Obituary: Sharon Whitaker, 76, of Custer.

January 11, 2022

Sharon Whitaker

Obituary: Sharon Whitaker, 76, of Custer.

Sharon Louise Whitaker, 76, was called home last Wednesday evening, January 5, 2022, to be with her Lord and Savior for all eternity.

Born November 13, 1945 to Thomas Everett and Harriett Schmiedeknecht in Hart; the 15th child of 18 in their own little version of Yours, Mine and Ours.  She was, by all standards just a good old farm girl.  She spent a good many nights cuddled up by the fire sharing her tales of growing up.  How she and her younger siblings would run through the cow patties because, according to their older brother Bill, it made them smarter.  They would race along the beams in the barn and she and her sister, Denise would fight like lions and tigers with her brothers (because they were much more wild than cats and dogs).  She would talk about the simple life.  “We didn’t know we were poor,” she would say. “We just lived, like everybody else.” She would talk about the time they moved into town (Columbia Avenue in Scottville) because her parents were both working outside the home.  She and her siblings would throw the mattresses out of the second floor window and then all of the neighbor kids would come over and they would take turns jumping out the window onto the mattresses.  “Good times,” she would say as she sighed. “Ma never did figure out how there happened to be so much grass and stains on those mattresses.”

They didn’t celebrate birthdays and certainly the Christmas tree was never put up before Christmas Eve.  She remembers how they would each get a stocking the next morning with a piece of fruit and maybe some candy and some mittens or some such thing.  “The anticipation would almost kill us,” she would say, “Not like today when there are all these expectations of materialistic things. Things are things,” she would continue, “we didn’t care about things.”  She would talk about her corncob doll and Useless her dog.  Some of her favorite memories included staying with her eldest sister Dorothy on their farm.  She recalls how Dorothy made everything special.  Picnics, beach trips, and just everyday living.  “Dorothy made the mundane, special.” Of course, you couldn’t take her on a drive in Mason or Oceana counties without her pointing out a house or 20 and telling you about who lived there and the adventures they had, the schools they attended, the kids with which they hung out, and so much more.  As she got older, Johnny’s became the place to go.  Sharon LOVED to dance.  Some of her greatest memories were at Johnny’s and some of the cutest boys were apparently there too.

A life lesson she seemed to learn early on and something she shared with her daughter often, was to “much love” something.  If you just let something sit on a shelf and you never use it then you never make any memories and it just becomes a dust collector, but if you take down the fine china and make everyday meals just a bit special, then when a piece gets broken you can say you much loved it and you have made some fun memories.  “Learn to much love the things in your life,” she would tell people.  She certainly lived by example.

She didn’t always have an easy life however.  She was often sent to stay with older siblings to help them care for their children and their home.  She would often talk about less than ideal and scary situations.  But she never complained, she simply did what needed to be done.  See a need, fill a need seemed to be her way of life. In 1963, while staying with her sister Brenda, of whom she adored, the two along with Brenda’s young son, Gordon became ill.  There was a carbon monoxide leak into the home. Upon Tom’s (Brenda’s husband) return, he found Brenda had passed as well as Gordie.  Sharon had managed to survive.  The survivor’s guilt was only aggravated by the fact that in her father’s grief he blamed her.  It was not an easy time for her. She spent years sorting through the events of that tragedy trying to make sense of it all.

Sharon never finished high school.  She received a failing grade in her home economics class for not being able to provide material for a project and the teacher would not listen to her side of the story.  She decided then that quitting was her best option. She regretted it to the day she died.  You will find that she was one of the most well written, financially savvy, creative women you would ever meet, but her lack of education was always an Achille’s heel to her; a hard lesson that she shared whenever she saw someone thinking of giving up.

She became a member of the Sugar Ridge Church of the Brethren in January of 1963 and remained a steadfast and active member most of her life.  In her later years her church family would become one of her greatest joys.  She remained a member there until her death.

In 1963, she began working at Cregg’s Restaurant in Scottville.  She washed dishes and answered the phone.  Every time she answered the phone those sitting at the bar could see her legs as she walked past the doorway.  One particularly good looking man had the wise idea that if he went outside and called the restaurant from the phone booth, not only would he be able to hear her voice but he would be able to see her face as well.  He was smitten. . . it was immediate “smitteny” at first glance.  He offered to drive her home that night and she would tell years later of the perfect gentleman he was.  His soft voice and kind words, in her words, made her swoon.  It was true love.  He brought with him three children, Kathy, Kevin and Joni, who Sharon loved as though they were her own.   That good looking man and the waitress with the great legs tied the knot on December 30, 1967 in Manistee and she became Mrs. Kenneth Ayer Whitaker.  They were married by a justice of the peace because Sharon’s parents told her it would be an embarrassment to marry a divorced man in the church.  She and Ken always told the story of that day differently.  Sharon’s version was that upon being married, they came home, she made his lunch and he headed into work.  He called and asked if he could work overtime and she told him, “You do whatever you damn well please.”  He came home on time (Ken always just said he was thinking of her when he called to work overtime and how they could pay things off faster). They had their ups and downs, but theirs was a good marriage.  They worked side by side to make their property everything they wanted and needed it to be.  Whitaker Homestead was a haven for so many throughout the years simply because two people cared.

In 1970, they had a daughter, Lisa. Sharon and her daughter had an unusually close relationship.  They did most everything together.  Some of their most favorite past times was cemetery hunting and long drives to nowhere and everywhere. They joined the Genealogical Society of Mason County in the mid 80s and Sharon soon became president of such.  She and Lisa would spend long hours mapping out the cemeteries of Mason County for the genealogical library at the Ludington branch of the Mason County District Library.  This is where Sharon taught Lisa how to drive.  She explained that she felt confident teaching her in a cemetery, “because you cannot kill someone who’s already dead.”

