Tag Archives: leiomyosarcoma

Suzanne Wilke

October 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Suzanne Wilke pulls up to her dog grooming store and exits her white Pathfinder with an exuberant wave and a giant smile on her face. She walks indoors and is immediately greeted with a barrage of barking dogs and friendly smiles. She picks up a chair and suggests we talk outside. “It’s too nice to be inside.” As we make our way to the storefront, we are greeted by multiple friends and customers picking up or dropping off their furry loved ones. Wilke greets everyone with the same friendly demeanor.

Wilke, who turns 60 in December, is a cancer survivor and owner of Bark Avenue Omaha, a grooming and daycare center for dogs. Her business is expanding, servicing 60-100 dogs per day. She is a rare breed whose ethics come from hard work and determination. Not satisfied with a mundane routine, she keeps herself active. “I hope to always keep that mentality, to stay busy enough where I don’t really have to worry about staying young,” Wilke says.

Her passion for dog grooming started at a young age. When she was 14, she started helping out at her aunt’s grooming shop. “There is just an art to it,” she exclaims. “My brain clicked, and it just came naturally to me.” So it would only make sense that from then on Wilke would follow her love for dogs and eventually begin her own business.

Though Wilke’s love for grooming only increased over the years, by age 23, in 1979, she took an apprenticeship with a plumber’s union as the only female apprentice. Wilke’s father, who was also a plumber, let her know that he wanted his daughter to have a career. “I was focusing on grooming, but my dad was always saying, ‘you need a career,’ and I didn’t want to do anything that confined me.”

After a few years of her apprenticeship, Wilke was no stranger to physical labor and eventually left the plumber’s union to begin a more promising job as a Union Pacific Railroad freight welder.

“I was the only woman to do that.”

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She smiles and explains some of her duties. “I welded hopper cars and did physical labor down in the shops of the Union Pacific Railroad.” Wilke continued to work at Union Pacific until 1988.

As Wilke began to figure out what career she wanted to pursue, she did not abandon her true passion, grooming dogs on weekends. She never lost her clientele regardless of what she was doing. “I still have clients that I had 35 years ago. Because they still have dogs.”

Unfortunately, in 1991, Wilke was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare malignant tumor. Wilke battled her way to make a full recovery only a year later. With a rare cancer, treatment was never easy. “They really didn’t know what to do for me.” However, she knew that there was something more. “I’ve always sat back and tried to understand what my purpose was. There’s got to be a purpose for me to be here.” After recovery, Wilke continued to work part time grooming dogs, but in 2000 she decided to open Bark Avenue.

As time progressed, Wilke maintained a healthy lifestyle both mentally and physically. She was in a position to do what she loved and make a living at it. However, in November 2015, Wilke suffered from a stroke that affected her speech and ability to walk. “It took me from November until the end of March to feel like I could get everything the way I needed it.” Much like other situations in her life, Wilke took this head on and conquered it. She shows no signs of health problems only a year after her stroke.

Today, she still grooms dogs on a daily basis and exercises every day. “There are all kinds of things we do in our lives that we feel passionate about,” says Wilke, who also enjoys camping, riding motorcycles, and four-wheeling.

Michelle Vilak, a good friend of Wilke and manager of Bark Avenue, says, “(She’s) the hardest working woman I have ever met. She’s inspirational and my best friend.” After spending an afternoon with Wilke, truer words could not have been said.

Visit barkavenueomaha.com for more information. Sixty-Plus in Omaha.

Cozily Chic

August 28, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From the corner of her sunroom in the historic Mercer Hotel on 11th and Howard streets, Bonnie Leonhardt can see another of the six places she’s lived in downtown since 1985. “Houses scare me,” she says by way of explaining her affinity for condo living. “I like having all the people around me. You don’t even have to know them; just having them around is nice.”

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The sunroom is part of a patio she had covered about five years ago. “Now it’s where we spend all our time,” she says, referring to husband Gail and her menagerie consisting of Henri the poodle, and cats Sophie and Xena. “It’s wonderful for fireworks, and my grandkids love it when it rains.”

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The Mercer Hotel condo is one of three downtown places Bonnie and Gail have renovated over the years. They moved in 10 years ago after someone asked if they’d sell their half-block-long condo in the old Howard Street Tavern. “We loved that place; I had no intention of ever selling,” Gail says. “But my wife blurted out this huge figure, and he said okay. I about fell out of my chair.”

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Never fear, the Leonhardts have effortlessly instilled their joie de vivre into their current home. Every square inch of the renovated condo is charmingly utilized. Orchids, amaryllis, and paperwhites color the sunroom, cozy conversation areas pepper the common room, and the white walls and open layout keep the overall feel airy. No decorator is called in, “it’s just me,” Bonnie says, though she confesses that if she brings one more thing into the place, “I’ll be a star on Hoarders.” Chairs in particular are her weakness, as proven by the Louis Ghost chairs around a small dining table by the open kitchen. Gail approves of her selections. In general. “She has good taste in everything but wine,” he says.

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The couple took out the too-tight lighthouse staircase up to the second floor in favor of one with a looser spiral and wider steps. An office, bathroom, and bedroom are sectioned off with their own doors, adding a new level of privacy the previously wide-open loft lacked.

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The main changes to the downstairs are hardwood floors in place of carpeting and losing the galley layout of the kitchen. “I didn’t want to be in the kitchen by myself anymore,” Bonnie says. Now guests can chat with the chef over a simple island—a slab of marble atop a small Bombay chest. The marble is Carrara, she thinks. “I have chemo brain, and it’s just not coming to me.” Bonnie was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma in April of 2012, prompting her to retire as a realtor from Pitney Bowes.

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She and Gail, CEO of North Central Rehabilitation, do still entertain a lot, though the gatherings these days are mostly small groups of very close friends. “People come in and say the place looks so European,” Bonnie notes. “French, they say, but I don’t know. Let’s call it Early Junque.”

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The description works only because an air of casual welcome pervades the look of downtown chic. It’s the type of place where you might arrive in Louboutin stilettos only to kick them off in a few minutes because you know it’s all right.