Sage’s Star Alumna

Distinguished Alumna Award Winner Susan Wells with Alumni Association member Mike Cavanaugh (left) and Sage President Chris Ames (right).

Distinguished Alumna Award Winner Susan Wells with Alumni Association member Mike Cavanaugh (left) and Sage President Chris Ames (right).


“I’ve always been patriotic,” said Susan E. Wells JCA ’67, the daughter of a World War II veteran. “I grew up in Troy, New York, in the church of Uncle Sam.”

In 2010, Wells learned about a group of women in Florida who included embroidered stars from retired U.S. flags in care packages for soldiers overseas. Inspired, she and a friend created packets with an embroidered star from a retired flag and a note of gratitude for a group of veterans traveling to Washington, D.C. At the ceremony to see the travelers off, Vietnam veterans requested star packets for themselves.

Wells began organizing groups of volunteers to prepare stars from donated retired flags with embroidered stars for veterans and active military personnel. She called the project Stars for Our Troops, and built support in New York’s Capital District. When an article about Stars for Our Troops appeared in national newspapers and online over Memorial Day weekend 2013, Wells received over 1,000 messages from around the world. Later that year, Stars for Our Troops was mentioned in the Hints from Heloise column in 400 newspapers, sparking even more interest – from people with flags to donate, from people who wanted to volunteer, from friends and family of veterans and active military personnel, and from servicemen and women themselves. Wells estimates that in its first four years combined, Stars for Our Troops packaged and distributed 90,000 stars. After the articles appeared, Star Makers across the country began producing and sharing more than 100,000 stars a year. In 2017, hundreds of volunteers created 175,000 pouches with an embroidered star and a message that reads: “I am part of our American flag that has flown over the U.S.A. I can no longer fly. The sun and winds have caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that You are not forgotten.”

The stars have been meaningful for Star Makers and recipients, said Wells. The volunteer project is appropriate for groups of all ages and abilities and provides social connections, whether volunteers meet regularly or for a one-time project. More than 20 Boy Scouts have used the Stars for our Troops project as their Eagle Scout service project. She said the stars have been especially appreciated by Vietnam veterans, who didn’t receive the support that is often extended to soldiers returning from duty today. Stars have been shared on a Navy ship after the death of a pilot, distributed at funerals for veterans, handed out at job fairs to offer encouragement to returning soldiers acclimating to civilian life, and more. “If these little stars can help, then that’s the best legacy I can see for our retired flags,” Wells said.

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The Church of Uncle Sam: When Wells says she grew up in the church of Uncle Sam, she means that figuratively and literally. Samuel Wilson, the inspiration for the national symbol Uncle Sam, was a business and property owner in Troy, and the city promotes itself as “The Home of Uncle Sam.” The Wells family attended Troy’s First Baptist Church, constructed with money and bricks donated by Wilson, a church trustee.

Sage Salutes Susan: In April, the Alumni Association presented Susan with the Distinguished Alumna Award, for her leadership of Stars for Our Troops Inc. Susan’s mother, Edna Ryan Wells, a member of Russell Sage College’s Class of 1939, who celebrated her 100th birthday earlier this year, attended the award ceremony.

Before the Stars: After earning an associate degree at JCA, Wells attended Oklahoma City University with six friends from Sage Junior College of Albany – they were inspired by a favorite faculty member with connections there. She had a career in retail and air freight and established and ran a trucking/small package special delivery company with her husband in California. She returned from California in 1988 and worked in transportation and retail until she retired. She was on the JCA board for a year and enjoyed volunteering in various areas until she started sharing stars.