Cover photo for Susan Heilig's Obituary
Susan Heilig Profile Photo
1947 Susan 2022

Susan Heilig

May 26, 1947 — July 19, 2022

Susan England Heilig, an adventurous, pioneering entrepreneur, died on July 19, 2022. She was 75. Her husband, Gabriel Heilig, said her death occurred at home under hospice care, and was caused by cancer and infections likely triggered by the cancer treatment.

A native of the Chicago area and a graduate of New Trier High School, she earned a BFA in Graphic Design and a minor in Philosophy at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. Returning to Chicago after graduation, Susan took a series of jobs as a graphic designer, eventually becoming Creative Director at the Leo Burnett advertising agency. She also worked at Alternatives, a recovery center for drug abusers, where she taught photography to young people who had never used a camera and helped lead a camping trip to the Upper
Peninsula in Michigan.

As a volunteer, she counseled draft resisters to the Vietnam War. As an entrepreneur, she founded and operated Silver Sue’s, a highly successful pinball arcade in downtown Chicago during the late 1970s and early 80s. As the first woman owner of such an arcade in America, she became successful at a time when the arcade industry was evolving from pinball to video games. Several leading firms used her arcade to market-test new games. Her work and success were featured in major publications such as Science News and Playboy. Several top game designers became her lifelong friends.

Moving to suburban Maryland in 1987 with her daughter, Madeleine, she continued her work in graphic design, consulting to a broad clientele—from MCI corporate work and the National Academy of Sciences Press to the Dalai Lama and his sponsors in the US, and later teaching graduate-level courses to graphic design professionals at George Washington University.

Her work for the last decade centered around developing a company and a nonprofit focused on building affordable housing with sub-soil almost anywhere on Earth to build structures using compressed-earth blocks (CEB) and a patented machine developed by EarthinBlocks, a company she co-founded. She later founded another company, EarthinBlocks Build, and a nonprofit, Solid Earth Communities. Her machine and method have been used in rural Tibet to build 50+ homes, used by the Lakota Nation to build housing so durable it remained intact after one of the worst weather events in Lakota history, and used to build a 2,500-square foot showroom in Juarez to showcase new construction technologies in Mexico. Her nonprofit focuses on generating small communities and neighborhoods based on CEB construction, as a solution path for people who cannot afford skyrocketing rents or are impacted by the growing number of tenant evictions. Solid Earth Communities has had extensive discussions with civic leaders in Denver and Aurora, Colorado, and with leaders among Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the communities in which they are located. As a volunteer, Susan joined the Board of the Washington, DC chapter of the nonprofit, Women in Film and Video (WIFV), serving almost 10 years in that role.

Survived by her husband, daughter and grandson, her open-hearted, spirited presence will be missed by many.

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