SUTTONS BAY — Dennis Joseph Rathnaw, 78, of Suttons Bay, passed away on Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City. It was Valentine’s Day, and the 58th anniversary of his engagement to wife Nina.
Dennis was born of German, Polish and Kashub heritage on March 18, 1935, in Detroit, the son of Gregory and Mary (Selewski) Rathnaw. On Sept. 8, 1956, at St. Albertus Church in Detroit, he married Antonina Palazzola, who survives him.
Dennis’ was a life that will be celebrated by all who knew him, and those who had their lives touched by his generosity. His life was defined by a selflessness that showed in his devotion to his family, his career, his church and faith, and his community. Those close to him will remember his unerring ability to find elegant, often surprising solutions to the problems and challenges that he and his family faced.
As a child, Dennis showed an aptitude and passion for music, picking up the accordion at the age of 6, and performing on Detroit radio by age 9. Throughout his life, he could be persuaded to play for the special occasion, regaling everyone with a round of polkas or waltzes.
Immediately following his wedding in 1956, he was drafted into the army and served a two-year tour of duty, including a post in Germany with U.S. occupation forces. He was able to fly home for a visit to witness the birth of his first daughter, Grace Marie. In later years, he would retain a fondness for his time in Europe, and he and Nina would return, especially to France.
Dennis devoted a 40-year career to the Engineering Division of General Motors. He worked at the Technical Center in Warren, and the Proving Grounds in Milford. His work spanned various models and products, however he was especially proud of helping to usher in the era of air bag safety to automobiles.
After retirement, Dennis fulfilled a long-held dream of living in northern Michigan, where he built his dream home in Suttons Bay. His love of northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula had been nurtured over years of hunting and fishing trips, and he passed this on to his family through annual camping trips to the Porcupine Mountains and Sylvania Wilderness of the Upper Peninsula. His last visit to his favorite places involved a walleye expedition with his son Dennis Michael and son-in-law Kevin.
He was devoted utmost to his family and his faith. To his children, he was Scout Leader, baseball and softball coach. He was a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. And he served St. Mary’s of Lake Leelanau as church lector. However, he was most proud of his commitment to, and achievements with the Knights of Columbus, with whom he attained the rank of 4th Degree Knight, and served four terms as Grand Knight of Council.
Although he endured a number of hardships in his life, including the loss of his daughter Anne Louise to a pulmonary embolism, and another daughter, Grace Marie to multiple sclerosis, he remained an unflinching source of stability and support for his immediate family, and the husbands and children of the deceased.
He gave selflessly and generously of his time and seemingly endless knowledge of how the world worked, and how to put it back together when it broke. His family’s motto for him, like his father before him, was, “why do something, when you can overdo it.”
Throughout his life, the people all around him called on Dennis for help, guidance, wisdom, support, financial assistance, a car ride, a screwdriver, a light bulb. And he gave to everyone with grace, charity and dignity. His values centered on his home life, his house and his family, all of which he kept together and strong until his last breath. And that will be his enduring legacy, one in which we will all celebrate. He asked for very little in return. Dennis, Husband, Dad, Friend, asked for very little from anyone. He loved nothing more than a backyard full of family, a plate full of ribs, and Ernie Harwell on the radio on a warm summer evening.
In addition to his loving wife of 57 years, Nina, Dennis is survived by his sister, Claudia Poore; his children, Mary (Kevin) Kuznicki and Dennis M. Rathnaw; his sons-in-law, Alan Carver and Tom Skrok; his grandchildren, Regina, Kimberly, Joseph, Anne, Gabrielle, and Michelle; three great-grandchildren, Anne, Leah, and Emma Sue.
He was preceded in death by his daughters, Grace Marie Carver and Anne Louise Skrok.
Visitation will be held today, Feb. 17, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Martinson Funeral Home of Suttons Bay. The funeral Mass will be celebrated on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church in Lake Leelanau, with a visitation held one hour prior. The Rev. Michael Janowski will serve as celebrant.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to the Rathnaw Family, P.O. Box 159, Suttons Bay, MI 49682.
Please share memories with Dennis’ family at their online guestbook at www.martinson.info.
Arrangements are with the Martinson Funeral Home of Suttons Bay.