Susan Hendrickson-Schurke grew up as the youngest of three older brothers. She’s a self-described tomboy, who loves the outdoors. Her interest in the outdoors and working with people with physical disabilities led her to work as a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist in the mid1970s at a long-term care rehabilitation facility for young adults with physical disabilities.
In 1979 Sue started leading canoe trips in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area with Wilderness Inquiry, an organization that provides wilderness adventures for people of all abilities. This is where she met her husband Paul Schurke, the co-founder of Wilderness Inquiry.
In 1981 Sue and Paul joined Will Steger, Minnesota’s well-known arctic explorer, in providing winter camping and dogsled trips to people with various disabilities. Their first group included people who were quadriplegic, paraplegic, had cerebral palsy, and who were blind and deaf on a four day 40 below winter camping trip.
In 1982 Paul and Sue moved to the north woods of Ely, MN to run Will’s business for him while he led an arctic expedition. Paul and Sue lived in a 150 square foot wood fired cabin called “Happy Acres.” At the end of this winter season, Sue and Paul took off on their own adventure to bike for 8 months through the South Pacific.
In 1983, Will invited Paul to co-lead the first unsupported expedition to the North Pole. Although she had no formal training, Sue volunteered to sew most of the clothing for the expedition team members. Over the next 3 years Sue designed and sewed the clothing and sled gear for the expedition, including harnesses for 49 sled dogs. Many of her designs were based on traditional Inuit clothing with a Scandinavian influence. Sue made her first anorak after spending several months in Iqaluit, Northwest Territories of Canada where she was inspired the local clothing. Sue used the most breathable, lightweight nylon available at the time to make her clothing.
After 55 gruesome days and over 1000 miles, the team of 6, including the first woman, successfully reached the North Pole.
This expedition was featured in the September 1986 issue of National Geographic. Sue and Paul’s 6 month old daughter, Bria, was waiting in her mother’s handmade amauti (mother’s anorak) to greet her dad on his return.
The quality of Sue’s clothing proved vital to the success of the expedition and led to the popularity of her new clothing line, Wintergreen Northern Wear.
Sue and Paul’s 6 month old daughter, Bria, was waiting in her mother’s handmade amauti (mother’s anorak) to greet her dad on his return.
In 1989, Sue hired her first employees to help her make all of the clothing for Paul’s 1000 mile Soviet-American Bering Bridge Expedition across Siberia to Alaska by ski and dog team.
On his tour across the U.S., Russian President Gorbachev stopped in Minnesota for a visit that included a meeting with Paul and his Soviet expedition partner Dmitri. Gorbachev congratulated them on the success of the expedition and received a Wintergreen anorak as a gift and provided support for the proposed International Bering Bridge Peace Park between Russia and the U.S.
In 1990, Sue purchased her first manufacturing building and store in Ely, where she continues to manufacture and sell her apparel.
As Paul and Sue’s businesses expanded, so did their family. They have three children, Bria, Peter, and Berit who remain active in supporting their parents businesses. Paul and Sue provided an adventurous upbringing for their family, field testing Wintergreen Northern Wear products on family expeditions to arctic regions such as Greenland, Wrangel Island, Svalbard, Kamchatka, Siberia, and the North Pole.
Looking for a new adventure, Sue sold Wintergreen in 2009. The new owners went out of business in 2013. Heartbroken to see the business collapse, Sue repurchased much of the equipment at the auction and re-started her business from scratch. In September 2015, she once again owned the Wintergreen name and trademark. Several of her original employees were able to help her with the start up and were excited to work for Wintergreen again.
Wintergreen Northern Wear continues to be the product of choice for arctic expeditions and has outfitted teams from Greenland to Siberia every year since the first expedition in 1986.
Susan continues to design her products with her talented design team. They scrutinize every detail. New product designs may take up to a year to complete. All products are designed the old fashioned way, with a pencil and a ruler.
Wintergreen Northern Wear continues to be one of the largest private in town employers in Ely, MN providing living wages for over 20 employees.