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Life Story / Obituary
Quiet in nature and large in spirit, Barbara Burnham lived her life with steadfast commitment, gratitude, and courage. Genuinely devoted to her family, Barbara relished nothing more than sharing the lives of those she loved. With a firm sense of resolve, Barbara embraced life’s joys and challenges equally, grateful for the gifts in both. Deeply treasured, Barbara leaves behind a brilliant tapestry of beautiful memories her loved ones will forever hold as priceless heirlooms.
The 1920’s were marked by tremendous confidence, prosperity, and previously unknown comforts. Known as "The Roaring Twenties," the economy boomed, wages rose for most Americans and prices fell, resulting in a higher standard of living for most. With the inventions of the washing machine, vacuum cleaner, self-winding watch, bulldozer, instant camera, drive-in restaurants, Band-Aids, and the convertible, the post-war, era marked significant advancement and morale flourished throughout the land. This vibrant time grew even more brilliant on January 15, 1927, when Alfred and Doris (Doxey) Noble, of Kalamazoo, welcomed their daughter Barbara into their hearts and home.
The middle of three children Barbara’s roots were firmly planted in the Kalamazoo area; her father worked in the paper industry while her mother was a homemaker. Like many who grew up during the Depression, the family endured many hardships. Daunting financial burdens resulted in tremendous emotional stress as well as the need for Barbara to work as a babysitter to help support the family. It was during these difficult early years that Barbara learned the value of hard work, her sense of tenacity, and the power of family.
During her youth, Barbara not only enjoyed the good company of her older brother Russell and her younger sister Beverly; she also forged a deep connection and life-long friendship with her cousin Helen. After graduating from Comstock High School in 1945, Barbara attended Western’s Teachers’ College (Now Western Michigan University) on scholarship. While attending Western, Barbara frequented the Recreation Park. This is where she met the love of her life Raymond Burnham who worked at the soda shop. Though Raymond was actually more interested in Barbara’s sister Beverly, Barbara fell in love the minute they met. Barbara and Raymond celebrated Valentine’s Day of 1947 by sharing a first date. The two quickly recognized their good fortunes and married just four months later in the backyard of Barbara’s family’s home in Kalamazoo.
The happy couple lived on Long Lake for nearly 20 years, later moving to Indian Run Golf Course in 1972. In 1949 Barbara and Raymond gave birth to the first of their three sons, Raymond Jr. Tragically, Raymond died at birth. With much joy, son Michael was born in 1951, and Patrick soon followed in 1954 completing their family. Together Barbara and Raymond worked to provide their children with a warm and wonderful home. Barbara thoroughly enjoyed watching her children swim and water ski, tanning in the summer sun, and knitting. An active mother, Barbara water skied until she was sidelined by a back injury.
Though Barbara’s greatest life work was raising her children and creating a loving home for her family, she worked several different jobs over her lifetime. In 1948 Barbara taught for one year in the one room school house at Silver Creek School in Plainwell. Later, Barbara worked as an elevator operator in the Hansleman Building in Kalamazoo (where the Radisson is now). When the boys were adolescents, Barbara worked part-time as a cashier at the Town and Country Market on Portage St. Once the kids were older, Barbara worked at Upjohn until her retirement in 1985.
Barbara’s delight in motherhood only grew greater upon becoming a grandmother. Barbara relished any time spent with Jennifer, Kyle, Blaine, and Andrew. She enthusiastically supported them in all of their endeavors, and they grew up knowing beyond a doubt that there was no safer place than in their grandmother’s heart. Welcoming her great-grandchildren, Hadleigh, Henry, and Harrison proved an indescribable wonder and privilege for Barbara. In each of their eyes, she clearly saw the fruition of her life’s labors and tremendous hope for the future.
For a few sweet years, Barbara and Raymond shared the freedoms of retirement. When not waiting for Raymond to return home from the golf course, the two enjoyed one another’s company at their home on the lake with their dogs. Because they lived on the lake, Raymond asserted they “did not need a vacation;” however, Barbara was able to convince Raymond to take two memorable trips. They traveled to Hawaii and also took a cruise to the Bahamas.
Despite the enormous loss when Raymond died in 1988, Barbara chose to continue to live her life fully. Barbara regularly swam at the Kalamazoo Health Club, liked to shop and go out to eat, and worked as a volunteer. Thrifty to the core, Barbara made a science out of analyzing the advertisements in the Kalamazoo Gazette. She carefully read through the ads circling what she wanted and finding the best deals. Her favorite nail polish would only be purchased for $1.99 or less. Barbara traveled from store to store in search of the best deal and would never pass up a bargain. Barbara also volunteered with her cousin Helen at Red Cross blood drives and delivering flowers at Bronson Hospital. West Lake Drive-In served as a favorite destination over the years, and Barbara’s attendance at her Panera Bread Coffee Group only waned when she had to give up driving in 2012 after suffering a hip break. Park Village Pines was home for Barbara for two years, where she was known for wearing her neon green and floral print shoes; then later at home with Patrick and Ginger. She loved being around people her own age and often shared time with her fellow residents. In fact, Barbara’s busy days were so full the family often joked that they had to make appointments weeks in advance if they wanted to see her.
Barbara never craved the spotlight; instead, she valued nurturing the relationships that meant the most to her, sharing a good meal, the serenity of Nature’s splendor, and the pure pleasure of anything sweet. A very classy Lady, Barbara’s sole indulgence was having her hair done. She always looked great! Barbara explored her faith within the fellowships of the Scotts United Methodist Church and more recently Radiant Church in Richland which she attended with Pat and Ginger. Barbara’s tremendous determination and inspiring courage was evident in her unwillingness to relent or complain in the face of life’s challenges. Even when confronted with painful health battles, Barbara quietly and privately embraced the work of healing with both grace and confidence in her capacity to endure. In so doing, Barbara gifted her family with a powerful example of how to live a wholehearted, courageous life.
The world is surely duller without Barbara’s bright spark. Whether it be sharing time with family, the sweet pleasure of a delicious ice cream cone or brownie, enjoying a burger and sunset at the drive in, swimming in the lake, sneaking a candy to a child, or scoring a fantastic deal at the store, Barbara’s family will long feel the strength of Barbara’s legacy in their hearts and lives.
Barbara J. Burnham, age 90, of Kalamazoo passed away on March 1, 2017. Barbara was born on January 15, 1927 to Alfred and Doris (Doxey) Noble. Visit with her family and friends and view her life story film on Saturday, March 4 from 10-11am at the Life Story Funeral Home, Portage; 5975 Lovers Lane (269-344-5600). A funeral service will follow at 11:00 at the same location. Left to cherish her memory is her son Patrick (Ginger) Burnham of Scotts; grandchildren: Jennifer (Gavin) Wheeler of Battle Creek, Kyle Ray Burnham of Delton, Blaine Burnham of Portland, OR, and Andrew (Kimberly) Burnham of Scotts.; great-grandchildren: Hadleigh, Henry, and Harrison; as well as several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by the love of her life for 41 years, Raymond; sons Raymond Jr., and Michael; sister Beverly; brother Russell; and her parents. Please visit Barbara’s memory page at www.lifestorynet.com where you can read her life story, archive a memory or photo and sign her memory book online. Memorial donations may be made to Kairos Dwelling.