Mark Suppelsa remembers it like it was yesterday.
Mere hours before his shift at WGN-Channel 9, the news anchor found himself driving his then 13-year-old daughter Ava downtown to pick up her busking permit. Once she had the paper in her hand, the teen asked her dad if he could drop off her and her guitar on Michigan Avenue.
So he did.
And then he drove away.
But as Mark Suppelsa watched his little girl take on the big city in his rear-view mirror, he instinctively knew she was going to make her dreams come true … just like he once did. Mark and Ava have a special bond, a bond forged between two underdogs who were determined not to let the naysayers win.
“My dad always told me that if you are a good person and you work really hard and you are good at what you do, you will be fine,” Ava Suppelsa tells the Sun-Times from her home in Nashville.
From his own home in Montana, her dad adds with a laugh, “You realize later in your life that some of the words that come out of your mouth actually end up sticking.”
Back in the day, Mark Suppelsa’s dream was to work in broadcast journalism, a cutthroat field where the Milwaukee native was often told he would never make it. But he did, amassing a 25-year long career with three Chicago television stations, before retiring in 2017.
“We have always told our kids to chase their dreams, and don’t let anyone stop you,” says Mark Suppelsa. “I guess that ‘chase your dream’ part got locked into Ava’s brain.”
Earlier this month, the 23-year-old talent signed a global publishing deal with King Pen Music and Warner Chappell Music Nashville.
“We were literally jumping up and down when we got the news,” remarks Candus Suppelsa, Mark’s wife of 29 years. “Gosh, I remember when Ava was 4 years old, and she couldn’t write, but she would tell me that she had written a song in her head and she needed me to write down the words. We always saw her potential.”
“Taylor Swift was a huge inspiration for me,” recalls Ava Suppelsa, who already has had her music recorded by artists such as Keith Urban, Temecula Road and Home Free. “When I was younger, I had a journal and I would write about what I was going through, and those words would turn into songs.”
Every day wasn’t easy though, including the day Ava Suppelsa moved away as a teen to attend the prestigious boarding school Interlochen Arts Academy to study in its songwriting program. Or the day Ava decided to drop out of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston in favor of moving to Nashville to pursue writing full time.
“That’s when and where the real work started,” Ava Suppelsa chuckles. “As soon as you get into town as a songwriter, you are having to compete with the best of the best. Plus, you have to find a way to make a living, so I spent three years writing and doing any odd job I could find, from waitressing to cleaning B&Bs to food delivery.”
And yes, at one point, Ava Suppelsa even had her parents worried.
“I was working 9 to 5 every day and writing 6 to 9 every night and letting parts of my life fall by the wayside,” says Ava Suppelsa, whose compositions have amassed over 13 million streams across various music platforms. I learned along the way how to better balance it all.”
Adds Candus Suppelsa, “I’m always telling her…just take it one day at a time.”
Indeed, the whole Suppelsa family seems to be following that advice these days. While there were times in which it seemed like Ava Suppelsa might want the spotlight shining solely on her, she is currently content as the songwriter behind the artist.
And for Candus and Mark Suppelsa, they are content too, now living full time in their longtime vacation home in Bigfork, Montana, basking in the beauty of the picturesque Rocky Mountains … and watching Ava and her brother Matt, a political analyst in Istanbul, make their dreams come true.
“Working 12-hour days meant that I missed a lot of the things that the kids were doing,” Mark Suppelsa says quietly, pausing to take in the memory for a brief moment. “Candus and I pinch ourselves every day that we are now lucky enough to stare out at the Rocky Mountains knowing our kids are healthy and happy and climbing their own career ladder.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.