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Life Story / Obituary
Hillary Westenbarger was a loving wife, a devoted mother, as well as an encouraging friend to many. She lived her life selflessly supporting others. Anytime that she could offer help to someone in need, her heart was full. An avid baker, Hillary was known for her delicious and exceptional AWC Cake, Seven Layer Bars, and Neiman Marcus cookies! Anytime someone needed a pick-me-up they were sure to find it in one of her treats! Her children knew that if they had a bad day Hillary would somehow instinctively know and they would be greeted as they opened the door with the smell of something delicious. Hillary had a warm personality and infectious smile that could light up any room. Her abundant collection of memories will forever be cherished by her loving family and many special friends.
In 1977, the Apple II computer made its debut, Star Wars opened in cinemas, and The King, " Elvis Presley," died at the age of 42. During the Jimmy Carter era, William and Pamela Johnson welcomed the arrival of their newborn baby girl, Hillary on July 29th in Alpena, Michigan. Her birth brought much joy to the family home.
Growing up in the Island View Subdivision at 511 Wren Street in Alpena, Hillary’s childhood was filled with fond memories. Born with an innate sense of adventure, Hillary was known to enjoy fishing and canoeing with her Dad. Swimming was her favorite where she was known to stay in any pool for as long as she was allowed or until she obtained the infamous wrinkled hands and feet from oversaturation! The family camped extensively throughout her childhood often frequenting Jellystone Park campground in Indian River with their Nanny and Papa. Stopping off at the Ocqueoc Falls, Hillary never turned down an opportunity to swim in the strong current in the cauldron of the river leaving her sister, Erin in admiration. Quite the card shark, she reveled in beating her Pop at rummy. Hillary attended local schools starting out at St. Anne's Catholic School where she endured bullying before transferring to Anna M.Besser Elementary where she blossomed into the kind, friendly, and compassionate person she was meant to be. She would reflect on the bullying as one reason she was drawn to Social Work in college. During her years at Thunder Bay Junior High, she was known as Home Run Hillary on the softball team after years of playing tee ball as a kid. Something she loved to remind both of her children of as they both began their little league careers. She also played both the clarinet and the saxophone leading her into the marching band her freshman year at Alpena High School where she was known to make friends easily. With a happy childhood, she and her sister built a lasting relationship while perfecting their skills on Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda on the family’s Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as affectionately supervising one another when their parents were not home, including a memorable time with the family cat and a few dozen band-aids and a full tube of Neosporin! There was never a dull moment during those years!
Raised in a close-knit family who thrived on traditions, Hillary was blessed with many endearing memories with her extended family. Each and every Christmas and New Year's were spent at her Nanny and Papa's house with her Aunt Bonnie, Uncle Howard, and many cousins. Her parents enjoyed hosting Thanksgiving and every July the entire family got together to celebrate family birthdays and anniversaries. They spent many summers vacationing to visit relatives on the East Coast. Starting with a visit to Grammy and Grampy’s in Richmond, Uncle Sam's in the Baltimore area, Aunt Carol's mountainside cabin and Aunt Elaine’s while stopping up and down the Atlantic Coast. A most memorable vacation was to Florida in the spring of 1987 with Nanny and Papa. Camping in a nearby campground they hit the theme parks of Disney World, Epcot, an alligator farm, and Cypress Gardens. A typical summer included a trip to Mackinac Island or to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to visit Aunt Mary and Uncle Roger. Despite the “Johnson Curse” for picking what would turn out to be the worst week weatherwise, it never prevented Hillary from taking a dip in the lake no matter the temp! Known to soak up every last minute of summer, once the even family prepared for their first day of school at the cabin they were renting on Long Lake before Dad dropped them off!
Other favorite family traditions involved time in the kitchen! Each Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, and even Halloween were known for making the traditional batch of cut-out sugar cookies! This might have been the spark that contributed to Hillary’s love of baking over the years. Lucky for all those who knew her in her adult years, her baking had improved greatly from the time of her unforgettable first batch of Buckwheat flour (not realizing that buckwheat flour is different than normal flour) chocolate chip cookies!
