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Life Story / Obituary
All who knew Debra Smith would agree she was truly beautiful on the inside and out. With her warm, accepting, and approachable demeanor, she was the sort of person who drew others near with ease. A more devoted mother would be hard to find, and Debbie treasured becoming a grandmother and considered this role to be both her highest calling and her richest blessing. Although she was taken from her loved ones too soon, she created a brilliantly colored mosaic of memories that her friends and loved ones will forever hold near and dear to their heart.
The 1950s were an exciting time in American history. James Dean and Marilyn Monroe were big names in Hollywood while Elvis Presley took the world by storm as he introduced us all to the sounds of rock ’n roll. It was also during this exciting time that we became a nation of 50 states with the additions of both Alaska and Hawaii. It only seems fitting that Debbie’s story began during her favorite season, autumn. It was while the brilliantly colored leaves began to fall that Maurice and Edith (Docsa) Pontius were eagerly awaiting the birth of their new baby in their hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1956. Their wait was finally over when the baby girl they named Debra made her arrival on November 21st.
Joined in her family by a brother and a sister, Debbie was a typical young girl of her generation. She attended local schools and walked home with her sister from elementary school every day. Debbie frequently got yelled at for sending little boats down the stream. In junior high she became friends with two girls, Debbie and Julie, and they became lifelong friends. The close-knit group of three continued to see each other for over 50 years, often going to breakfast to catch up. They were also on a bowling league together and played softball as adults. It has been said that Debbie was a great short stop. She was an excellent student who graduated from Parchment High School and was part of the National Honors Society.
Nothing was more important to Debbie than her family. It was through her work at Design Ware that she met the man with whom she would share the best years of her life. His name was Jerald Smith, and they were both going through a divorce at the time. They were there to support one another, and in time Debbie and Jerald fell in love. With a desire to spend the rest of their lives together, they were married on January 26, 1992. Debbie also treasured her role as a mother and was actively involved in the lives of their children, Laura, Mike, James, and David, and step-children Mindy, Catheryn, Timothy, and Steven. There were plenty of family movie nights, and Debbie also enjoyed going to the theater. She especially liked Marvel movies as well as Stephen King movies. Debbie always saw to it that birthdays were special events, and she perfectly kept track of them all. The days that each of her children were born were among her most treasured, and she loved to fuss over all the birthdays every year. Debbie had a collection of candles ready for any occasion, and birthdays were almost always celebrated with a cake from Boonzaaijer Bakery. Later, she was filled with unspeakable joy to become a grandmother, and being there for the births of each of her grandchildren was of the utmost importance to Debbie.
Throughout her life Debbie worked hard in everything she did. She spent many years working in packaging at Design Ware. While there Debbie made lots of friends with her colleagues and was part of a bowling league through work. When a contract ran out at Design Ware, she had to find other work. Debbie ended up working with her son, Michael, at Cross Enterprises in 1996, and they have been working together ever since. She found this work rewarding and enjoyed getting out of the house and going to work every day. Debbie also enjoyed working on puzzles, the big ones with 2,000 pieces or more.
Debbie was a woman of many interests that kept her busy. Faith was a cornerstone in her life. Debbie’s love for Jesus just seemed to radiate from her, and she often prayed for those around her. An avid reader, she liked reading Stephen King or fantasy novels. In fact, she read so many books that it was hard for anyone to suggest a new one that she hadn’t already read! Debbie loved shopping, and she always went all out for the holidays with decorations of all kinds. She also enjoyed just going on walks, often on the nature trails and the Portage Trails through the celery flats. Debbie usually stopped to sit on the bench by the stream to watch the critters pass by. Horses were a favorite, and she rode as a kid while visiting her grandma’s farm. Over the years Debbie collected an impressive amount of porcelain horses. While she hated the summer heat, she loved fall and all the beautiful changing colors.
Selfless, compassionate, and loving are just a few of the words that reflect who Debra Smith was. She has been described as a light in a dark room as people were just naturally drawn to her. Debbie was the sort of person who never met a stranger, and a friend of hers was a friend for life. As a mother she was second to none, and becoming a grandmother brought Debbie unspeakable joy. Deeply loved, she will be forever missed.
Debra Smith, age 64, died on October 27, 2021. Debbie was preceded in death by her parents; brother, David Pontius; and son, James Smith. Surviving are her husband, Jerald; children: Laura (Danny Davis) Simmons, Mike (Susan Collins) Simmons, David Smith, Mindy (Paul) Fox, Catheryn (Joseph) Knieper, Timothy (Ashley) Smith, and Steven (Heather) Smith; grandchildren: Johnathan, Ella, Brandon, Vincent, Kaelyn, Emmitt, Kole, Bria, and Elliott; and sister, Sharon (Rick Cronkite) Pontius; and nephew, Jesse. Cremation has taken place. A celebration will be held at a later date. Visit Debra’s webpage at BetzlerLifeStory.com to archive favorite memories, photos, and sign her guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to Prader-Willi Syndrome Association. Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo 269-375-2900.