Ken and Sharon lost their son, Kevin in 2004.  It devastated her and as she said, “when he died a piece of them went with.” Daughter, Kathy died just 16 months later in 2006.

She lost Ken to heart failure in October of 2011.  It was the hardest thing she would ever overcome.

In her lifetime she had a myriad of accomplishments.  She not only served as president of the MCGS, but also served as chair of the Sugar Ridge Church Board.  She was a 4-H leader, a Girl Scout leader, a Sunday school teacher, a band member of the Marek Music Makers, a regular volunteer at Mason County Eastern Schools during her daughter’s school years, a friend to all she met, a voice of reason (except when out on a drive), a great quilter, as well as proficient in the arts of knitting and crocheting.  She made the best bread and cinnamon rolls around and loved to host company.

In 2008, Sharon along with her sisters Grace, Tina and Sis began what they called the Sister Circle Quilting Guild.  Her daughter Lisa was added to the group as well as others. It started as a means to make quilts for those going through chemotherapy and many quilts were donated to Devos Children’s Hospital.  Many friends came on board and soon the weekly quilting group became so much more. Quilts were still made by the dozens, but every Tuesday, the Sisters (all friends became sisters) would gather and the world would go away, even if just for a few hours. They enjoyed sewing, talking, laughing, crying and eating together and in general sharing the good, the bad and the rest with one another.

After the death of her husband, she travelled often.  Her first major trip was to Ireland.  Her daughter often joked that while there she would probably meeting a whisky drinking pig farmer, fall in love and never return to the states.  She would just smile and say “no one will ever replace your father.”  She also travelled all over the country, visiting siblings and family members and finding more cemeteries and more family than she ever knew she had, always making friends along the way.

Her favorite name was “Grams” and she loved all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren passionately.  She found great joy in working out on the property with them and making life special as her sister Dorothy had done for her so long ago.  Among those who called her Grams, were two boys she brought into her home several years ago as foreign exchange students, Arttu Pirinen of Finland and Federico Ferri of Italy. She made some great memories that year and thoroughly enjoyed her time with them as well as her daughter’s exchange students, Giulia Marselli and Silja Bachmann.  She always referred to them as her “bonus” grands.

She was the best kind of woman a woman could be.  Her strength lied not in her own understanding but always in her faith and understanding of who Christ was and what He had done for her.  She had no issues sharing her faith, but she didn’t just talk the talk.  She walked the walk.  She was always filling needs in the county and most often filling needs came with a quilt.  Someone lost their home? She would give a quilt, a Scripture verse and money.  Someone recently lost a loved one? She sent a quilt and Scripture to keep them warm in the everlasting arms of our Savior.  Someone needed groceries or a utility paid? She paid it, bought it, and gave them a quilt.  She always had the coffee pot on and the fire going.  Her door was open to anyone who needed anything.  She was a listening ear, a warm hug, and an open heart.  Contrary to what some might have thought, she never judged.  She prayed often and forgave more.  No matter how poorly anyone treated her, how negative the words might have been that were spewed at her, she NEVER retaliated.  She loved fiercely and confidently often explaining that she could love that way because God first loved her.  She was the epitome of a life lived for Christ.  Even in the end, when we discussed the possibility of death, she calmly replied, “I’m not afraid to die, I know where I am going.”

Sharon is survived by her daughter, Lisa (John) Runk of Custer; and stepdaughter, Joni Hayes and friend, George Bizovi of Petoskey as well as her grandchildren, Abigail Runk and Huckleberry Runk of Custer; Zachary (Michelle) Runk and children Eleanore and Whitaker of Fountain; Anne Runk of Grand Rapids; Paul Hayes and daughter, Harper of Richmond, Vermont; Sarah (Ramond) Hayes-Burries and daughters Caitlyn and Emily of Aliso Viejo, California; Kendra (Bradley) Sheffield and children Gabriel and Evangeline of Spring Lake; Benjamin Hayes and children, Isabelle, Jackson and Evelyn of Negaunee; Catherine (Tim) Weisler of Petoskey; Erin (Jason) Haggstrom and children, Adrianne, Aiden, and Jared of Ludington; and Rik Whitaker and son Victor also of Ludington. She is also survived by three brothers, Clarence Lynn of Denver City, Colorado, Dennis “Bo” Lynn of Ludington, and Garth (Kathi) Lynn of Manistee and her three sisters, Bonnie (Gerald) Gotwalt of Greenville, Tina (Ron) Guenthardt of Manistee, and Denise “Sis” Knudsen of Scottville, along with a slew of nephews and nieces and a myriad of those that lovingly referred to her as “Grams.” She will be greatly missed by her dear “sisters” in her guild, Donna Neuman of Shelby, Denise Hubbell of Luther, Mally Rader of Branch, and Barbara Nielsen of Ludington.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Everett and Hattie Lynn; her husband, Kenneth Whitaker as well as her children, Kevin Whitaker and Kathy Whitaker and her siblings, Dorothy Kubon, Edith Smith, Everett “Bill” Lynn, Robert Lynn, Thomas Lynn, Shirley Gulleff, Harry Lynn, Jacquelyn Pfishner, Grace Stevens, Gary “Cork” Lynn, and Brenda Horowski.

The visitation is from 10 to 11 a.m. at Sugar Ridge Church in Custer on Saturday, March 26, 2022.  The funeral service will follow at 11 a.m. with Pastor Bill Mustard officiating.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Funeral Fund at Sugar Ridge Church, 2012 East Wilson Road, Custer, MI 49405, a program for which she was an integral part.

Arrangements have been entrusted to Oak Grove Funeral Home of Ludington,

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