Susan “Yasoda” Deschenes, born July 14, 1943 left her family and friends on November 25, 2019 at the age of 76.
Susan Francis Harris was born in Worcester, MA. Along with her older sister Margaret, she spent her childhood years in Spencer, MA and then El Cajon, CA, along with several aunts, uncles and a myriad of cousins. In 1949 her mother re-married and the family moved to Tecumseh, MI where Susan later graduated from high school.
Susan moved to San Diego where she lived at the YWCA while working and attending college. She met and wed Robert Gillespie on November 16, 1963 and they moved to East Los Angeles, CA where the first of their four daughters were born. The young family eventually moved to Simi Valley in late 1969, and Susan’s faith led her to Shepard of the Valley where she became a Youth Group Leader, and then served as Summer Art Director at Pilgrim Pines – a United Church of Christ camp. Once the two older girls began grade school, Susan enrolled at Moorpark Junior College, often commuting on a 1970 Honda Trail 90 motorbike holding the twins in front of her as she rode the motorbike to college.
In the fall of 1974 she decided to move to Humboldt County where she and the girls made McKinleyville their home for several years. Susan enrolled at Humboldt State University where she was greatly influenced by Prof. Samuel Oliner, Sister Dolores Poelzer and Fritz Pointer graduating with a degree in Sociology in 1977. Susan owned a 1967 VW van, and one of the few women taking vehicle repair classes with Frank Jolly to keep the van running reliably.
In 1977 she moved her family to San Luis Obispo where she worked as a probation officer for the CA State Department of Probation and was a volunteer with the Friends Outside, a non-profit organization which provided services to families of prison inmates at California Men’s Colony.
Meanwhile Susan continued her search for spiritual enlightenment which lead her to Poona, India in the summer of 1979 where she became a disciple of Bhagwan Shree Rashneesh. “Ma Anand Sue” returned to the States later that fall and asked her eldest daughter where they should move to next. The two packed their belongings and hitchhiked along the California coast from Cambria and arrived several days later on the Arcata Plaza. The younger three girls later joined them in their new home in early 1980.
Susan worked as a case worker with Midway Ex-Offenders Service in Eureka assisting new parolees in efforts to secure housing, work and provided counseling services to enable supportive and successful transitions.
In the spring of 1982 she met Rodrique “Pravesh” Deschenes and they moved to Molalla, Oregon where she worked at the Molalla Service Center helping people secure employment. Her goal she said was to work herself out of a job. During this same period, Bhagwan Shree Rashneesh’s followers had purchased a ranch in Antelope, Oregon and his disciples settled in various communities throughout Oregon. Our Mom and Pravesh had numerous unsettling encounters and protests with local community members who were disturbed by the new inhabitants in their community. She and Pravesh married in January 1983 and they spent several years in Wilsonville, Ore.
In 1982 she was given the name “Ma Anand Yashu” or blessed one, and later “Yasoda”. As children we were always able to know during which time period various friends had met her by the name they used to greet Mom.
In the mid-1980’s ‘Yashu’ became acquainted with Leonard Orr, the founder of “Rebirthing Breathwork” and became a rebirthing consultant and was an organizer for events held throughout the international community. She and Pravesh moved to Mill Valley, CA and later separated. Mom continued her travels and, on her last pilgrimage to India, she left California with a train ticket to Montreal and $75. She returned to Arcata two years later with $300, never-to-be-forgotten experiences in England, Spain, Austria, India, Italy and South Africa and the name “Yasoda”.
Following the arrivals of her grandchildren in the early 1990’s, she returned to Arcata, worked with the Humboldt Senior Resource Center, often commuting on an old upright single-speed bike from Arcata to Eureka. She worked for several years as a case manager for the Arcata House Transitional Program, and later returned to the Senior Resource Center as their Site Coordinator. All the while she continued coordinating for Leonard Orr, organizing retreats at Campbell Hot Springs and visiting ashrams in Nebraska.
In 2017 Mom moved to McKinleyville where she enjoyed being in a light and warm home, watching the neighbors chickens or rabbits saunter into her manicured yard where they amused her with their antics. She had several care providers and daughters who enabled her to continue to live independently.
Her four daughters and grandchildren were able to be at her bedside in continuous shifts the past 2 months as she received skilled nursing care in Redding, California. We are blessed for the time we had with her to love, support, laugh, care, share, witness and honor her.
She was preceded in death by her father Francis Harris, mother Eleanor (Balfe) Harris, sister Margaret (Harris) Sandberg, close friend Judy Lewis and her teacher Leonard Orr.
Mom/Susan/Yasoda leaves behind her four daughters: Jill (Walter) Duffy of Orick, Cari (Steve) Tietsort of Brentwood, Stacy (Tricia) Gillespie of Sacramento and Becky Gillespie of Shingletown, grandchildren Brian Mobasser, Michael Tietsort (Tracy), Daniel Geist, and Claire Tietsort, great-granddaughter Ayla, brother Bruce Smith and numerous cousins. The family also thanks Theresa Whitehawk, Susan Zeller, Judy Bergenske, Jan Neal, Wendall Schautz and Susan Oneglia for their years of friendship and laughter. We also thank Dr. Sarah Scher and the wonderful staff at Humboldt Open Door Clinic and Mad River Hospital for their many years of care.
A private family service was held at Blue Lake Cemetery on December 3rd, 2019. Please consider a donation to Arcata House Partnership, 1005 11th Street, Arcata, CA or the charity of your choice in Mom’s name.
The obituary above was submitted on behalf of Susan’s loved ones. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here.