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University of Wisconsin-Madison

John & Susan Sutter Named Alumni of the Year

portrait of John and Susan Sutter
John and Susan Sutter (BS '78) were named Alumni of the Year for 2017.

Even in retirement, the couple continues to give back to the pharmacy profession

By Katie Gerhards
Photos by Bruce Fritz


Sometimes, a school is more than an institution that grants a degree. It’s where students make friends, forge relationships, launch careers, and find community. That was certainly the case for John and Susan Sutter (BS ’78), named the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy’s 2017 Alumni of the Year.

“It’s very nice to be recognized for taking advantage of the opportunities that our education at University of Wisconsin–Madison gave to us,” John says. “We are grateful that others have appreciated some of the leadership positions that we’ve held, and that’s all a reflection of, not only education, but also our continuing involvement with the university, School of Pharmacy students, and faculty.”

“We’ve always felt that our education at Wisconsin was such a wonderful gift for the kind of life we wanted.” –Susan Sutter

The Sutters met in the School of Pharmacy, and both were active in the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) student organization, now the Wisconsin Society of Pharmacy Students (WSPS). “We had a social circle that was involved with the student chapter of APhA, and that was part of us both seeing that we had a common interest in professional leadership, which continued throughout our careers,” says Susan.

The couple married shortly after graduating from the School of Pharmacy and went on to make extraordinary contributions to shape the profession and their local communities.

Finding success

John and Susan Sutter share many distinctions, such as having been active members of the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin (PSW), the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), and the APhA. They both served as co-presidents of the Pharmacy Alumni Association (PAA), and they’ve each earned the PSW Distinguished Service Award and the Bowl of Hygeia Community Service Award.

Susan Sutter
Susan Sutter (BS ’78)

Together, they owned Marshland Pharmacies—which included two community pharmacies and a clinic pharmacy in Horicon, Mayville, and Beaver Dam, Wis., where they served as preceptors for dozens of UW–Madison School of Pharmacy PharmD students.

Under the Sutters’ guidance, Marshland Pharmacies was also one of the first community pharmacies in the state to offer an American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-accredited residency.

“We’re the first in our families to be pharmacists, but both of our parents were small-business owners,” Susan says. “John’s parents were dairy farmers and mine were cheesemakers. When we made the decision to be independent pharmacy owners, we didn’t realize until later that we’d grown up watching our parents work together in successful small businesses, and that was part of why we were able to do this.”

As much as they’ve accomplished together, the two have also independently contributed to the profession of pharmacy. John, for example, served as the president of the Wisconsin Pharmacists Association and served on the One Voice, One Vision joint task force with the Wisconsin Society of Hospital Pharmacists that raised the vote to create PSW—an organization that’s now instrumental in advancing and shaping Wisconsin’s pharmacy practice.

Jason Christensen, Lindsey Christensen, Susan Sutter, John Sutter
John and Sue Sutter with their daughter, Lindsay (PharmD ’07), and her husband, Jason Christensen (PharmD ’07), received their Alumni of the Year award at the Pharmacy Alumni Association award ceremony. Photo contributed by the Sutters.

Susan, on the other hand, served as president of PSW and worked on the Pharmacy Examining Board (PEB). During her time with the PEB, she earned APhA’s Good Government Pharmacist of the Year Award in 2005 for working with legislators to update immunization statues to allow student pharmacists with the required education to be able to immunize, instead of needing to wait a year or two to become licensed pharmacists.

“I am proud of the work I did while on the PEB,” says Susan. “While I served on the board, we took an educational approach to our communications with the profession and the public, and we were active in advancing legislation that would expand pharmacists’ roles, ultimately benefiting the public.”

Giving back

Even as they started to raise a family with three children—one of whom also graduated from the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy—they continued to carve out time to be involved in professional organizations.

“When you’re first starting your career and first starting a family, it’s difficult to see beyond that. But it is still important to us to be very engaged with the community—it was where we lived, it was where we wanted our family to grow up,” John says.

Attending professional meetings and networking was how they brought important ideas back to their community, and it also provided them an avenue to give back. “We didn’t have all of the original ideas, necessarily, but we could take ideas and tailor them to be what our community and pharmacy practice needed,” adds John.

John Sutter
John Sutter (BS ’78)

Beyond the community, John and Susan have also devoted years to giving back to the profession, which Susan says is a two-way street. “We’ve always felt that our education at Wisconsin was such a wonderful gift for the kind of life we wanted,” she says. Working with students is one of the routes they‘ve found most rewarding.

For 10 years, they welcomed UW–Madison PharmD students into their pharmacy for clerkship rotations—mentoring, teaching, and supervising the student pharmacists. “We were always reminded of how proud we were of our education,” recalls John. “The quality and caliber of students that came to us were always top-notch, and that’s heartening to us, as alumni.”

Susan continues to have a hand in the next generation of pharmacists by serving on the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy’s Board of Visitors, helping to steer the direction of the School.

Looking forward

And through their years of successes and learning opportunities, trials and errors, they’ve accumulated a wealth of knowledge to share with younger pharmacists and students alike. “Push the boundaries of what you can do, and put yourself in the position to be successful and utilize that wonderful base of education. Don’t be afraid to not be successful, because you learn from taking risks, and that’s what ultimately makes you successful,” says John.

“Don’t be afraid to not be successful, because you learn from taking risks, and that’s what ultimately makes you successful.” –John Sutter

“With our involvement in leadership positions, we hope to have been mentors to other pharmacists and future pharmacists,” says Susan. “We worked hard to practice what we preach, and I believe that the pharmacists and students who worked with us over the years believe we stayed true to that goal in seeing how we served our patients, day in and day out.”

John and Sue are now less than a year into their retirement, but they plan to stay active, travel, and continue to contribute to professional organizations. Beyond that, they’re “still fresh with time and freedom.”

See past Alumni of the Year winners here.