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Bartender Susan Stursberg, who ‘made people feel welcome,’ dies at 45

Susan Stursberg with husbIan Tuggle. | Provided photo

Susan Stursberg with husband Ian Tuggle. | Provided photo

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Updated: January 15, 2013 11:18AM

To thousands of bike messengers, artists, hipsters, punk rockers, and — more recently — yuppies, Susan Stursberg was known as the girl with the curly red hair serving drinks at Gold Star, a well-known Ukrainian Village dive bar.

Drinks have been sold at that location, 1755 W. Division, continuously since 1945, and Mrs. Stursberg began her tenure behind the pine in 1991, shortly after her mother bought the bar, said Mrs. Stursberg’s husband, Ian Tuggle.

The beer-stained bar somehow allowed Mrs. Stursberg, a natural introvert, to open up.

“She had no problem striking up conversation with strangers,” Tuggle said. “She made people feel welcome, like it was home.”

“She had a warm heart,” said friend Cary Callison, who remembered the moment that cemented their friendship.

After seeing a poster promoting Mrs. Stursberg’s annual fund-raiser to find loving owners for black cats unfairly associated with bad luck, Callison sat at the bar and pawed at his beer like a cat, causing Mrs. Stursberg to nearly fall over in laughter.

Mrs. Stursberg died Monday of pancreatic cancer. She was 45.

Tuggle met her when he bellied up to the bar in 1992.

“The place was empty and she was at the end of the bar reading a book,” said Toggle, who became a regular and was drafted into service one night when a bartender missed a shift.

“When I met her I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, and I felt so lucky she wanted to go out with me. And she pushed me to become a better person,” said Tuggle, who later tended bar full time alongside his wife.

For years the pair would close down the bar together and enjoy a 3 a.m. drink while watching blurry television on one of two ancient sets.

As Tuggle tried to break up the occasional bar fight, Mrs. Stursberg would wedge herself between her husband and the combatants “because she didn’t want me getting hurt,” he remembered with a chuckle. “I always thanked her for emasculating me in front of the customers.”

After a 10-year courtship, they were married at the Skokie courthouse in 2004.

Mrs. Stursberg wore many hats, including that of relationship therapist, said pal Mike Peterson. “Other bartenders can make small talk, but Susan really listened and cared.”

Mrs. Stursberg grew up in Lincoln Park ,near Clybourn and Webster, and attended Oscar Mayer grade school, Tuggle said.

“She loved saying ‘Oscar Mayer grade school,’ and that she had a teacher named Mrs. Hamburger. . . . She insisted it was true,” he said.

She was passionate about ’80s punk rock, Halloween, true-crime books, horror films and the Bee Gees.

“I really miss her,” Tuggle said.

Other survivors include her mother, Maryann Reid, and father, William Stursberg, and a sister Julia Andriessen.

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