Marilyn Dobbs: Celebrating a life of generosity and compassion

To label Marilyn Dobbs as your average human being would be a total misrepresentation of who she really was in the eyes of those who knew her best.

According to her husband Ed of more than 30 years, she believed there were two types of people in this world ... Tiggers and Eeyores.

"Tiggers are those who never feel sorry for themselves and never quit and Eeyores are the complainers and always give up," he states. "Marilyn was definitely a Tigger."

Born May 1, 1955 in Saginaw, Mich. to Al and Ruth Nearing, she was the eldest of four siblings, Cherie, Mark, and youngest Dan. And according to her mother, she knew early on that she wanted to be a nurse.

"Marilyn always wanted to be a nurse since the eighth grade," states Nearing. "And she was a good one too."

The began her journey into the nursing field by becoming a candy striper for Saginaw General while in high school. While attending Northern Michigan University, she continued this passion by making nursing her choice of study.

"School didn't come easily for Marilyn," states her brother Mark Nearing. "She wasn't very good at taking tests and she had to study especially hard. But she did it and in the end, became a brilliant nurse."

He adds, "She was the ultimate big sister. She was selfless. She had chutzpa."

Marilyn also discovered another life-long interest while attending college...her future husband. As her mother puts it, "Ed was the captain of the hockey team and when Marilyn met him that was it." They married in August 1978.

Over the next six years, the couple welcomed their two daughters: Julie, now 31, and Jennifer, 26, into their lives while living in Marquette and the Plymouth area. Dobbs's family quickly became her next passion.

"She was always there for her children," her husband states. "She was always attending her children's sporting activities whether it was basketball or softball."

Her brother adds, "She never missed a ball game and her voice was like a megaphone. She'd always be the one giving the refs hell."

Eventually, they found themselves moving their family of four to Charlotte in 1986. There, Marilyn worked at Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital as a medical/surgical nurse and shortly after, began working at the Barry-Eaton District Health Department for the next 22 years.

"She was a very compassionate nurse," says her husband. "She always found time for her patients and took the time to really interact with them."

Marilyn's compassion, strength, and "Tigger"-type personality are what her family says helped them all deal with the curve ball that was coming her way. During a trip to Florida, Marilyn began experiencing serious coughing spells and immediately knew she needed to see a doctor. It wasn't long after this that she and her family received the shocking news that she had lung cancer. A non-smoker and always conscious of good health, this was an unexpected turn in her life.

Yet, according to her family, she didn't let it stop her from living each day the way she always did.

"Marilyn continued to be strong and was always the consummate nurse, always teaching, even when she was very sick," states Dobbs. "I remember a time when she was so very sick in the hospital and this young nursing student arrived to take her vital signs. Marilyn stopped her and made sure she listened to both lungs and what each side sounded like and was providing her with a very detailed explanation of what she was hearing. Marilyn directed the student to get the rest of the nurses in the class and bring them to her bedside and they lined up to listen to diminished breathing sounds and gather further clinical instruction. When the instructor entered the room and saw her entire class listening to a lecture given by a terminally-ill patient, she was awestruck."

Two-years later, on a brilliant sunny day in February 2009, Marilyn Dobbs's battle with cancer ended at the age of 53.

"I was really unsettled on how to celebrate her life after she passed," states her husband. "I knew I wanted to do something, but just didn't know what."

His first step in finding a way to remember his wife was putting her name on a commemorative bench on the waterfront in Grand Haven, the place their family spent summers at their condo. Yet, that didn't seem enough.

"I just kept thinking about how she always was teaching others," he states. "And then when AL!VE came along, it just clicked. All the planets and stars aligned, as they say."

Spearheaded by HGB, AL!VE is an experience-based, community health park coming to Charlotte and the greater Lansing area. The facility integrates all aspects of health and well-being into one place whether it's through nutrition and diabetes education, cooking classes, or rehabilitation and women's services. Its core purpose? Not just to promote good health, but to enhance the overall vitality of a community.

Through various donation and naming opportunities offered by the hospital to help support the project, Dobbs found what he was looking for and decided to dedicate the Marilyn Dobbs name to a specific area within the facility called "Mingle."

"This area really fits her," he states. "It's surrounded by educational areas, along with consulting rooms and spaces that provide health screenings. It's a social area that can reflect a true celebration of Marilyn's life."

Her sister Cherie Nutter agrees. "It would mean the world to Marilyn. It fits so perfectly with her personality and in a sense, she'll be able to keep educating and supporting people there."

In the eyes and hearts of her family, Marilyn Dobbs will continue to always be that larger-than-life person they knew in this world and beyond.

"She went fearlessly," states her brother. "And that was one of the most generous things she did for us. She wanted to put us at ease."

He adds, "She'd always say...'I'm just going on my next adventure.'"