In The Pink with Ribbons & Buttons

Contributing Writer

SUE’S BROOCH: Button brooch created by Sue Stees.

She’s not the type one can buttonhole.

And she doesn’t keep things buttoned up.

She openly shares her experiences of the past two decades living as a cancer survivor.

She’s earned some impressive ribbons for doing so: The Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation You Make A Difference Award and the BMW Local Hero Award plus she’s logged a lot of time volunteering with Reach to Recovery and more than once chaired the Pink Ribbon Luncheon. And, she was instrumental in launching Panera Bread’s national Pink Ribbon Bagel campaign.

This month Sue Stees and her husband, Dr. Tom Stees, are being honored at Sing for the Cure by Council Oak Men’s Chorale. It’s a special honor at a special time but both Stees are genuinely modest and it’s buttons Sue likes and she’s more likely to talk about.

“Almost 20 years ago in St. Louis my friend Francie and I had a craft business. It was creative therapy for me after my cancer go-round and the stress of nursing my mom through illnesses late in her life. About that time I saw some button brooches in Chicago and decided that we should make them.”

“We scoured flea markets and antique dealers—going through stacks of boxes of buttons. My husband Tom even found one gem of a vintage button in a parking lot one day and brought it home.”

Sue describes creating the button brooches as “a bit like a puzzle.”

“You have to find the right fit, the ones that work together. When I moved to Tulsa, I couldn’t quite part with them. All the loose buttons remaining from our projects came with us and went into a closet.”

The move to Tulsa came about the time the Stees and Tom’s sister and brother-in-law Gaynell and Jim Magers expanded their Springfield-based Panera Bread franchise to Tulsa.

For 12 years the Stees stayed busy opening eight bakery-cafes in Tulsa, and nearby Broken Arrow and Owasso, as well as others in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. All that expansion didn’t keep them from raising dough for a number of community concerns. At the top of the long list of beneficiaries of their personal and company efforts: early cancer detection, treatment and research.

This summer Sue brought the buttons out of a closet.

“Part of it was the resurgent popularity of brooches. Also, my friend Dianne Rodehaver had begun making them and we decided to do a workshop for the Tulsa Herb Society and sell button brooches at the group’s December Carols & Crumpets at the Tulsa Garden Center.”

Perhaps it’s also still a bit about therapy. Buttons do hold things together. As of this summer the tight-knit couple of nearly 45 years share another thing in common. Both are cancer survivors. Though it hardly seems fair, the couple is currently coping with treatment for Tom’s recently diagnosed cancer.

“Come August 27th, if Tom has lost his hair then I’ll be walking on stage at Sing for the Cure with the best-looking bald fellow!” says Sue.

Updated 08-20-2005

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