Susan Harris Shapiro

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MIDDLETON–Susan Harris Shapiro, 70, formerly of 7777 Elmwood Ave, in Middleton, passed away at UW-Madison Hospital in Madison, on Jan. 13, 2021 with her family at her side.

Susan was born on Jan. 31, 1950, in Racine, the daughter and the second youngest of six children for John Francis and Mary Ann (Mayme) Harris.

In 1968, Susan graduated from St. Catherine's High School in Racine and later received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from UW-Madison. 

During college, she held a spectrum of jobs that included bartending at the Edgewater Hotel, working as a page at the Wisconsin State Capitol, and employed in retail sales at a men's shoe and boot boutique, the Boot Barn, at 438 North Frances Street in Madison, which still stands today.

North Frances Street would also be an important part of her life after meeting Madison native Marshall Stuart Shapiro, who she married in 1975. 

In the summer of 1968, Marshall and his then-wife Gail A. Miller Shapiro, purchased the beloved corner bar, Glen 'n Ann's Cozy Inn, 223 N. Frances St., from Anna Dell (Sewell) Hierlmeier and her late husband Glendon J. Hierlmeier, who died in Sept. 1966, and the couple renamed it the "Nitty Gritty." Marsh and Gail later divorced in May of 1973; and Anna died in Dec. 1993. 

At the time, the bar (a former corner general store built in 1898) was a popular venue featuring live entertainment (mostly blues music) seven nights a week. A change in entertainment tastes on UW-Madison campus marked the end of the music era in 1975, as the Nitty Gritty focused on food and service, especially celebrating birthdays and their signature sandwich, the Gritty burger, over the ensuing decades.

In 1985, Marsh, with the able partnership of Susan, reformatted the Nitty Gritty to be Madison’s Official Birthday Place. Since that time, the Gritty memento birthday mug and balloon, and the birthday announcement bell ringing have become staples of the celebration tradition. 

As Marsh wrote in his self-authored obituary eight years ago, "Marsh would say, “We are a perfect team...She is the back of the house, while I am the front of the house.”

The success of the couple's bar and restaurant business provided them the ability to expand with additional locations at 1021 N. Gammon Road in Middleton (in 2002) which exists today; and later (in 2013) at the historic cannery district in downtown Sun Prairie.

Marsh and Susan were the proud parents of daughters Ragen and Lauren. In 2010, the couple sold their business operations to Ragen and her husband Lee Pier, and their partners Eric and Caitlin Suemnicht, all who continue to run the Nitty Gritty. 

Besides the bar and restaurant business, Susan was supportive of Marsh's other career in which for 25 years he worked in Madison television news broadcasting at WKOW Channel 27, spending the last 10 years, until he retired in 1985, as the sports director and anchor, as well as the co-host of the local Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) telethon broadcasts. 

Susan had a heart for others, her generosity and dedication to giving did not stop with her immediate or Nitty Gritty family.  She was known for her small random acts of kindness, often involving complete strangers. Among her cherished volunteer activities were working with children at Lincoln and Midvale Schools in Madison, and her time with the Literacy Network. 

Among those who mourn her loss are her two adoring daughters: Ragen Shapiro and her husband, Lee Pier, of Madison, and Lauren Shapiro and her husband Anthony Davies, of Orinda, CA.; her four grandchildren A.J. and Meredith Pier, and Anna and Charlie Davies; her siblings John (Fran) Harris of Almond, Alana (Ted) Ownby of San Antonio, TX, David (Nancy) Harris of Mequon, and Evelyn (Lawrence Handler) Harris of Middleton; and many cousins, nieces, and nephews. 

Susan was preceded in death by her parents; her husband, Marshall Shapiro on Dec. 26, 2012; her older sister Donna Marie Harris on Nov. 11, 2019; as well as her father and mother-in-law Samuel and Sara (Sweet) Shapiro. 

A private memorial was held last month and interment next to Marshall was at Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison. A celebration of Susan's life is planned for the summer of 2021. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made in Susan’s memory to Second Harvest Food Bank of Wisconsin, at 2802 Dairy Dr., Madison, Wis. 53718.

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