There are some who bring a light so great into the world, that after they have gone, the light remains.
It is with great sadness that I inform you that my dear, sweet, beautiful mother, Marleah Dennison, passed away peacefully at Thornapple Manor on November 7, 2019. She was 98 years old. Her son Terry was with her. Her nickname at the Manor was “The Little Princess.” A memorial will be held in her honor next summer at the Dennison Performing Arts Center on Broadway. Watch for details.
Marleah was born in Assyria Township on July 19, 1921, to Glenn A. Swift and Lura Mason Swift. Her mother’s sister, Elsie Mason Lee, gave her the name Marleah. She was called “Tiny” as a child.
Marleah was 9 years old when her mother died from an infection after surgery. Her father and older sister Maxine (who passed away in April 2019 at age 103) took on the responsibility of raising her. Marleah dearly loved her grandmothers, her aunts: Elma Swift and Elsie Lee, and Bobby, the family collie.
Marleah attended the Ellis School through the eighth grade. Marleah met her forever best friend, Gertrude Phillips Gwinn, in the ninth grade. They were both country girls. Marleah was graduated from Hastings High School in 1939. She had tap danced throughout high school, and she was a favorite dance partner of her male teachers. Her favorite teachers were Vivian Reynolds (business) and Carl Damson (history).
Marleah married Burr A. Dennison on June 12, 1939, and they were married 51 years before Burr passed away in 1990. The newlyweds were so poor that they only had one light bulb! Marleah was a homemaker until 1954 when she went to work for Orchard Industries as a bookkeeper. She later worked as a bookkeeper at the Felpausch Food Center. There were three stores when she started and 17 when she retired. She loved her job and working for the Felpausch family.
Marleah had a green thumb especially for African Violets and spring bulbs. She made realistic violets from wood fiber in the 1950s. Marleah was a good cook. She was so happy to finally make a delicious meatloaf after 30 years of trying! One specialty which her family and friends looked forward to was her cranberry relish. Even cranberry “haters” liked it! She always had home canned tomatoes on hand. Marleah kept diaries for many years. One item for all dates was the local weather. She didn’t just write about family, she also included local, state, and national news.
Marleah also loved sports, especially the Detroit Tigers, the Indianapolis 500 racers, and following the career of boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr., whom she met in 2003. He gave her an autographed poster which she proudly displayed in her room at the Manor.
“You are my Sunshine” was a favorite son in the Dennison household. It was the first song Marleah taught Terry, which he sang when he made his stage debut at age 3.
Marleah loved to line dance at the Commission on Aging and continued to exercise into her 90s even surprising her Manor therapists with her agility.
It was expected that when Marleah appeared in public there wouldn’t be one hair out of place or wrinkles in her clothes. She handwashed many of her clothes and her ironing board was used almost daily.
During the 1960s, Marleah and Burr developed the Bur-Mar Subdivision south of the Bliss. They named the one-half mile road Terry Lane after their son. They also gave the Adventists land for a church. In the city section of the property, Burr raised Christmas trees, the only Christmas trees raised inside the city limits. Burr became so well known that “Christmas tree man” became his nickname. Marleah helped Burr sell the trees from their three lots on Broadway.
Marleah’s fortitude was really put to the test after Burr lost both legs due to vascular problems and then suffered a devastating stroke. He couldn’t talk or move any part of his body for 18 months. Marleah spent every day at Tendercare caring for Burr.
Marleah was so proud of her 1993 Chrysler New Yorker with its blue cloth top. It still looks like brand new. Its mileage is just below 50,000!
Marleah enjoyed travelling with Terry, and they took many Tauck Tours and Elderhostels in the U.S. One of the most interesting was a trip covering the entire Lewis and Clark Trail. She also visited Europe five times and N. Africa. The first trip was to Portugal, Spain, and Morocco in 1967. Another trip was to Greece and Egypt where she rode a camel to the pyramids, and even got into one! A 1998 transatlantic voyage on the Queen Elizabeth II took them to London and Paris. Especially enjoyable: a tour of Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms, the crown jewels at the Tower of London, the Louvre Museum and Versailles.
Marleah loved visiting the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island four years in a row and the many Christmas dinners at the Presidential home of Rutherford and Lucy Hayes in Fremont, Ohio.
Marleah loved live theatre whether it was at the Barn Theatre in Augusta or in New York. A favorite Broadway show was the original production of “Annie.” She loved Miss Hannigan’s whistle, and Terry gifted her with her very own pewter whistle which she used. Marleah’s favorite movie star growing up was Alice Faye whom she saw in “Good News” in Chicago in the 1970s. Happy tears were shed that afternoon. She became a big fan of William Holden after seeing him in the film version of “Picnic” in 1956. She got teased about this!
In 2011 Marleah and Terry donated the first of four payments to start the Dennison Performing Arts Center, and a home for the Thornapple Players. The old sanctuary of the former Presbyterian church was turned into a little gem. Some call it a little Victorian opera house. It’s very intimate and no patron is very far from the action on stage. The official opening was in May 2013. This is Marleah’s legacy to Hastings, and with the digital sign the name Dennison is in lights on Broadway!
Marleah’s picture was in the Banner and Reminder for her July 19, 2019 birthday. She received over 100 cards and notes. She loved hearing from so many people. Dr. Paul DeWitt’s card was her favorite.
Marleah is survived by her son Terry, many nieces and nephews, cousins, and friends of many ages.
When you think of Marleah, remember her sweetness and her beautiful smile.
Arrangements by Girrbach Funeral Home. To leave an online condolence visit www.girrbachfuneralhome.net.