Barbara Somers knew the value of a good book: She spent a lifetime reading, collecting, and gifting them. For her children, a book was never fully enjoyed until after we had discussed it with her. She leaves behind a small collection of her favorite authors, including Alice McDermott, Nadine Gordimer, Dickens, Fitzgerald, and Yeats.
Barbara was raised in a loving home on Westnedge Hill to Frederica Elsa Bennett (d. 1983) and William Donald Brownell (d. 1995). Her only sibling, Patricia Jean Brownell, died in 1993. She attended Kalamazoo Central High School, where a highlight was the day the entire school was let out to forage the city for scrap metal for the war effort. She graduated in January 1945 and worked at Gibson Guitars before attending Northwestern University, following in the footsteps of her parents. She graduated in 1949 and roomed with three Tri Delta sorority sisters in Chicago where she worked for the ad agency Ruthrauff & Ryan.
She met Francis Aloysius Somers through a friend of a friend in Kalamazoo. After some on and off dating, she spied him from her bus window one day in Kalamazoo. She promptly hopped off and let Frank know she was still interested. They were married at St. Augustine Catholic Church in September 1951. Barbara and Frank raised a family while moving around the country, following Frank’s rise in the paper industry. Each child was born in a different city: Kalamazoo, Omaha, Des Moines, and Overland Park, KS. Frank retired in 1988, and he and Barbara built a vacation home in Bodega Bay, CA.
They traveled often: to Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East, and elsewhere. A favorite memory for Barbara was seeing Russians bring fresh flowers to Alexander Pushkin’s grave. Frank and Barbara settled into Friendship Village retirement center in 2016. Frank died on Jan. 13, 2021.
Barbara was a skilled knitter who made Irish sweaters for her children. She loved opera, live whenever possible. And she was a big fan of the Big Ten. She gave her time freely to volunteer work. She trained to be a social welfare aide for the American Red Cross in Kansas in the early '60s, helping people find affordable housing, and was still volunteering for the organization when a tornado struck Kalamazoo in 1980. She also volunteered for the League of Women Voters, Amnesty International, and The YWCA. She was a member of Friday Club for decades, which she enjoyed for the lifelong friends she made and the rigorous research she put into her reports.
Her touchstone was the 1915 cottage her great-grandfather built on Crystal Lake in Northern Michigan. She spent most of her 96 summers there, learning to swim in the clear waters, walking through the woods to Lake Michigan, and listening for birdsong on the screened-in porch. There she was surrounded by family history and family members, and there was always a poem in the silverware drawer that she was trying to memorize.
Barbara is survived by her four children: Sarah Somers of Kalamazoo; Christine Decker (David) of Park City, UT; Frances Somers (Lawrence Johnson) of Seattle, WA; and Thomas Somers (Stephanie) of Centreville, VA; nine grandchildren: Patrick Duff, Edward Jury; Dylan Decker (Samantha), Pearce Decker; Charles Johnson, Madeline Johnson; Duncan Somers, Claire Somers, and Luke Somers; and two great-grandchildren: Fiona and Bennett Decker.
The family will celebrate her life at a later date in Northern Michigan. She would not ask for donations, but if you wish to honor her, give someone a good book.
To share a memory or leave a condolence for the family visit https://www.langelands.com.