Life Story Visitation
Saturday, October 30, 2021
4:00 PM to 7:00 PM EDT
Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes
6080 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
Please join us for a Life Story Visitation where food, drinks, and stories will be shared. Casual attire.
Time of Sharing
At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.
Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance
PO Box 32141
New York, NY 10087
No Veterans Die Alone
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
Denise Marie (Learman) Deitzen was born October 19, 1963. She joined the Learman family as the fourth child, second daughter, and first curly-haired offspring of William Learman and Nancy (Fealko) Rose. She loved to work on the farm in Harbor Beach with her older siblings: Bill, Jean, and Bob. Denise held the coveted position of youngest child in the family for 7 years until she reluctantly gave it up to her younger brother, Jamie. Wearing a pink flowered dress made by her mom, she won the Miss Harbor Beach contest. Childhood days not spent working on the farm were enjoyed at the lake, with the family dogs and horses and with her siblings and honorary siblings, Lori and Brian Essenmacher.
Denise’s first major travel adventure was to Japan during her junior year where she stayed with three different Japanese families over eleven months through the Rotary Exchange program. She lived in the small town of Kanoya where she was the tallest person and the only foreigner. She studied the Japanese art of pouring tea, learned to dance in her kimono, and earned a black belt while becoming fluent in Japanese.
Returning home for her senior year, she turned her sights to continuing her education. After her first year of college at Western Michigan University, Denise and Bob took a road trip to visit Jean in Minnesota. It was while picking up Bob’s future wife, Evelyn, on the Deitzen family farm that Denise first met Evelyn’s older brother, and her own future husband, Vince. According to Vince, he knew from that day that Denise would someday become his wife.
The next year, Denise transferred to MSU to earn her bachelor’s degree in Nursing and Vince followed shortly after to pursue his degree...and Denise! Both became avid Spartan fans. In nursing school, Denise truly found her passion and earned a VA scholarship. At the end of her studies, her fellow nursing students honored her by overwhelmingly choosing her to deliver the graduation speech. Denise’s first nursing position was at the VA in Saginaw in the Open-Heart Step-Down unit where she became a charge nurse within 6 months.
On Sweetest Day in 1986, Vince proposed to Denise, and the two were married at Our Lady of Lake Huron Catholic Church on August 29, 1987. She was a stunning bride as she made her vows to Vince.
Vince and Denise moved to Jackson where she worked 12-hour midnight shifts as a critical care nurse at the VA in Ann Arbor while he worked the day shift in Battle Creek. They left notes for each other on the kitchen table to communicate! Eventually they moved to Kalamazoo, where Denise earned her Master’s in Nursing at Grand Valley State University, pursuing dual certifications as a Family Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Nurse Specialist. During this time, she also worked as a hospice nurse on weekends and as a nursing instructor at Bronson School of Nursing.
With a new degree came many other new adventures – new job, new house, new dog, and a new title - mom. Benjamin Vincent and Katelyn Elizabeth were born, a boy and two years later a girl as their parents had hoped, rounding out the Deitzen family of four. Vince and Denise learned to balance work and family. They had help and support from extended family and Lee and Sue, neighbors down the street who babysat the kids as “adopted grandparents.”
After some time away, Denise returned to the VA in Battle Creek, where she started a women’s clinic and a palliative care unit. Her career progressed, but she always saw herself as a nurse first and foremost, even if her patients were no longer individuals, but whole hospitals. She continued to start new programs, like the “Friday Director Message” and “Day with the Director,” making it her personal mission to improve care offered to the veterans. Denise often said that she wanted to have a seat at the table where decisions were made. As a new or acting director, at every new posting, she liked to begin her tenure with a complete tour of the facility. She started with the second and third-shift employees on Sunday evening, then the first-shift on Monday, listening to their concerns and then working hard to address them.
Over the years, Denise held many titles, including Associate Director for Patient Care Services, acting director, hospital director (or CEO as she liked to call herself), and network director/acting network director, at a number of VA locations in Battle Creek, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Saginaw, Fort Wayne, St. Louis, and Chicago. She also led the HLTI (Healthcare Leadership Training Institute) program and was the acting ADUSH (Associate Deputy Undersecretary for Health) for workforce services while working in Washington D.C. Throughout her career, she mentored countless nurses, department heads, hospital administrators and individuals across the country, assisting them to grow in their careers and their lives.
Denise was recognized in many ways during her 30 years of work for the VA, but she was particularly proud of earning the Presidential Employee of the Year Award in 2019, a tremendous honor. When she retired, the VA needed to arrange several additional phone lines to accommodate the hundreds of employees across the country who wanted to participate in wishing Denise farewell.
As dedicated as Denise was to Veterans, her loved ones knew how devoted she was to her family and friends as well. Denise was her kids’ number-one fan, driving them to and cheering them on at all of their activities, and reading to them before bed every night. Even when she worked away from home, she traveled home on the weekends to spend more time with the kids, and she talked to them on the phone daily. Denise shared her love through long talks, home-cooked meals, and big hugs.
Denise adored being a wife and a mother, but she was also a treasured daughter to Bill and Nancy, and their spouses Gary and Barb, sister and sister-in-law to Bill and Jo, Jean Marie and Dennis, Bob and Evelyn, and Jamie, godmother and aunt to Jason, Becky, Brad, Melissa, Krista, Courtney, Allison, and Amanda. It was important to her that any home have a large “gathering space,” an inviting space for family and friends to spend quality time enjoying each other’s company. When her kids invited an international student friend home for Thanksgiving, Denise immediately welcomed her into the family, continually providing love until Ruchira “adopted” Vince and Denise as her American parents. They adopted her right back.
Denise loved to travel, including four different visits to Hawaii and family vacations to countless locations. For 20 consecutive years, the Deitzen family and Jean rented the same beachfront cottage in Port Austin, spending a relaxing week on Lake Huron, reminiscent of Denise’s favorite childhood vacations to Caseville. In 2011, Vince and Denise and Bob bought a lake house in Cadillac where watching the sunset from the swing or pontoon was a favorite pastime.
Denise loved food: she loved to cook it, she loved to eat it, she loved to try new foods, and she loved to share food with other people. She was known to order multiple appetizers and desserts when eating out so she could share and sample her favorites. Her favorite drink was Starbucks unsweetened green iced tea, which she ordered and drank often, usually ordering 2-3 at a time so she would have some for later. She also had many hobbies, including quilting, puzzles, gardening, reading, swimming, and going to the beach. She had a great sense of humor and loved laughing at her own jokes as much as she enjoyed making other people laugh.
After Denise retired, she threw herself into renovating her house to meet her creative vision. Even as her daily life became increasingly difficult, facing chemo treatments and other physical struggles that come with fighting cancer, Denise’s lifelong optimism and sunny demeanor continued to shine, and she posted a daily message on Facebook describing her “Bright Moment of the Day.” In her last months, she spent as much time as possible with her family and friends, especially with Vince, Ben and Megan, Katie, Ruchira and much-loved dog, Amico.
Denise’s legacy lives on through her family and friends, in the lessons and love she has given to them, and the ways they continue to love and serve others. From the final Bright Moment of the day posted by Vince on Denise’s Facebook page:
“Love life, love yourself and most of all, love each other! Everything else is just a distraction.”
Cremation has taken place. Please join us for a Life Story Visitation where food, drinks, and stories will be shared 4-7 PM Saturday (OCT 30) at Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900. A service will begin at 7 PM. Visit Denise’s webpage at BetzlerLifeStory.com to archive favorite memories, photos, or sign her guestbook. Memorial donations may be directed to Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance or No Veterans Die Alone.