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Tennga Burns

September 20, 1937 - April 17, 2020
Portage, MI



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.

COPD Foundation
3300 Ponce de Leon Blvd
Miami, FL 33134
1 (800) 731-2673
Web Site


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


A devoted wife, mother, and grandmother, Tennga Burns lived a principled life that centered on her family.

Known for her fierce independence and occasional stubbornness, Tennga was equally known for her love and generosity. She never hesitated to give what she had in hopes of lessening another's burdens, and her love was both unconditional and unwavering. A powerful role model for those who knew her best, Tennga will long be remembered and ever so missed.

Despite the obvious gloom of the Great Depression, the power of hope undulated in the hearts of many. With a natural drive to not just endure but thrive in the face of uncertainty, the nation continued to put one foot in front of the other to build a better future. Nowhere was there more hope than in the Spring City, Tennessee home of John & Lizzie Simpson as they welcomed their daughter Tennga into their family on September 20, 1937.

Born and raised in Eastern Tennessee, and named by a family friend who combined Tennessee and Georgia, Tennga's childhood was rich in southern hospitality and tradition. From her earliest days, Tennga knew the challenges and rewards that come with a large family. Along with her siblings, Lovie, Wesley, Bessie, Verdo, and Esco, she learned the values of hard work, perseverance, and service to others. At the age of 12, Tennga had to grow up quickly when her mother died. Despite her age, she stepped into the responsibilities of helping care for her youngest brothers and tending to the family home.

A short time after, when she was 13, she had the good fortune of meeting the love of her life, James Rolland Burns Sr., at the local movie theatre. Instantly smitten, Jim would frequently write Tennga notes at school, asking her to marry him. She always said, "yes." At 16 years of age, the happy couple decided to get married one night. As they weren't old enough to get married in Tennessee, they packed ten people into a '49 Mercury and set off to Georgia. Before they left, someone backed into their car in their parking lot and dented the door - off they went anyhow.

Once in Georgia, Tennga and Jim had to get their blood test to take to the courthouse. Blood test in hand, they stood before the local judge ready to exchange their vows. Noting their age, the judge flatly refused to marry them, as in his eyes, they were too young. He told Tennga, "go home, girl. You're too young." Despite the judge's proclamations, Tennga and Jim walked out the front door and refused to take "NO" as an answer. As luck would have it, sitting in front of the church was a taxi. After explaining their dilemma to the driver, he said he knew where they could get married. So they followed the taxi driver to another county, stopping along the way for another blood test. They finally arrived at a minister's home in the wee hours of the morning to get married. They woke him up! Hearing their intentions, he only allowed the couple and two family members into his living room. While the rest of the family sat in the car, Tennga and Jim finally married in the first hours of August 1, 1954.

Following the exchange of their vows, they turned around and drove back to Tennessee. Jim had already rented a house, and his cousin had helped him furnish it. The newlyweds went straight back to their new home; Tennga had never seen it.

Settling into married life, Jim soon joined the US Airforce. As an Airman First Class, he worked as an aircraft instrument repairman. From 1954 to 1964 he and Tennga were stationed all over the world, including Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Germany, and Korea.

In time, the happy couple was blessed to welcome children to their family. James and Kathy became the centers of their lives. Following his time in the service, Jim began working in the construction trades, eventually owning and operating his own family business, Burns Drywall. Tennga proudly took on the responsibilities of running the home and helping with the business.

Resourceful and creative, Tennga enjoyed the simple pleasures in life, like playing the piano, organ, or guitar. As a talented seamstress, she delighted in making matching outfits for the kids and Halloween costumes. She relished in being outside in the sun, admiring nature's splendor while fishing or enjoying the pleasures of sipping her tea. Many an hour was spent listening to her favorite Elvis Presley songs and cheering on her Chicago Cubs. For quite a few years, she enjoyed bowling on many different leagues, and there was always time for a good game of Bingo or cards. An avid doll collector, Tennga also enjoyed attending doll shows.

Without a doubt, Tennga's greatest joy was her family. She delighted in cooking for the holidays and treasured welcoming the extended family home. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren were her heart's delight, and she cherished every moment she shared with them. A true matriarch, her legacy of love and loyalty will be celebrated for many generations.

Though it is hard to imagine life in the absence of Tennga's steadfast presence, may we find comfort in our many treasured memories. Tennga relished in caring for others, being of service, and time spent with those she loved. Whether playing a game of Pinochle or Spades, taking in the beauty of a rose, or donning her favorite color, blue, Tennga's heart and thoughts were always centered around the well-being of those she loved. A gift and a treasure, she will long be remembered in the hearts of those she loved.

Tennga Lee Burns Age 82 of Portage. Passed away on April 17, 2020. Tennga was born on September 20, 1937 to John and Lizzie Simpson in Spring City TN. Tennga is survived by her husband of 65 years James R. Burns, her children: James R. Burns Jr., Kathy (Terry) Morris; her grandchildren: Laura Lee (Matt) Strong, James Rolland (Lauren) Burns III, Michael Wesley (Jennifer) Morris, Amie Nicole Sokolowski, Tiffany Raquel Burns, Matthew Jordan Burns; her great grandchildren: Taylor Marie Sokolowski, Aubrey Ann Sokolowski, Camryn Rae Sokolowski, Ariana Nicole Morris; 1 brother Richard "Esco" and several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by 2 sisters and 2 brothers. Burial has taken place at Ft. Custer National Cemetery. Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900. Please visit Tennga’s personal web page at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com, where you can read her life story, archive a favorite memory or photo and sign her online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to the COPD Foundation.