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Dena Eichelberger, age 73, of Willmar, passed away on November 6, at Bethesda Club Suites after a courageous battle with cancer.
A celebration of life service will be held at 10:00 am on Saturday, November 12, at Calvary Lutheran in Willmar, MN. Visitations will be held from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, November 11, at Peterson Funeral Home in Willmar, MN and for one hour prior to the service. Interment will be at Riverside Cemetery in Spencer, Iowa at a later date. In lieu of flowers, Dena wished for donations to the Hospice program and to support staff training at Bethesda Care Center in Willmar, MN as well as Hope Lodge near the University of Minnesota-Fairview Hospital, which provides cancer patients a place to stay during their treatment.
Dena was born in Waterloo, Iowa on September 13, 1949, to Manford and Theo Osborn. She grew up in Waterloo, Spencer, and Cresco, Iowa, graduating from Crestwood High School in 1967. She worked as a nurse’s aid in high school and throughout college. She attended Minnesota State College in Mankato where She and Dean met on a blind date. They fell in love and were married on November 28, 1970.
Dena, the president of her class, graduated from Northwestern School of Nursing at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in 1972. She worked as a Registered Nurse from 1972-2011 and loved her career. Dena’s time as an Obstetrics Nurse in New Ulm and working with young families through prenatal, post-partum visits at Public Health were the highlight of her career. She also taught Early Childhood Education and Prenatal classes for over 25 years. One of the accomplishments she was most proud of is graduating from Bethel in 1996 with her BS degree in nursing.
Dena and Dean lived in Mankato, St. James and New Ulm, MN before moving to Willmar in 1989, where Dena was the Director of Nursing at Rice Care Center. She also worked at Woodland Centers and spent 15 years at Kandiyohi County Public Health on the maternal child health team.
Family was very important to Dena. She married the love of her life, Dean, and they were blessed with two daughters Tanya and Christine. Dena and Dean had a wonderful life of love and happiness. Watching their five grandchildren growing up has also brought them much joy.
Dena’s passion for nursing and caring for others was evident in the areas where she volunteered. She served as a volunteer Parish Nurse at Calvary Lutheran Church in Willmar for 15 years. She also served on the Church Board several times and taught Sunday school when her children were young.
Her interests included playing bridge and carbles. She loved swimming and walking, was active in doll collecting and served many offices in the Sun Bonnet Doll Club. She enjoyed reading, gardening, arts, crafts, sewing, and being with family. Her and Dean attended black powder rendezvous several weekends each summer.
In May of 2019, Dena was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and bravely underwent chemotherapy, thankful for the time she was in remission. In July of 2022, Dena’s abdominal pain returned. Over the next three months it was determined the cancer had metastasized to a level where she decided it was time to enter hospice to carry out the remainder of her life. During those last few weeks, she recounted the wonderful life she enjoyed while teaching those around, and at her bedside, the meaning of faith and the priorities of life.
Dena took a special sense of pride in her position on the Bethesda Board, serving from 2016 to 2022. During that time, she was part of the team that developed their hospice program, scheduled to open in the fall of 2022. Dena’s family is appreciative of the excellent care she received at Bethesda and the support hospice provided to the entire family.
Dena was preceded in death by her only sibling, Robert “Bob” in 1988, her father Manford “Ozzie” in 1990, her mother Theo in 2001, as well as many aunts and uncles.
Dena is survived by her loving husband of fifty-two years, Dean Eichelberger, of Willmar; children: Tanya (Tim) Miller of Sioux Falls, SD and Christine Piper of North Branch, MN; grandchildren: Paige, Evan and John Miller, and Ava and Oliver Piper; many nephews and nieces, other relatives, and friends.
It was Dena’s hope that she made your day better if your paths crossed. In reflecting on her life, she said, “I laughed every day and had fun,” and “I dedicated my life to trying to make the world a better place.” Her compassion for people, love of her family, and passion for her career made her who she was. She will be greatly missed by those that were part of her life.
So very sorry for your loss. Dena was my OB nurse 4 times in New Ulm. Without her I would have been lost. Beautiful memories or a beautiful person. God bless you all.
Elsa Trammell Yohn Nov 11 2022 9:21 AM
How we wish we could be there for Dena’s celebration of life., unfortunately we can not. Dena’s life was a “celebration”. She loved life and that vibe rubbed off on everyone’s life she touched. Our hearts are heavy as we so loved that gal! Our memories go back over 50 yrs with her, Dean & family . An amazing women who shared her last days with strength, faith integrity and so much more. Our love & hugs!
Mike, Diane & Tom Nov 9 2022 6:31 PM
I knew Dena when her family lived in New Ulm. We got to know each other through several organizations we were members of. I will always remember Dena for her kindness and gentle ways. My sincere sympathy to Dean, the girls and grandkids.
Anne (Zwach) Hickok Nov 9 2022 11:56 AM
Oh how I loved this incredible lady, saddened to hear of her passing. She was so very warm and compassionate to me when I gave birth to my now 19 year old boy, she was so very helpful as nurse through public health. My deepest of sympathy going out to her family...will hold you all in our thoughts and prayers.
Carol Haakenson Nov 9 2022 1:53 AM
I am sorry to hear about Dena, I have known here since I had my kids. 20+ years. She was more a grandmother to them than their own. My kids loved her visiting. Even as they got older we seen her around and still the same reaction. She was the best with my kids.
I think I still have photos of her with my kids.
She will be missed by all those she touched.
You are in our prayers.
LAURI HEROLD Nov 8 2022 7:12 PM
Dean and Family- I have such fond memories of Dena. I worked for the Willmar Public Schools where one of my duties was having the 4 year old children come in for early childhood screening. Dena arrived with her “million” dollar smile and was so patient with the children guiding them with compassion and ease through the process of eye and hearing tests. She was unbelievably kind. It is true- God only takes the best. My deepest sympathy.
Lee Paulson Nov 8 2022 11:49 AM
Dena was an amazing person. Just days before her death she sent me a Facebook message telling me she was thinking of me and praying for me. God bless her dear heart.
Margaret Pederson Nov 8 2022 11:15 AM
A great women! Working with her was wonderful…made sure to stop into her office to get my day going with her contagious smile and positive attitude. Loved her laugh…saddened by the news but happy to read about her journey and her strength. My condolences to the family.
Fran Nov 8 2022 11:11 AM
Will be missed another black powder person leaving use what a great lady
Karen cavalier Nov 8 2022 10:55 AM
I will always think fondly of her. The few times we met at Veteran Doings she was always bubbly and upbeat. She will be missed. My Condolances Dean.
Larry Roulet Nov 8 2022 10:45 AM