“Not June Cleaver perfect, with the dress and the apron and pearls, but she was just a perfect mom.”
Culpepper was a homemaker when rearing Susan and her siblings, Marcia, Jim and John, while her husband Charles (Charlie) worked at X-10 in Oak Ridge.
Susan recalled “a classy Southern lady” who had keen cooking, gardening and sewing skills. Culpepper’s chocolate pie “was amazing,” and she made not only Marcia’s wedding dress, but also several of the bridesmaids’ gowns too.
“I will always remember how I looked up to her” when I was growing up, Ramsey said.
Culpepper, now 87 and a widow, said she loved being a mom.
“I was one of seven, and I wanted to have that many, [too], but we had to stop at four.”
“Even though it was hard to do on one salary,” Culpepper said she was glad she could be at home when her children were young.
“I knew where they were, I knew what they were thinking,” she said. “I could be there for them, and I could not have done that if I had been working.
“I liked that they depended on me,” she continued. “And, I could depend on them. If anything ever happened, I knew right away, and it made us closer.”
All of them were close to patriarch Charlie, too.
“The children adored him — he was their prince,” she said of her husband of 50 years. “He was the best man they ever knew, and he was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
The couple met at Oak Ridge High School, wed in 1950 and had been married 50 years at the time of Charlie’s death in 2000.
Ramsey said she and her siblings learned about stability from her parent’s example, and that marriage and other relationships required “working through things.”
The Culpeppers relied on faith, too. They were members of Faith Lutheran Church in Oak Ridge, but Culpepper said, “I didn’t raise them as Lutherans — I raised them as Christians.”
When her children were older, Culpepper eventually did go work as a sales clerk at Kimball’s Jewelry Store in Oak Ridge.
“She worked her way up from sales to management, and we were so proud,” Ramsey said. “For someone who never worked, that was really an accomplishment.
“And she had such a work ethic, and I really learned from that. She never called in sick and just showed us the importance of hard work.”
After retiring, the couple was able to live part of the year in Florida. When her husband passed away, Culpepper remained in Florida for a time but was able to find a condominium just down the street from Ramsey when she returned to East Tennessee.
Culpepper lived alone until moving to Autumn Care a little over a year ago, where she has made many friends.
“What better place is there to be?” she asked. “There are no worries here.”
In addition to Susan and her husband, Dave; Culpepper’s daughter, Marcia Rose; and son, Jim, and his wife, Nancy, all live in Knoxville. Her son, John Culpepper, and his wife, Karen, live in Lake Placid, New York.
Ramsey said she “pops in” a few times a week to see her mother, and they have a standing hair dresser appointment every Thursday. Marcia typically visits on Saturdays and Jim sees his mom on Sundays.
“I love my children,” Culpepper said. “They are very good to me.”
Several of her nine grandchildren visit often, too, and Culpepper also has 11 great-grandchildren.
“They love their ‘Grandmother Sue,’” she said. “They are so sweet.”
She also has endeared herself to the Autumn Care staff.
“They just love her, and they are so good to her,” Ramsey said.
“I’ve only worked here about a month, but [Mrs. Culpepper] opened up to me very quickly.” said Autumn Care activities director Caitlin Bidwell. “She shared so much with me about how proud of her family she is, and she has so many pictures of them.
“She is just a family-oriented person.”