The John and Ina Essner family of Cape Girardeau knows this all too well.
Twenty-two years ago, the family’s 12th and youngest child, Susan, completed her undergraduate degree at Southeast, rounding out the extraordinary achievement of all 12 earning their degrees from Southeast. The family adds to the feat this weekend when Susan Essner McMann, now of Farmington, Missouri, graduates again with a Master of Arts in communication disorders and her niece, Kali Essner, graduates cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in psychology with a minor in religion studies.
“I think location is the primary reason my family has been so committed to Southeast Missouri State University,” said Susan. “As students, we were able to live at home while in college which drastically reduced the cost of our education. Many of us were able to graduate debt-free as a result of not having to pay room and board, as well as through the aid of scholarships and part-time jobs.
“Now that I live away from the area, I realize how fortunate my family was to have a four-year university in our backyard,” she added. “In order for me to return to school, the closest options for my master’s program were an hour and half away, either Cape or St. Louis. I chose Southeast because of the familiarity with the school and proximity to family that would allow for a place to stay or caregivers for my children.”
The Essners say they’ve grown professionally over the years, and their workplaces have offered them opportunities to develop their skills. But they say their Southeast education set the foundation for what was to come.
John and Ina Essner of 2854 Bloomfield Road in Cape Girardeau say they never gave their children a directive to attend college – it was just an underlying expectation … and so it rolled down the line.
John L. Essner, the eldest of the dozen, was the first to graduate from Southeast, with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in marketing and a minor in English in 1975. He also has an Associate of Arts in computer science. He is now vice president and owner of Southeast Missouri Builders Supply in Cape Girardeau.
Sister Mary Essner is a 1979 graduate of Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in Education, secondary education, with a major in Spanish education and a minor in English. She also received a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University in Chicago. She is a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and is a pastoral minister at Holy Family Catholic Church in Hannibal, Missouri.
James Essner also is a 1979 cum laude graduate of Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in accounting. He is a business and enrollment analyst at Southeast Missouri State University.
Tom Essner is a 1980 magna cum laude graduate of Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in computer science. He is the vice president of CPU, Inc. in Cape Girardeau.
Alan Essner is a 1982 cum laude graduate of Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in accounting. He is funeral director at Ford and Sons Funeral Home in Cape Girardeau.
Steve Essner is a 1982 cum laude graduate of Southeast with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He also holds a Master of Arts in psychological counseling from Southeast and is a licensed professional counselor in Cape Girardeau.
Jane (Essner) Wilson is a 1984 magna cum laude graduate of Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in Education, elementary education. She teaches first grade at St. Mary Cathedral School in Cape Girardeau.
Chris Essner is a 1987 graduate of Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in computer science. He is employed with Accretive Health in Cape Girardeau.
Roger Essner is a 1988 graduate of Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in marketing. He is a network administrator and payroll specialist at CPU, Inc. in Cape Girardeau.
Greg Essner is a 1991 graduate of Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in finance. He is a partner and general manager of the Dairy Queens in Cape Girardeau and Jackson.
Keith Essner is a 1992 cum laude graduate of Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in finance and minor in economics. He is a payroll specialist at CPU Inc. in Cape Girardeau.
The youngest, Susan Essner McMann is a 1994 magna cum laude graduate of Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in social work and will receive her Master of Arts in communication disorders this weekend. She helps out in her husband’s practice, Karsch Family Dental in Farmington, Missouri.
The dozen siblings aren’t the only ones who have attended Southeast. Five of their spouses are Southeast graduates: Sharon (Wells) Essner, Becki (Meyer) Essner, Donna (Thiele) Essner, Denise (Stroder) Essner, and Kim (Bair) Essner.
And the Essner family tradition at Southeast continues. Six of the dozen’s offspring are now Southeast graduates as well — Nick, Allison, Matt, Lauren and Anna Essner and Beth (Essner) Otten. Kali Essner, daughter of Alan, will join that group when she shares the stage with her Aunt Susan at Southeast’s commencement ceremony May 14. Next up will be Hannah Wilson who is currently a Southeast freshman.
Susan says she is anxious to put her new degree to use.
“The beauty of speech-language pathology is that you can work in a variety of settings across the lifespan,” said Susan, who became interested in the field while working at the Lutheran Home in Cape Girardeau.
“I witnessed the work of the therapy department, and was inspired to be able to help improve the resident’s quality of life in a more ‘hands on’ way,” she said. “Although my first love is working with older adults, I enjoy working with children and adults of all ages. Since I have small children, working in a school is appealing in that our schedules will be compatible.”
The next step is also in motion for her niece and fellow 2016 graduate, Kali Essner, who was very active at Southeast over the past four years in Catholic Campus Ministry and as a student employee in Recreation Sports. She has been hired as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and will learn later this month where she will begin her missionary work.
Whether Susan or Kali, it all began with John and Ina Essner, neither of whom attended college. Ina, originally from Illmo, Missouri, was a valedictorian at St. Mary’s High School, the forerunner to Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau. John, originally from New Hamburg, Missouri, graduated from Benton High School.
John retired in 1988 as the founder of Southeast Missouri Builder’s Supply in Cape Girardeau. Ina was a homemaker early on but later worked in the office at the lumber yard.
All of the children fried hamburgers, scooped ice cream or worked part-time at Southeast Missouri Builders while attending college. All but one of the 12 are graduates of St. Mary Cathedral School and Notre Dame High School in Cape Girardeau.
“I have heard my older siblings say that our parents impressed the importance of education. As the youngest child in the family, I do not remember questioning whether or not I was going to go to college,” Susan said. ”The precedent had already been set that upon completion of high school, you pursue a college degree.”
Susan credits her parents for what her entire family has accomplished at Southeast.
“My parents have always demonstrated a strong work ethic,” she said. “I learned from them that you see a task through to its completion. Certainly, we have demonstrated the will to attain a college degree, but the ‘Will To Do’ can be seen in our jobs, our devotion to our families and Catholic faith, volunteerism and even in the competitive spirit we display in our recreational pursuits.”
To Susan and Kali, we can’t wait to see what you do, and to the entire Essner family, we celebrate your achievements!
Photo (top) Caption: Pictured in the front row, from left, are the Essner’s father John Essner, Jane Wilson Essner, Keith, John and Tom Essner, the Essner’s’ mother Ina Essner, and Susan Essner McMann. In the back row, from left, are Alan, Roger, Chris and Jim Essner. Not available were Sister Mary Essner, Steve and Greg Essner.