Graduating with the Class of 1995 from Alpena High, Hillary pursued a degree in Social Work from Western Michigan University where she found great joy in volunteering with Big Brothers and Big Sisters as well as advocating for youth who were in the legal system. Due to state budget cuts, she never worked professionally in her field, yet held tremendous empathy and compassion for the public in all of her professional endeavors.
Not to be forgotten was the meeting of her soulmate, Jaime Westenbarger in 2000. She was his supervisor while they were working together at Ameritech in Kalamazoo. Jaime fondly remembers that it was a planned encounter in which she hip checked him and then offered a back rub later after work that led to their first date and ignited their interest in one another. Hillary always swore it wasn’t intentional, she didn’t mean to hurt him and wanted make it up to him. Jaime never bought it. In June of 2002, Hillary was involved in a serious auto accident. Due to the nature of her injuries, she was airlifted to a hospital in Detroit. Like a scene from a movie, once the helicopter landed, Jaime was right by her side proposing to her! He was willing to face the unknown challenges ahead including the fact that she may never walk again. She had to verify the next day that he had indeed proposed. She was concerned that the many painkillers she had been on may have caused her to dream it. After assuring her she was not imagining it, the actual proposal came a few weeks later when they were home. I’m not sure being asked for your hand in marriage while in a wheelchair and not showering for a few weeks is anyone’s dream proposal but it was a cherished memory nonetheless. After several months of rehabilitation and intense therapy the happy couple were joined in marriage on September 21, 2002, in a beautiful ceremony in the backyard of Jaime's mother's home in Davison. It was a shocking moment to see Hillary surprise everyone by walking down the aisle! It was the first time most had seen her even stand since her accident. Together with Jaime’s daughter, Kaylee, they became a family. Later, they welcomed the birth of their son, Aiden with joyful hearts! During their years together, she endured Jaime’s sense of adventure and began to enjoy traveling extensively to Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, British Columbia, New Zealand, Napa Valley and even Fiji where they outran a hurricane and were lucky enough to be the on the last plane off the island.
Never forgetting where they came from, Jaime and Hillary enjoyed many years supporting those in need. They were especially fond of Kids’ Food Basket in Grand Rapids, where Hillary connected with many other women during her years volunteering there. Known to be extremely caring, independently strong, and exceptionally loving, all who knew Hillary would agree they were better people because of her. May her compassionate ways live on and be reflected in each and every life she touched.
Sadly, the last few years anxiety and depression had really taken their toll and Hillary’s infectious smile was more forced as she tried to assure everyone she was fine. In the end it stole her from us all.. All of us that loved her, hope she has found the peace she struggled so hard these last few years to find here on earth.
Hillary Anne (Johnson) Westenbarger, age 40, of Grand Rapids, passed away unexpectedly on June 22, 2018. She was preceded in death by her Nan and Pop, Grammies and Grampies, father-in-law, William Westenbarger; and uncle, Phillip Derr. Hillary is survived by her loving husband, Jaime; children, Kaylee and Aiden; mother, Pamela (Hugh) Howard; father, William (Debbie) Johnson, and sister, Erin (Caleb) Deuel. Also surviving are her mother-in-law, Cheryl Blank; brothers in law, Anthony (Joana) Westenbarger and Greg (Ashley) Westenbarger; nieces and nephews who she adored, Ava, Alec, Brendan, Brantley, Conan, Griffin, Maddox, Ryker, Peyton and Barrett; her life long friends Amanda and Jessica, many aunts, uncles and cousins and numerous special friends. Friends and family will gather from 1-5 PM on Saturday, July 14, 2018, with family sharing stories of her life from 2-4, at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 1833 Plainfield NE. We will drink her favorite wines and eat some of her most delicious recipes, lovingly prepared by her close friends and family. It is the family's wish to not receive flowers, but rather contributions in her memory to Kids Food Basket or Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to submit a memory, photo or to sign the guestbook online.