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Life Story / Obituary
On February 16, 2021, Debra Anne Widman (Deb) died peacefully in her home surrounded by family. Deb was born on Christmas Day in 1952 in Allegan, Michigan, the daughter of Leland “Chuck” and Lillian “Dody” (Fulton) Taylor. The first of four children to Chuck and Dody, Deb grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Taylor house was filled with energy and they endlessly hosted friends and family. During her junior year at Loy Norrix High School, she invited Jim Widman, a classmate in English, to come over to “study,” and the rest was history. Deb and Jim attended separate colleges their freshman year, but time apart and the unpredictability of a consistent hitchhiking schedule led to a marriage proposal, a wedding in 1974, and a decision to finish college together at Western Michigan University.
Deb graduated from Western in 1975 with a teaching degree and immediately began what would turn out to be a 35-year career as an early elementary school teacher. She was the favorite teacher of so many students over her career, regularly receiving letters from past students about memories of time in her classroom. In addition to teaching so many children, Deb also worked closely with Western’s College of Education and helped train dozens of student teachers in her classroom, one of whom went on to teach some of her grandchildren. To say education was a huge part of her life is an understatement and her enduring impact carries on with all the students’ and teachers’ lives she touched over her career.
Putting her classroom management skills to a real test, Deb and Jim made the move to Portage, Michigan to start a family. Here they raised their two sons, Jason and Bryan, and the next twenty years were filled with great memories of camping at Wilderness State Park, trips to a family cabin in mid-Michigan and canoeing down the Pine River, and endless soccer games and tournaments. Along with all the fun came a steady stream of “corrective interviews.” Many of which only required a narrowing of the eyes and a tilt of her head, known to most as “The Look,” to keep her “three” boys (and their friends) in line.
Taking on the best traits of each of her parents, Deb approached life with a perfect balance of optimism, humor, and a sense of adventure coupled with just enough common sense and risk aversion to enjoy life to the fullest while staying out of trouble. She successfully passed these traits on to her children and also on to the many friends and family that she has left behind. What made Deb truly unique, though, was her ability to be a great listener without an ounce of judgment. While we’ll all be able to think back so fondly on our shared memories, it will be impossible to replace the feeling after a really good and deep conversation with Deb. Deb taught many of us that, “life is about making choices” and “life is always about doing the right thing.” Deb lived these sentiments out every day and we’re all better people for having spent time with her.
After Jason and Bryan went on to college and began starting families of their own, Deb and Jim finished up their careers and were fortunate enough to be able to retire early. Days were filled with constant experimentation in the kitchen with the Food Network on in the background, flagged pages with tasting notes in all of her cookbooks and food magazines, and even a brief stint as a food taster as a fun retirement job. Deb put these cooking skills to the test when she and Jim annually hosted a series of “Where’s the Love?” parties in mid-February where their friends, and Jason and Bryan’s friends, all came together for a night of endless appetizers and experimental cocktails leaving her children wondering when in adulthood it was no longer okay to spend the night in your parents’ basement with all of your friends.
When she wasn’t cooking, Deb and Jim were usually gearing up for their next vacation. Sometime this was nothing more than a quick trip up north, but there also were some big trips out west, to Hawaii and Alaska, Europe, and Mexico and the Caribbean. Deb loved to see new sights, try new foods, and most of all, spend time with friends and family on these trips.
Her greatest joy, however, was spending time with her grandchildren. She loved having them over to the house, all together, to do crafts, bake cookies, and spend time with each other. She and Jim had begun taking the grandkids on “Mystery Trips,” where they’d take the kids off on a special trip to a surprise location. She was endlessly creative with them, loved to see them learn and laugh, and was always in their corner. Without a doubt, Deb will live on in their memories given the impact she had on each of them as she’ll live on for all of us who were fortunate enough to have her in our lives.
Deb was preceded in death by her parents. Surviving are her husband, Jim; children: Jason (Kelly) Widman and Bryan (Carmen Johnson) Widman; grandchildren: Morgan, Eleanor, Kai, and Mckenzie; siblings: Michael (Cheryl) Taylor, Jody (Doug) Schoetzow, and Timothy (Diane) Taylor; and many nieces and nephews. Cremation has taken place. A celebration will take place at a later date. Visit Deb’s personal webpage at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com where you may read her Life Story, archive a favorite memory or photo, and sign her online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to Rogel Cancer Center at the University of Michigan, Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation, or Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. Arrangements by Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo 269-375-2900.