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Life Story / Obituary
All who knew Barbara Fowler would agree that she was truly beautiful on the inside and out. She lived her life with others in mind. Her strength and courage were truly inspiring. Barb was devoted to her family. There was nothing she treasured more than witnessing her family tree blossom to include numerous branches of loved ones, who made her so very proud. Guided by an unwavering faith, it was easy to see that she used that as the compass to direct her steps. A friend to all, Barb will be forever missed by those who were blessed to know and love her.
It was great to be an American during the 1920s when innovation was taking us places we had never been. It was during this exciting time that Richard and Irene (Buss) Howard were thrilled to announce the birth of the baby girl they named Barbara Jean, on November 8, 1922, in Lawrence, Michigan. She was raised on the family farm along with her older brother, Richard. Her father worked as a farmer, while her mother cared for their home and family. Growing up on a farm, Barb enjoyed the animals and riding horses. She participated in the local 4-H. She loved to play baseball with her brother. They both looked forward to the annual reunion with the extended Howard family. Barb learned to cook and sew from her mother. She played the trumpet in the high school band, graduating from Lawrence High School in 1940.
Inspired to become a nurse by her favorite grandmother, Barb spent a year at Michigan State University and then entered the nursing program at Bronson Methodist Hospital School of Nursing. She earned her degree as a registered nurse in 1944 and was poised for a rewarding career. Since she graduated during the days of WWII, her entire class was inducted into the U.S. Navy. Although she was proud to answer the call, the war ended prior to their deployment.
New and exciting changes were in store for Barb when she met and later married Duane Derhammer on February 21, 1945. Together they raised their three sons, Terry, and twins Dan and Dennis, in the family home on W. Centre Avenue. They were blessed with a fourth son, but he sadly died at only 18 months of age as a result of an allergy disorder. When the boys were in their teens, Barb again faced hardship when her beloved Duane was killed in a falling tree accident on his 50th birthday in 1967. Barb remained in their home in Portage until the boys were on their own.
In addition to caring for her family, Barb made a rewarding career as a nurse. She worked as a public health nurse for Kalamazoo County for several years, and then with the Van Buren County Health Department until her retirement. Through her work, Barb visited many schools in Kalamazoo County to administer TB tests, including her sons’ schools in Portage. She was the only one who could give the boys an injection and keep them on their feet! In Van Buren County, she visited many homes of migrant workers and became their lifeline for medical care. Through her work, Barb made a significant impact on the lives of so many within her community in a positive way.
After her boys were grown, Barb found love again. After dating for a time, she married Bill Harris in April of 1972. She and Bill built a home in Three Rivers and moved several times with the last being to their retirement home on Hamlin Lake in Ludington. Together they enjoyed boating on the lake and playing lots of golf. They were married for 19 years before Bill died of cancer in 1991.
In 1993, she married for the third, and final, time. Ralph Fowler and his wife had been her next-door neighbors during the summer months in Ludington. The couples were acquainted, and he played golf with Bill. After they were both widowed, Ralph and Barb continued their friendship. He took her under his wing, when they were both lonely, and their beautiful romance began. It was a match made in heaven. They had a wonderful and loving marriage until Ralph died in 2011 at the age of 100.
Throughout her life Barb was a bustle of activity. For several years when married to Ralph, they spent six months a year at their home in West Palm Beach, Florida. They loved playing golf, took some cruises, and did some traveling. Barb and her husband loved being in Florida, but also looked forward to returning to Michigan for the spring and summer months. When traveling back and forth became too much, they remained in Ludington year round where they were an active part of their community. She was very involved at Ludington United Methodist Church. They played golf several times a week, and both she and Ralph enjoyed being members of the Lincoln Hills Country Club. They were a social couple with many friends from a variety of places including from their neighborhood of Tamarac Village and at church.
After Ralph’s death in 2011, Barb returned to Portage where she was amazed to see how the community had grown over the decades she was gone. She especially liked going out for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner with family and friends. Barb enjoyed having a beer or a dirty martini with dinner and insisted on making a toast. Her love of golf continued, and she played occasionally with Dennis, Sue, and Terry. In fact, Barb even kept a club in her living room so she could practice her swing!
With her sparkling personality, Barbara Fowler was a blessing to all who were within her reach. She had a timeless sense of humor and could see the positive side of everything. Despite the times of trial in her life, she never complained, and she never once lost hope. A stranger to none, Barb could talk to anyone, and it has been said that she was a true character. It was easy to see that her family was the light of her life, and although she will be deeply missed she will never be forgotten.
Barbara Fowler died on June 23, 2015 at Rose Arbor. Barb’s family includes her three sons; Terry Derhammer, Three Rivers, Dan Derhammer, Portage, and Dennis (Sue) Derhammer, Texas Township, four grandchildren; Tammy Derhammer, Portage, Meghan (Greg) Webber, Okemos, MI, Nathan (Charmaine) Derhammer, Oak Park, IL, Colin (Lindsey) Derhammer, Augusta, MI, 10 great-grandchildren, with a new one on the way, and many loving nieces, nephews, and cousins. Barb was preceded in death by her husbands Duane Derhammer, William Harris, and Ralph Fowler; an infant son, George Leon (Juddy) Derhammer; her brother Richard Merrill Howard; and a granddaughter, Lindsey Marie (Derhammer) Hoffman. A celebration of life service will be held on Saturday, July 25, 2015, at 1:00 p.m. at the Life Story Funeral Home, Betzler-Kalamazoo, 6080 Stadium Drive; 375-2900. A reception will follow in the Life Story Center. A private burial will take place in Portage Central Cemetery. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo. Memorial contributions may be made to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan.