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Life Story / Obituary
Ellen Duenas brought light and life to our world. She exuded warmth, compassion, and tenderness. Her friends often referred to her as “Sunshine” as her heart was large enough to encompass and give warmth to all within her reach. She was a dedicated teacher who was loved by students and staff. She knew how to treat each student with respect and could identify and relate to them as unique individuals, calling each one a gift from God. Ellen enjoyed a colorful palette of interests throughout her life, leaving behind memories as vivid as the most glorious sunrise. These memories will be forever cherished by those who loved and treasured her.
The year 1959 was an exciting year in America. Alaska and Hawaii became the forty-ninth and fiftieth states, the first Grammy Award ceremony was held, and Dr. Zhivago topped the New York Times Best Seller List for weeks. On August 6th of this same year, in Dexter, Michigan, Robert and Joan (Stiles) Rodenhiser were pleased to announce the birth of their daughter, Ellen Sue. A brother Richard came to join the family and soon after came sisters Connie and Jeannie. When Ellen was a toddler, her father brought his family to Kalamazoo where he accepted a position at the Child Guidance Clinic. Ellen attended Haverhill Elementary School and Portage Northern High School where she excelled as a pitcher on the softball team. She was known as the “controlled specialist” on the pitcher’s mound.
Ellen continued her education at Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Childhood development. Later, she went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Education. Ellen taught Head Start and then went to classroom teaching in the Pullman School District. From there she came to Portage schools and taught at Lake Center Elementary. Ellen took a brief hiatus from public schools to teach on a reservation in Escanaba, located on the southern edge of the Upper Peninsula. She thoroughly enjoyed her time there and felt a kindred spirit with the Native Americans. Ellen embraced many aspects of the Native American culture, most especially the love of nature. Eventually, Ellen returned to Portage schools and continued her teaching career at Waylee Elementary, where she enjoyed years as a first grade teacher.
Ellen was blessed to find love in a rather unlikely way. While she was in her late thirties, Ellen was visiting her sister Connie in San Diego and happened to meet Rene, a friend of Connie’s husband. About six months later fate intervened. Ellen and her sister were having lunch in a small town north of San Diego and Rene appeared. With this second introduction, a spark was ignited and the couple began a dating relationship across the miles, acquiring many frequent flier miles! Ellen and Rene enjoyed their time together hiking, mountain biking, and camping in places like Sedona, Arizona and through the Grand Canyon. Ellen loved the Southwest, and took advantage of the many opportunities to shop for turquoise and silver when there.
Ellen liked to read spiritual books, looking for the guidance the words offered. She enjoyed watching college football games and other sporting events on television. Ellen had an interest in cooking and had begun to learn her way through cookbooks. She was excited about, and had made plans to make concrete stepping stones with colored glass. She enjoyed listening to music, particularly tunes from the sixties and seventies; she liked classical, jazz, R&B, and the modern acoustic music of Shawn Colvin and the Dave Matthews Band. Ellen would travel to Mexico often and had dreams of retiring and relocating to Arizona.
There were many things that made Ellen such a special lady and so easy to love. She was very much at ease around others and comfortable in her own skin. Ellen fostered a spirit of generosity and was always looking for ways to do special things for her friends and family. She was the first one to jump right in and help if a need arose. Ellen was very private, keeping thoughts to herself. It was important to her to keep the peace and quietly try to make things better for others, never drawing attention to herself.
Life changed a bit for Ellen when she experienced dysphasia of the tongue at age 42. When she was 47, Ellen was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. In April of 2007, she had surgery and expressed her fear to Rene, which prompted him to sell his business and move from Arizona to Portage to be with her. The cancer progressed to the neck and both chemotherapy and radiation ensued just this past June. This was a difficult battle for Ellen and one that brought her to realize the depth of her love for Rene. On October 29, 2009, Ellen and Rene were united in marriage in room 218 of Bronson Hospital. Sadly, Ellen’s battle with cancer was one that she was not able to win.
Ellen Rodenhiser Mullin Duenas was a free-spirited woman who took each day she was given and made it her own, embracing every moment. She was a dedicated instructor who easily earned the respect of her students and provided them with so much more than an education. Ellen enjoyed diverse interests throughout her life and was blessed to share a deep love with her true soul mate Rene. She was a vibrant woman who cherished others. Although her loved ones now say goodbye, they will be forever grateful for the opportunity to love such an extraordinary woman. Ellen will be dearly, deeply missed and warmly remembered.
Ellen Sue Duenas of Portage died peacefully on Sunday, November 8, 2009 at Rose Arbor Hospice. Ellen’s family includes her husband Rene Duenas; her parents, Dr. Bob and Joan Rodenhiser of Portage, her brother Richard and sister Jeannie both of Portage and sister Connie (Nick) McAvene of San Diego, CA., special nephew Lincoln McAvene, father and mother in law Tom and Barbara Duenas of San Diego, CA , brothers in law Tom and Tim Duenas and sister in law Angela, nieces and nephews Tiana Marie, Michael, Holden, Hunter and Eden Rose all of California. She is loved and missed by cousins Kathleen Griffin, Melinda Stiles Conrad and John Stiles. Ellen was preceded in death by her grandparents, most especially and fondly Georgia Bell Stiles, her beloved grandmother. Learn more about Ellen and visit with her family and friends on Friday from 4 to 8 P.M. at the Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo, MI. A service to honor her life will be held on Saturday at 11 A.M. at funeral home. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com where you can sign her guest book, share a memory or photo, or make a memorial contribution to Illuminata Inc. (organization for abused children) or Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan.