BY EMILY VOIGT | A memorial service will be held Saturday, November 2nd for Susan Korn, “the beating heart of P.S. 3” — the progressive elementary school where she served as guidance counselor for 33 years. Those who wish to remember her are welcome to join at 2 p.m. in the P.S. 3 auditorium at 490 Hudson St.
Susan died this summer at age 73, following a short battle with cancer and less than a year after her retirement.
Famous for her ability to put children at ease, she helped hundreds through the years, struggling with everything from the social travails of fifth graders to gender identity, child abuse, and drug addiction at home.
“She didn’t just bring them into the office to talk,” explained teacher Andrea Franks.
Instead, Susan invited kids to come by with friends and listened without judgment as they played, interjecting a sage comment here, a suggestion there.
“She made a safe, comfortable space for everyone—teachers too,” she said.
Her door was always open with people popping in endlessly with this problem or that. Children who didn’t fit in elsewhere found solace playing with Legos and plastic castles on the floor.
“Susan lived in community and for community,” recalled longtime colleague Julie Zuckerman. “It wasn’t about words, or flash, or being out in front. It was about being steady, steadfast, hilarious, deep and caring.”
Visiting Susan was a treat, and not just because she kept the fridge stocked with Oreos and chocolate chip cookies. Her compassion buoyed countless young lives.
When Susan herself was a mischievous, raven-haired girl growing up in Albany, the only child of Albert and Florence Weiner, she didn’t foresee a life in the city. That changed her sophomore year at Syracuse University when she met her cousin’s roommate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, David Korn, and the two fell in love.
Upon graduating in 1967, Susan moved to New York to be with David, landed a job as a social worker at the Children’s Aid Society, and enrolled at the NYU School of Social Work, from which she earned an MSW in 1969.
Meanwhile, when her mother warned her not to marry David—more of a rebel guitar-toting hippie than a nice Jewish boy—Susan’s resolve merely stiffened. They wed on January 28, 1968.
In a story Susan often told with mirth, she recounted how she probably would’ve left David over a tiff on their European honeymoon if not for their joint passport, which meant she could not storm off on her own. This bureaucratic shackle rescued a great love, by all accounts, and the couple returned to New York together, eventually welcoming three sons, Flip, Jeffrey, and Adam.
As a mother, Susan was deeply devoted, good-humored, and unorthodox. She allowed her children to curse freely, which caused a furor when the family briefly attempted to move to New Jersey, where Susan ultimately told the boys cursing was illegal.
The Korns lasted a mere summer in the suburbs before they piled back into their red Volvo station wagon and returned to the city for good—unleashing a joyous profusion of expletives as they passed the New York welcome sign in the middle of the Holland Tunnel. Shortly thereafter, they graced the cover of The Villager as the quintessential downtown family.
The Korns’ liberal, freethinking, peace-loving values made them a perfect fit for P.S. 3, known fondly as “The Hippie School” since its founding in the 1960s. When her son Flip started kindergarten there in 1976, Susan became active in the PTA where she eventually served as president.
In 1983, after a dozen-odd years at home with her children, Susan began working full-time as a guidance counselor for the then New York City Board of Education. The following year, she joined P.S. 3, where she stayed for more than three decades, serving as acting principal from 1992 to 1993.
Toward the end of her career, Susan chose to continue working even when that meant earning less than she would have from a pension, so deeply did she value her relationships within the school.
When she finally left her job in 2018, at age 72, she did so under the condition that she was taking a leave of absence and might well return. Though she fell ill to cancer a year later and died in July, she will be back in memory as the PTA is raising funds to improve the school in her honor.
Susan is survived by her husband, David, to whom she was married for 51 years, as well as her three sons, Flip, Jeffrey, and Adam, each of whom lives in the Village with their respective wives, Leigh Ann, Emily, and Margaret. Grandchildren Andrew, Sam, Elise, and Max have long spent Sunday afternoons tumbling in the same peace-sign-adorned living room where their fathers once did: dancing, playing indoor soccer, riding bicycles across shag rugs, putting on talent shows beneath a laser lights display. As ever, Susan understood the hearts of children, and the grown-ups they become.
More information about the Nov. 2 memorial service can be found at susan.korn.nyc.