Ever wonder why the squirrels on campus are so friendly? For Suhair Jasevicius, they even come up to her and eat right out of her hand. The Phoenix sat down with her to hear her story and find out what makes her one of the most interesting people around campus.
We go to sites such as Humans of New York to read about interesting people and their stories, but just walking around Loyola’s campus you will come across some fascinating people.
When I first met Suhair Jasevicius, I assumed she was a professor. A petite woman, she asked me to take a photo of her with the Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., after his State of the University address.
But until I started talking to her, I never would have guessed that although she turns 66 in two months, Jasevicius is a Loyola student.
A Palestinian Jordanian, she was born in Jerusalem and came to Chicago to visit her sister in 1972. Her situation at home had been difficult after the Six-Day War in 1967, so she decided to stay.
She’s worked a number of jobs, including public relations for the Mid-America Arab Chamber of Commerce, and even did a little modeling, where she met her husband Manfred.
They live just two blocks from Loyola’s campus, and every day Jasevicius and her husband would walk by Loyola. Although they never had any children of their own, she said she always wished to be among the students.
“I love the young people around me, from when they start as freshmen [to] when they graduate, they are blossoming,” said Jasevicius.
In 1995, she spoke to a friend who used to work at Loyola, and this friend encouraged Jasevicius to enroll and take classes.
Ever since, Jasevicius has taken it one class at a time, completing her undergraduate degree in theology in 2007. Now she is working on her master’s degree in spirituality.
“Usually an older person, when they start school, they come to the class and they leave. I try to live the collegian life,” Jasevicius said. “When I am by the computer and I don’t have enough knowledge, whoever is sitting next to me, I will ask questions and will start a conversation. That’s the way I know them. They help me and I help them.”
Jasevicius initially struggled and even failed one of her courses. But through it all, she kept a positive outlook.
“If I do my best today, I’m sure tomorrow will be OK,” she said.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Jasevicius is her love for animals and the outdoors. She said she knows every dog in the neighborhood, and knows the names of the dogs better than their owners. If you are ever looking for Jasevicius, you can find her sitting on campus, basking in the sun and watching the waves on Lake Michigan.
“When [my husband and I] walk, we sit over by Crown Center. For years, I call it my office or my sanctuary, so before whoever used to come or want to see me they meet me at my office. That’s my place,” she said.
But she doesn’t just look out for herself. Jasevicius always carries a bag of peanuts or almonds in her purse so she can stop to feed the squirrels.
“With time, they start knowing me, especially one squirrel. He’s getting old and he’s very smart. He comes to your feet and you sit there and you feed him. He’ll eat one and then the second one he will go and hide it. He keeps hiding them everywhere,” Jasevicius said. “I tell my husband, ‘Gosh, he is so greedy, like [Warren] Buffett.’ So we call him Buffett.”
Among Jasevicius’ other squirrel friends are Brownie and Blackie, but she cares for all of the animals. Last year, she said she would buy a bagel every day to feed a goose that would sit out by the quad. She is also not one to waste her meals, and will take what’s left from a restaurant and bring it to feed the birds. But of all the animals, Buffett holds a special place in her heart.
“Last year I saw [Buffett] and he wasn’t in very good shape. I think he cannot see out of one eye. And he’s lost some teeth,” Jasevicius said. “So whenever I see him I give him the gourmet meal. I always have pecans for him. I try to nourish him. And I know it’s Buffett because he’ll eat from my hand.”
Even though she’ll eventually complete her degree, her time on campus will not be over. Jasevicius knows she can go to her sanctuary by the lake and will always have a special spot on campus.
“Loyola means a lot to me. It’s not only for education — it’s part of my [way of] living,” she said. “And if you ask me what I would like to tell the young people, [I would say] of course to study, that’s the main thing. Study hard. But when they are walking, try to enjoy the beauty. Not to be on the phone 24 hours, not to block their ears. The sound of the waves is so beautiful. Try to enjoy nature, and look at the trees. Look around and be more mindful of their surroundings.”