PULLMAN, Wash. — In the early 1980s, single-parent international adoptions were rare.  Susan Jackson wasn’t interested in marriage but longed for a child. Eventually she adopted two girls from India. The adoptions came nearly four years apart. Now both young women are Washington State University seniors.

In a five-page letter of nomination, Jennifer Jackson successfully spelled out why her mother should be honored April 17 as 2004 WSU Mom of the Year.

Initial efforts to adopt a baby through agencies in Thailand proved frustrating. So Susan Jackson of Lakewood sought help from lawmakers in Olympia. Later, she had to clear other hurdles with India government officials.

“While many women would have given up, my mother persevered, passed every test, home study and credit check,” Jennifer wrote. She worked relentlessly for 18 months to be placed on the waiting list for a child. Jennifer was born August 28, 1982 in Calcutta. Without many options available to her, the birth mother abandoned the premature child in a birthing center. The tiny 2.2-pound infant was found there in a shoebox on shelf. Over months in an orphanage, she was nursed back to health and finally put up for adoption.

“From the moment my mother picked me up out of the travel bassinet [at Sea-Tac International Airport November 16, 1982, following Jennifer’s 20-hour flight], we bonded for life,” the daughter wrote in her letter of nomination.

Jackson quit her job to take care of the baby. To honor her daughter’s Indian heritage, she gave her the middle name Anjali–which means “hands folded in prayer.”

Jennifer survived open-heart surgery a month before her first birthday. When Jennifer was four, her mother decided to expand the family. She received a dossier of a four-year-old girl living in a Madras orphanage. A caseworker explained the girl showed signs of physical abuse and tried to dissuade Jackson from adopting such a high-risk child.

Instead, Jackson listened to her heart, adopted Sudha and later renamed her Kristin Sudha. When both daughters were second graders, their mother was diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer. She made arrangement for the girls’ guardianship. She underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. She has been cancer-free for 14 years.

“My mother is a unique woman,” Jennifer wrote. “She never married so she could focus all her attention on us.”

Susan Jackson, a 1967 WSU alumna, is an English-as-a-second-language paraeducator at a middle school, where she works with at-risk and immigrant children. She has helped pay for her daughters’ prom dresses and college education and has taken the family on vacations to Disneyland, Colorado and Hawaii.

In May Jennifer will complete a degree in communication and begin working as a copy editor at The Seattle Times. Krissy will graduate in December. She is majoring in secondary education with an emphasis on English as a second language, like her mother, and social studies.

Someday both sisters want to adopt children from India, Jennifer said, so “we can give a child the same gifts that our mother has bestowed on us.”      

All three Jacksons are graduates of Lakewood’s Clover Park High School, Susan in 1963 and Jennifer and Krissy in 2000.

Other mom of the year finalists were Marie Cochran, Pullman, nominated by her daughter Katie Cochran; Chris Sodorff, 1973 WSU alumna, Pullman, nominated by her daughter Emily Sodorff; and Jane Winterfeld, Enumclaw, nominated by her daughter Stacy Winterfeld.