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Gabriele Ruth Gisela Hahn

April 24, 1928 - October 25, 2019
Kalamazoo, MI



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1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
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Life Story / Obituary


Gabriele Ruth Gisela Puetter Hahn lived with joy, grace and quiet determination. She was an unfailingly kind, loving and supportive mother, wife, companion and friend. Known to everyone as a cheerful, energetic person, she was quick with a smile and friendly word. She was resilient, resourceful, self-reliant, and fiercely independent. Many who knew her described Gabriele as "one of my favorite people in the world." Born on April 24, 1928 and raised in the seaside town of Swinemuende in northeastern Germany, her life was intensely shaped by events surrounding the Second World War. Her father, Bruno Puetter, an attorney, and her mother, Ruth (Albrecht) Puetter, were loving parents who reared their three children to be intellectually curious and to appreciate art, literature, and music. Gabriele passed an idyllic early childhood in a beautiful home near the Baltic Sea, strongly connected to her parents' extended families. Starting in the mid-1930s, however, they experienced extended food shortages and were required to assist the war effort. Gabriele and her sister were made to work on nearby farms, help dig trenches, and sew in workshops that recycled and repaired clothing. Her father, who had been shot in the lung in World War I, was first assigned a military desk job but eventually was sent to the front. In 1945, as the Allies were winning the war, and aerial bombardments were increasing, Gabriele's mother decided the family should flee. With her three children, two bicycles, and a few other belongings, Gabriele's mother rushed to the harbor and, miraculously, was able to find passage on an outbound freighter. Their escape was narrow; within a few hours of the boat's sailing west, Russian troops advanced on the town from the east. They found shelter at a refugee camp in Denmark, where her brother and mother soon contracted diphtheria. Fortunately, both survived. A year later, when her father was released from a prisoner of war camp, the family was reunited. After two difficult years at the refugee camp, they were allowed to return to Germany. Believing mastering additional languages would improve her future prospects in war-ravaged Europe, Gabriele spent a year in England, then one in France, working as a governess. In 1955, she was offered the chance to attend Knox College in Galesburg, IL, as part of a newly formed exchange program. She immediately accepted and, a few months later, intrepidly boarded a coal freighter to Norfolk, VA. Once at Knox, Gabriele studied English Literature, played the recorder in a music ensemble, and met her future husband, history professor Robert J. Hahn. After Gabriele was awarded Phi Beta Kappa and her B.A., they were married, and a year and a half later their first child was born. In 1961, the three resettled in Kalamazoo, MI, where Robert had accepted a position at Western Michigan University. Gabriele lived the rest of her life in Kalamazoo, where she had three additional children. A loving and unfailingly attentive mother, she taught her four children German, bike riding, baking, sewing, gardening, and cross-country skiing. She was also a lot of fun, loving to laugh, take walks, play board games, spend time at Lake Michigan, and share home-cooked meals with friends and family. In 1980 she received a Master's degree in French Literature from WMU. She then taught at both WMU and Kalamazoo College, teaching German, French and English as a Second Language. For some 40 years, she also gave German classes in her home. Gabriele was engaged and interested in the world. She was an avid reader and daily listener of National Public Radio, eager to discuss global affairs and current events. Passionate about expanding her knowledge, she audited college courses into her late eighties. For decades she was actively involved in civic and cultural organizations, including the Alliance Francaise, Current Events Club, and Garden Club; she was a faithful member of Immanuel Lutheran Church. She loved singing, playing, and listening to music, regularly attending the Kalamazoo Symphony, and volunteering for The Gilmore Keyboard Festival. Among her favorite composers were Johannes Brahms and Johann Sebastian Bach. Gabriele lived her final years independently at The Fountains at Bronson Place, of which she wrote, "I could not imagine it to be any nicer." Several years after her husband, Robert, passed away, Gabriele became the special friend and companion of Ernst Breisach. She was extremely grateful to have found love a second time so late in life. In the final decade of her long life, Gabriele wrote, "I am infinitely grateful that my life took such a fortunate course after all the difficulties which I encountered in the years during and after the war." Indeed, her boundless gratitude shone forth every day. She is survived by her four children, Robert, Christine, Sigrid, and Nicolette; their spouses, Elizabeth, Chuck, Mark, and Bill; eight grandchildren, Emma, Robert, Verdiana, Max, Katie, William, Miles, and Nicholas; nephews Jeffrey Hahn, John Hahn, Timm Boecker, Christian Boecker, Stephan Puetter; and niece Katharina Puetter. A memorial service will be held at Immanuel Lutheran Church at 3000 West Main, 49006, Saturday, November 16 at 2p.m. In remembrance of Gabriele, donations may be made to Immanuel Lutheran Church or WMUK public radio. Betzler Life Story Funeral Home