Obituary: Susan Joy Deckenback Palmer

Grandmother, social worker, seamstress

Susan Palmer, a 33-year Claremont resident, died May 5, surrounded by family, just short of her 65th birthday. She had been battling brain cancer, which was diagnosed in May 2017.

She was born May 19, 1953 in Englewood, New Jersey to John Henry Deckenback and Elizabeth Hughes Deckenback. When young Susan was five the family took a huge leap and moved from the east coast to Santa Barbara, California. There she attended elementary school and graduated from Santa Barbara High in 1971, voted most likely to succeed as a senior.

She then attended Santa Barbara City College for two years before transferring to San Francisco State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work.

During high school and over summers she worked at the Santa Barbara Girls Club, where she clearly showed an interest in working with children. As a result she made the commitment to the field of social work and was admitted to the masters of social work program at San Diego State University in August 1976.

During her time in San Diego she met fellow SDSU student Kirby Palmer. The pair began a rather short courtship in February 1978, and married in Santa Barbara on December 30 of that same year. “Her friend had told her that there were only two good husband picks in the class,” Mr. Palmer said. “I got lucky and she picked me.” The couple had three sons, Matthew, Christopher and Robert.

After earning her master’s degree from SDSU, she was hired by the Inland Regional Center, where she stayed for about 1 year until moving on to her dream job in adoptions for San Bernardino County. Her work there became her strength and passion, and she eventually became a supervisor in the county’s Rancho Cucamonga office. While there she became an expert on creating life books to help children prepare for adoption.

She retired in May 2010 after 31 years of service, with a plan to sew more and spend time with her grandchildren. As part of her sewing passion she became involved with her two good friends, Mary Beth Rogers and Cathy Cimbalo, and they formed Three Old Hens. The friends and business partners produced reversible aprons and Ms. Palmer made little girls’ sundresses out of vintage tablecloths. She loved sewing and often said that the person with the most fabric at the end of life wins, her family shared. “She won the contest big time,” Mr. Palmer said.

Ms. Palmer was drawn out of retirement in 2013 to work for the Ontario-Montclair School District, where she supervised master’s level social work students. Her brain cancer diagnosis came just as she was preparing to retire for a second time. “As hurt and disappointed as she was she never complained or seemed to feel sorry for herself,” Mr. Palmer said. During her illness she was determined to make a Raggedy Ann doll for her granddaughter. She spent many hours on this final project, committed to finishing it herself and determined not to take help from anyone, her family shared. She finished just before Christmas 2017.

“She was a consummate mom, and watched more baseball games than anybody alive,” her family said. “She was a great baseball fan and also a great scorekeeper.” She was forever an active participant in her sons’ schools, sports and activities. Over the years she was den mother, team mom, cheerleader, challenger, PFA president, grad night committee member and a youth group leader. For many years she worked part time so as to be available to her boys. She also headed up the advent workshop at Claremont United Church of Christ for more than 20 years.

In her spare time she sewed, gardened and traveled. She and Mr. Palmer saw New York, England, Scotland, China, Canada and other far-flung places. Even after her diagnosis the couple continued to travel. They made trips to her beloved Carpinteria, to New England for a cruise, to Monterey for a family reunion and to Palm Springs with friends. Her final excursion, in February, was to Las Vegas to see Elton John. “That was her last trip and she loved it,” Mr. Palmer said.

Her parents John and Elizabeth Deckenback, and brother John R. Deckenback preceded her in death.

Ms. Palmer is survived by her husband of 39 years, Kirby; sons Matthew, Christopher (Brittany) and Robert; grandchildren Benjamin Palmer, Lucas Palmer and Payton Olivia Joy Palmer; sisters Karen Deckenback Estes (Bill) and Jean Camky (Dave); as well as aunts, uncles, cousins, numerous nieces and nephews, and many friends who cherished their time with her.

Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 20 at Claremont United Church of Christ, 233 Harrison Ave., Claremont.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Pomona Valley Hospital Foundation’s Living Well After Cancer Program at, or the Claremont United Church of Christ’s Susan Palmer Memorial Fund for Accessibility at


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