Dinner to support former member of Violet Elementary

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published September 28, 2012

It was meant to be a way to help Denise Bryan and her family make it through a crisis.

Diagnosed two years ago with breast cancer, Bryan had to leave her job at Violet Elementary School, where she had worked since 2000. She was a recess supervisor and then a Title I aide at the school; she also tutored students in Lake Shore Public Schools and taught classes through St. Clair Shores Adult and Community Education.

“She was the bravest person, she was so brave through this whole process over the two years of fighting this disease,” said Bryan’s sister, Betty Pewitt, of Sterling Heights, who is also a breast cancer survivor. Bryan was the youngest of four sisters raised in Detroit.

But while family and friends were busy planning an Oct. 18 benefit for the Bryan family — Denise was married to Marlowe Bryan, and they had two sons: Keith, a member of the U.S. Airforce, and Jay, who is in the U.S. Navy — Denise was given a terminal prognosis.

“I think she was hoping to be able to be in remission and just being in maintenance, but she never got to that point,” Pewitt said. “It was just one thing after another. She wanted so much to watch her sons get married and have children. She was hoping to have 10 years to be able to get to that point. We never really thought this would be happening.”

Bryan died Sept. 18 at age 54.

“The thing that I kept hearing throughout the funeral home was, ‘She was always smiling; she always had a smile on her face,’” Pewitt said “She was loved by not only by her students, but her teachers, and you could tell from all the support the teachers have given.

“She had infinite passion and patience, and that’s why so many people, teachers and students alike, gravitated toward her, including her nieces and nephews who are inconsolable.”

Longtime friend Barbara Pocock, of Sterling Heights, said they are still hoping Bryan’s supporters will come turn out for a fundraiser dinner for her family from 5-8 p.m. Oct. 18 at Lakeland Manor, 26211 Harper Ave. Tickets are $20 and include two pastas, salad, rolls and soft drinks. The evening will also include a silent auction with Red Wings memorabilia and other items, a bake sale and 50/50 drawings.

Pocock, who met Bryan when they were both students at Northern Michigan University, said parents and teachers at Violet Elementary have been stepping up to “do everything they can for the fundraiser, too.” She said the support has shown what an impact Bryan had in St. Clair Shores and Lake Shore Public Schools.

“Here is a person that just gave so much to her community,” she said. “Always volunteered and raised two sons who then go into the U.S. military. She was always in that mental consciousness of giving back (and) raised those boys in the same spirit.”

Pocock said Bryan was very proud, though, and never wanted to ask for help, even when the family had to go down to one income with her diagnosis. It took friends quite some time to convince her to agree to any sort of fundraising support.

“I’m happy she’s not suffering anymore, that’s the one thing right now,” she said. “She just didn’t accept this diagnosis, and she just fought and fought.”

Bryan was also active in the Detroit Red Wings For’em Club, a booster club for the organization. That’s where she met Kathy Koehler, of Ann Arbor.

“I’ve known her for about 14 years. She was always a very bubbly personality,’” Koehler said. “Just very friendly, very fun-loving, liked to have fun. Even fighting cancer, I didn’t even really see her down at all.”

She said the dinner will be a good time for the community to show its support for Bryan’s family.

“A lot of parents, a lot of students, really cared about her, so that’s why we’re doing it,” Koehler said. “She just loved kids. It’s just good for the community to come out and help people in need in the area, and Denise was just a dynamic personality.”

“She was their crossing guard too, and lunch mother and tutor,” Pewitt said of her younger sister. “They would send (students) to her that were really troubled, and she would just cut to the chase. Somehow she would turn things around.”

A fundraiser dinner to benefit the family of Denise Bryan of St. Clair Shores will be held from 5-8 p.m. Oct. 18 at Lakeland Manor, 26211 Harper Ave. Tickets are $20 in advance or at the door and can be purchased ahead of time by calling Kathy at (734) 572-3248 or sending an email to denise bryancancerfund@gmail.com.

To donate to the fund without attending, send checks made out to Marlowe Bryan to the Denise Bryan Cancer Fund, P.O. Box 973024, Ypsilanti, MI 48197.