broad range of vision for spotting predators. We humans, like most predators, have front-facing eyes, which limits our range of vision. We see things differently from horses, and this is a good thing to know when dealing with them.

Not surprisingly, Susan rides. She owns a horse at Culver Training Stables in Fombell. His barn name is Jimmy, but his show name is Little Jimmy Dickens. At 22, they are growing old together. Susan rides English style –Hunt Seat and has competed in Hunter Under Saddle shows. Accuracy is critical.

I was wondering how I was going to segue from Susan’s work at Glade Run to her passion for sewing when she sent me a postscript in an email. “People find it funny that I create things like chicken diapers and pony booties. When the weather is very cold, the animal husbandry specialist takes the creatures up into the school. We can’t have them slipping on the linoleum or leaving little piles around!” Susan’s postscript reminds me that everything is interconnected.

Sewing is a skill Susan grew up with. Her mother sewed her daughters’ clothes, and, by 10, Susan was sewing her own. Later, she would sew her own children’s clothing. Having discovered quilting in the 70s, Susan meets with a friend on Wednesdays, and displays her creations in her home. Her weekly trips to see her parents in upstate New York include assisting her mother with her own sewing projects.

What does Susan sew? Just about everything. Active in Calvin Presbyterian church, she sews the paraments for the church and changes them as needed. Paraments are the liturgical hangings on and around the altar, such as altar cloths, as well as the cloths hanging from the pulpit and lectern.

Susan comes from a family of gardeners, and it was her mother’s gift of an Oncidium Twinkle that piqued her interest in orchids when it bloomed in 2019. Since then, she has made several purchases. She has 74 plants in her collection of Phalaenopsis, Cattleya, Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Oncidium, and Paphiopedilum, which she grows in the sunroom. Multiple doses of mealy bugs have her reconsidering Phalaenopsis in the future.

Susan joined OSWP in 2021. “I’m always learning,” Susan says. “I’m willing to experiment. The flowers are the attraction for me, and I am just happy for the chance to get my orchids to bloom.”

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