Oct 05, 1940---May 01, 2024

Susan Elaine Swertfager Yilma, born October 5, 1940 in Utica, NY passed from this earth peacefully, surrounded by the love of family on May 1, 2024. She was a remarkably strong woman who led a humble and selfless life for all of her 83 years. Susan met each day with hope and joy in her heart: she will be remembered as a spirited, kind, loving individual with an unwavering faith in God, dedication to family, appreciation for humanity and the beauty of the world. 

Susan was raised in the heart of central New York state by loving parents Ruth E. and Willard K. Swertfager, proprietors of Goodwin’s Greenhouse and Floral Shop. She spent her early years beside them, a most willing helper in a verdant and colorful landscape. From a young age, Susan developed a giving heart. She was a devoted member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church; together with her mother, she sang in the choir and her family loyally served their community of faith over many decades. While attending Clinton Central High School, Susan volunteered as a candy-striper at Saint Luke’s Hospital and helped her mother care for aging family and friends. In lighter moments, she could be found rooting in the crowd at Clinton Comets games with her father; she was a tried-and-true hockey fan. 

Susan graduated cum laude with a B.S. in Education from the State University of New York at Oswego in 1963.  Completing her first year of teaching at Whitesboro Elementary School, Susan applied and was accepted into the United States Peace Corps. After 12-weeks of training in Salt Lake City, she was dispatched to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1966. There, Susan would meet her future husband Dagnachew Yilma, Ethiopia’s Superintendent of Education. They were married in October 1967 and settled in Susan’s hometown of Clark Mills, making plans with the help of her parents, Ruth and W.K., to raise their family. In 1969 daughter Rebekah was born; by 1972, Susan and Dagnachew’s household grew to welcome her five siblings from Ethiopia, Alemtsehay, Theodoros, Eskinder, Martha and Hanna.  

Insightful and energetic, Susan was quickly hired by Westmoreland Central Schools and soon won a reputation as an elementary educator with a keen gift for instruction. Through her love of language and storytelling, she worked tirelessly to cultivate curiosity and wonder among her students. Over 32 years, Mrs. Yilma wove magic into every learning experience. She served up each lesson, be it math, science, or reading, with dynamic flair and unbridled enthusiasm. 

Susan and Dagnachew believed strongly in the power of education. Guided by faith, with deep love and dedication, Susan used whatever spare time she had to tutor all six of their children, guiding them as they matriculated into the local school system. With her care, each established a solid foundation from which to soar in new directions. 

In retirement Susan maintained her teacher’s heart:  a proud grandmother, living in North Carolina, then Kansas, and most recently a resident and “Ambassador of Goodwill” at Shawnee Hills Senior Living, she was a voracious reader and equally prolific writer, enthusiastically planning, creating and sharing countless messages of wonder, faith and love with friends and family, near and far. 

Susan now joins her husband of 49 years, Dagnachew, parents Ruth and W.K. (“Kim”), eldest daughter Alemtsehay, granddaughter Elizabeth Marie and dearest cousin Kathleen in life everlasting. She is survived by five children, 16 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and an extended family that loved her deeply.  Family, friends and students, all who knew Susan are now entrusted with her faithful, exemplary teachings: may each continue to spread the lessons of love, grace, perseverance and compassion that she lived all her days.   

Susan’s family will reunite beachside in North Carolina this summer to celebrate her life.

Residents and friends at Shawnee Hills will be invited to gather in June to honor Susan’s memory with a brief reception and prayer. 

For those wishing to donate in Susan’s honor, the family requests that you contribute to the M.O.R.E. Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Program of the Medhen Social Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. More information on this blessed charity can be found at www.morechildren.org 

Kind words and remembrances for the family are welcome at the Porter website.

Cards and condolences may be sent to:   

The Family of Susan S. Yilma 

13851 W. 63rd Street– #215

   Shawnee, KS 66217

        Attn: Rebekah     


Susan’s legacy of love is strong, it shines brightly on in the hearts of all who shared her earthly journey. May she Rest in Peace.