Former Country Western singer and television performer Susan Raye Wiggins is best known for her series of Top 40 Country hits in the early 1970s; but to the parents of the Panama Buena Vista Union School District, she is best known for her compassionate spirit and listening ear. As the Director of the Parent Resource Center, she displays one of her gold records on a wall in the center to get the students' attention. "Kids think music is a big deal, and they see my gold record, and then all of a sudden, they'll listen to me," she says. "They think I'm cool."
|Susan with her husband, Jerry|
Although she has never been a teacher, she says that "all the things in my life have led me to this job." In her seventh year with the center, she says it's the only one of its kind in Bakersfield and it provides a resource library where parents can check out books, receive one-on-one counseling, or attend free workshops.
She conducts an annual workshop titled, "Developing Capable Young People," a 10-week, interactive, and intimate program that encourages parents to break down barriers and build on successes. Through this workshop, parents learn ways to help their children feel more empowered and confident. "Sometimes the things we do as parents teach our children that they are helpless on their own," she says. "This program helps teach them to feel capable on their own, so they can make good decisions in their lives," she says.
In addition to the workshops, Susan enjoys the individual time she spends with the children and their families. Many of the families she counsels need a "safe" place. The center provides them a quiet, confidential, encouraging, and supportive environment. "I want to be a soft place for them to fall," she says.
|The Wiggins family on Thanksgiving|
Susan says she "fell" into singing and never thought about it as a career; however, as a child, she wanted to be either an attorney or a counselor. So, at the age of 40 and the mother to six children, she went back to school. When her youngest daughter started kindergarten, she started college.
She received her AA at Bakersfield College where she even ran track and cross country. Then, she went on to California State University Bakersfield to receive a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in education school counseling. Before taking her position with the Parent Resource Center, she worked in private practice and as a high school counselor at Highland High School.
She has been happily married to former Buckaroo drummer Jerry Wiggins for the past 37 years. With six children, Steve, Todd, Scott, Cale, Brock, and Brianna, and nine (almost ten) grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, family has always been Susan and Jerry's number one priority. Even during the height of her singing career, she made choices to keep her family first. "I got to pick and choose what I wanted to do so I could be with my family," she says. "I took off all of September to get my kids into school and all of December to get ready for Christmas."
|Susan's daughter, Brianna, was one week away from delivering her son, so the entire family drove to Santa Barbara and took dinner to her.|
The Wiggins family is big on traditions. One of their favorite family traditions is "Penny Walks," where their destination is determined by the toss of a penny. "You flip the coin; heads you turn left, and tails you turn right," she says. "You have to set a time limit, or you'll never get home."
For their Halloween tradition, they take the Fillmore Pumpkin Liner as a family to visit a pumpkin patch. For Thanksgiving dinner, Susan always writes a special, person-alized thank-you note for each member of her family and places it at their dinner plate. And on Christmas morning, they always enjoy "Puffy Oven Pancakes" followed by an indoor, snowball fight using the presents' wrapping remnants wadded up into balls.
When Susan's daughter, Brianna, was crowned "Miss Bakersfield" in 1997 (and later went on to become Miss Kern Valley), she was so impressed with the program and its director, Gayle Tape, that she started volunteering her time to help with the pageant. This year's pageant, which includes Teen, Miss, and Mrs. Divisions, will be held November 8th at the Bridge Bible Church.
Although she has retired from the music industry, she does enjoy singing with her church choir and praise team. A member of Calvary Bible Church, she is also a Bible Study Fellowship Children's Leader.
During her entertainment career, she recorded 25 albums, including five duet albums with Buck Owens, and earned two gold records. She was a regular artist on Hee Haw, and her signature hit, "L.A. International Airport," is still popular especially at LAX. Her other big hits included: "Pitty, Pitty, Patter," "My Heart Has A Mind of Its Own," "Wheel of Fortune," "Love Sure Feels Good In My Heart," "Cheating Game," "Stop the World and Let Me Off," and "Whatcha Gonna Do With A Dog Like That."
Yams and Apples
"This is one of my family's favorite ways to eat yams for Thanksgiving."
6 yams – baked 'til not quite done
3 apples – peeled and sliced thin
3 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 square butter
4 Tb cornstarch
Mix sugar and cornstarch. Add to butter melted in water. Cook over low heat until thick. Alternate rows of yams and apples and cover with sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.