Gardening, and volunteering unite neighbors | Positive Vibes

Last November, eighth grader Jonathan D’Cruz found himself reading the Golden  Gazette, a free monthly newsletter geared to older Fairfax County residents, which still arrives at his house addressed to a former resident. D’Cruz, who enjoys coding and reading books, came across a pitch for future story ideas. This prompted the Thoreau  Junior High student to e-mail in about his neighbor, Susan Voss, saying she was his role model for how he would like to be when he gets older.  

“I’ve been here most of my life. She’s been always there,” said D’Cruz. That closeness led to his recommendation that the Gazette do a story on his neighbor. “I thought Ms.  Voss would be a good fit because she’s always out and about even though she’s  older.” 

Voss, who is 91, remains upbeat and active. She spends her days gardening and volunteering. She still enjoys sailing though she leaves the hard work to her son these days.  

“I’m extremely lucky. At 91, I have no health problems, that’s very unusual,” said Voss.  “I walk every morning. Of course, gardening is a lot of exercise.” 

Once her family settled in Vienna, Voss spent 13 years taking classes for her undergraduate degree at George Mason and eventually another four years studying nights for a law degree from Georgetown. She credits her husband, and family with their support. Voss did not retire until she turned 80.  

“I didn’t become a lawyer until I was 50. So that’s the detriment about waiting so long, you don’t hit your peak until you’re in your 70s. But about the last five years, I was working part-time, said Voss. “I’ve just always had a really positive attitude towards things. I really like to keep busy. If I’ve got two hours left in the afternoon and I’m sitting here saying, now what am I going to do? I like having things to do.” 

The travel bug bit Voss young. She accompanied her husband around the world when he worked in communications for the foreign service. The two married when Voss was  18. Within two years they were stationed in Baghdad, Iraq. Then came Uruguay,  Singapore, Panama, the Philippines, and Germany. They settled in Virginia in 1972.  After her husband’s death, in 1994, Voss started traveling solo. Her favorite trips include camping in Baja to see the whales, crewing a sailboat in the Ionian islands of  Greece with Singles on Sailboats, and just before the pandemic traveling to Patagonia,  the southernmost tip of South America. 

Retirement allowed Voss to become an avid gardener, a pastime she only enjoyed moderately when younger. 

“When I retired, I took the Master Gardening class at Green Spring Gardens because I  wanted to learn more and I thought that would be a good way of doing it, which it was,” said Voss.  

She now volunteers at Green Spring Gardens in many capacities. Voss estimates she spends about eight hours a week on her own garden and another eight hours on her duties at Green Spring, which include working on a silent auction and planning art exhibits.  

Gardening initially brought the neighbors together. D’Cruz and his family would see Voss out in her yard, and his mother, Shona, began asking her gardening questions. 

D’Cruz also enjoys his family’s garden. He has a cherry tree which is his, a gift he asked for on his birthday. 

Voss considers her time at Green Spring to be something for herself. To give back to others in the community, she volunteers at the Committee for Helping Others where she runs a hotline for people who need financial support once a month, and the  Shepherd’s Center where she answers phones once a week. 

D’Cruz’s mother, Shona, credits Voss with getting her children interested in volunteering. For the past two years, they have been packing food for the Food for  Thought program at Marshall Elementary which is just around the corner from where they live.  

The neighborly admiration goes both ways. Voss believes D’Cruz is an extraordinary young man. A sentiment she mentions more than once when he is out of earshot.