CULVER — Two people meet in high school, date, fall in love, get married, go off to college, have a kid, get jobs, get a dog, get another dog and a cat. Sounds normal? It is, but not common.
Janette Surrisi grew up as Janette Doty on a farm near Monterey. She graduated from Culver High School in 1997.
Sean Surrisi started life in Noblesville, In. He then moved to Green Bay, WI and finally ended up in Culver. Sean graduated from Culver High School in 1995.His youth was highlighted by visits to his grandmother’s house south of Culver on the Tippecanoe River.
Janette recalled that she was not aware of Sean until high school. She first noticed him on the day she was crowned as Miss Maxinkuckee in the summer of 1994. “A friend of mine had a new boyfriend, it was Sean. That was how I met him.”
Sean said, “I saw her with her Miss Max tiara on. I didn’t know much about her. I remembered we were in study hall together.
That fall, the Culver Cheerleading Squad had a fundraising auction. The football players were up for bid. If a cheerleader had the highest bid for one of them, he would have to cook for her and carry her books.
Janette was determined to win Sean. “He had broken up with his girlfriend. The bidding for him was spirited and kept going up. I wasn’t going to lose. I was a farm girl and had hogs to trade.”
Janette won Sean for $100. “I was the winner!”
Sean laughed, “I was surprised by the bids but I’m glad I was a three digit guy. I didn’t know Janette. It was only three months after our brief meeting.”
Janette remembered that “he kind of meandered over after I won him. He had a boppy walk. He said to me, ‘Hey, you spent a lot of money for me. Do you want to go on a date?’ I say, ‘Yeah, but you’re still going to carry my books.”
Sean recalled that their first date was to the Isis Theater in Winamac. “We dated the rest of the year. I graduated and told her I was going off to college at DePauw and that we were going to have to break up. Janette stared at me and said, ‘No, you can’t break up with me.”
Sean continued, “That summer my parents opened up the Edgewater Restaurant, where the Lakehouse Grille is now. Before we opened it was a bait shop. We had only 7 tables. We both worked there in the dining room. My parents cooked. It was really successful.”
That fall Sean went off to college. They continued dating. Janette graduated 2 years later and started college at Ancilla. They got married and had a daughter named Abigail ‘Abby’.
While in college at Depauw, Sean joined a fraternity that had Belle, a golden retriever. During Sean’s Senior Year, he had to have a project to fulfill graduation requirements. He got the campus television station to air a program called “The Psychic Dog Hotline”.
Sean said, “Belle was onstage with a moderator and I was hidden off stage. I was the voice of the dog. Students would call in with a question which I would answer with a high pitched dog voice. It was a very popular program.
I would get up early in the morning on the day of the show and put up posters all over campus for the call in. Since it was a weekend show I had to ad-lib answers for a lot of drunks.”
After Sean graduated from college he brought Belle to Culver. Sean and Janette worked in the restaurant. They then opened an art gallery in downtown Culver. In 2002 Sean decided to pursue a law degree at Valparaiso Law School. Janette started selling real estate.
Belle, their beloved Psychic Dog died two weeks before Sean’s bar exam in 2005.
Janette recalled, “Shortly after Belle passed we got a golden retriever puppy. She was 8 weeks old. We named her ‘Lil’. We had her for 14 years. She was our only pet.”
Janette continued, “In July of this year, Sean and I were walking on Academy Road. We didn’t have Lil with us as she wasn’t doing well due to her age. When we neared School St. we noticed a little kitten behind us, crying.”
Janette remembered that she and Sean turned toward home but the kitten kept following. “She kept following us, running behind on her little feet. When we neared home, Dan Adam’s dog was barking which caused the cat to freeze in the street. We then hurried toward home, but the cat ran after us.”
Since it was dark they decided the kitten should not stay out all night, so they brought her in. Janette said, “We didn’t know anything about cats. We fed him Lil’s food.”
They then advertised the cat on Town Gown and Lake. Three people responded saying they might take the cat if the owner couldn’t be found. Janette said they went back to where they first saw the kitten. “We knocked on doors but no one answered.” The three TGL responders eventually said they weren’t interested.
The Surrisis texted a photo of the kitten to their daughter Abby who was attending DePauw. She said to keep it! They did and named her Apollo.
For a week the kitten and dog co-existed. They said Apollo was kind to Lil.
On July 25 Sean cancelled his work day. He knew it was Lil’s last day. He had been carrying her outside to go potty. Sean said, “That dog knew what was happening. We let her do what she wanted. I was outside with her when she started walking toward Lake Max.”
She walked to the dog swim area and went into the water. She laid there for an hour. “A lady walked by with 2 dogs and said, ‘Your dog looks like she is in heaven.”
Sean carried her, dripping with water, back home. He set up a place in the sun on the back porch so she could dry. Sean sat next to her, working on his computer and putting water in Lil’s mouth.
Janette got home about 4:30 p.m. and said maybe they could put Lil in the golf cart and take her back to the lake. They brought her back around 7 p.m. that evening. Janette said, “She had no strength so we took her home and laid her on a blanket in the living room. She was breathing slow. She didn’t move for 2 hours. I looked at Sean then Lil died.”
Sean said, “We had to take Apollo out of the room. Apollo spent days looking for Lil.”
Janette said, “I think this showed me my love for animals is broader then dogs. It shows me that I can love a cat. He is sweet in different ways.”
Sean added, “I have never been a cat lover lover, but (Sean paused while looking around the room), he always wants attention, always wants to spend time with us. I put a leash on him and we take walks together. I am attached to this cat.”