HUBBARD, Ohio (MyValleyTributes) – Deborah Ann Whitlow was a force to be reckoned with. And oh yeah, it’s Deb by the way, unless you want her to roll her eyes at you. Hard. Which she did to many a nurse at St E’s who dared to utter her full name.
Deb was born on a sunny June Sunday morning in Port Hueneme, California in 1956. Actually, she was born in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion Center Hospital, ‘cause her Marine father worked on base as a cook. One look at her and it’s easy to tell that she was always an easy going, beach-loving, sun-worshipping, quintessential California girl…and proud of it. In fact, Deb was not happy when her dad, James Whitlow, decided to move their family of four back to his hometown of Topeka, Kansas. I mean, it was her senior year! California girls are undeniable! And so was Deb. If you asked her what she was up to, she’d say, “Oh about 5’3”, a buck thirty.” Deb had a zinger of a punchline for everything, and a story for everybody. It was easy to fall in love with that mischievous smile.
It was Deb who fell in love on a blind date with her first husband, Dale Bowling. In a rush to get away from Topeka and with an urge to see the world, she bid adieu to dad, mom, Frances “Pat” Smith and younger sister, Diane. She married her Army soldier December 6, 1974 when she was just 18. He whisked her away to Germany where he was stationed and they had their first child, a beautiful little girl she named Bettina Michelle after a sweet little German girl she met in her travels. Eventually the Bowlings moved back stateside and settled in Newton Falls, Ohio. It was there they later welcomed Leon Shane – a prankster named after the babelicious musician and songwriter Leon Russell and redheaded, Daniel Robert, who was brought into this world while Deb sang the redheaded stranger Willie Nelson’s hit “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” featuring Waylon Jennings.
Oh you betchya, Deb loved music. She had it especially bad for the blues. She worshipped the ground Stevie Ray Vaughn walked on. In fact, she finally got to see him in concert where she described his performance as a religious experience, and she cried tears of joy. She attended many concerts over the years and that was one of her favorite places to be. She follow her friend Mike’s band, The Mecca Band, all over the local area…and even got to meet the famed Willie Nelson at Ponderosa Park when Mike opened for him. Not only did they share breakfast, but…Deb smoked weed with Willie. No joke! And you know what she said? She’d never smoke weed with Willie again.
Raising a daughter and two boys proved to be challenging but actually a lot of fun. Leon would kick her flip flops right off her feet and they’d go flying across the room. She’d be mad at first, but then she would laugh later. Or how about the time she almost ran Danny over with the car because he was messing with the door handle in the backseat and almost fell out? She even thought it was funny later when the kids would lay on the horn while she was running errands around town. What could she say? She raised a couple of fun-loving, easy-going, mischievous boys who inherited her own beguiling grin. And her daughter to be just as etherial and fairy-like, enjoying time outdoors, hiking at Nelson’s Ledges and cultivating the best gardens…but also tough, authentic and independent like mom.
Deb found her own independence a little late in life. She struck out on her own and made her own rules for once. The kids were grown and having their own babies. Deb and her friend, Barb Capirano, would go out on adventures together. They’d set sail with the ladies on the Goodtime, follow Stan McCauley’s band Four Lane Highway around, or cruise for babes at the bar. One night in particular, Barb somehow convinced our stubborn chiquita to venture out to Town and Country in Hubbard. A few drinks, lots of music and she caught the eye of Jeff Nesbitt, who asked Cali girl to dance. Little did she know – he had moves! He pulled out his signature, The Twist and shorty got low. Impressive! She exclaimed. “Well that’s the easy part,” he crooned. “The hard part is getting back up!” He hit her with a zinger of her own caliber and she was shook. She always said that’s the moment she knew that Jeff was the one. They kept it casual for 15 years but the time was right July 28, 2018 to make it official at their home in Hubbard.
Jeff and Deb had a lot of adventures together, many revolving around music. They’d watch Jeff’s daughter, Lea, perform, or go to shows like Charlie Daniels Band, Little River Band and Four Lane Highway live at Grandpa’s. More concerts, lots of trips and lots of hanging out at Geneva-on-the-Lake, where Deb once got a tattoo with her inspired and nowhere near as rebellious stepdaughters, Kadie and Lea. How could you not…a night on the town, a few drinks and some good times…her energy was infectious! Jeff and Deb spent lots of time at the Sea Chanty up in GOTL, where they’d go with Tom and Amy Fitchet to help Pat open up for the season. Her favorite place to be was always near the water or on a boat.
Deb was a very hard worker. She didn’t wait to graduate high school before she embarked on her adult adventures but ever the role model, she eventually achieved her GED in 1987. She chose to work with the eyes, probably because she felt they were the window to the soul. For many years, she paved her own way through optical centers and family vision centers. She started as a lab assistant, then earned her official optician license. Happy day! Deb was always the smiley blonde in the office, positive and radiating. Ever proud of her hard work, she became office manager, increased profits and kept family patients coming back for their vision checkups year after year. She served as the Regional Manager for J.C. Penney and worked for Lenscrafters, Pearle Vision and others before she hung her hat at Kenny Kuhn’s Hometown Vision in Niles. She was best friends with her coworkers, Roseanne, Lisa, her sister-in-law Diane, Stephanie and Suzy. Even doc was considered a good friend. She loved to see her patients every day and always had a story or two to share when she came home for dinner each night.
Deb was the queen of homestyle cooking and she especially loved Mexican-flavored dishes. Her specialties were enchiladas and pancakes (not together, of course). In the words of Leon, “one good thing I could say about Mom is, she makes some …good gravy!” And it was true! Just the way she’d stir the roux with her classic sass and a hand on her hip lent to its flavor. She was always ready and willing to try a new recipe or anything that sounded tasty. And the jokes never stopped. We children were incensed. But that was Deb. Always a quip and never a dull moment.
When she was at home, she was in her comfort zone. Any given day after retirement, you could find her curled up on the couch with her laptop, Facebook games and the ID network playing reruns of Cold Case, NCIS and Criminal Minds. And don’t you dare try to change the channel! If you did, you’d just see the ID logo permanently burned into the corner of the TV. She loved Dexter, True Blood and Shameless, probably because, in her own words, she was a “twisted sister”. She favored John Travolta and any Quentin Tarantino movie and she RAVED over Marisa Tomei’s Oscar-winning role in My Cousin Vinnie – a movie she could quote incessantly. It was characters with a similar zest for life, unique personalities and ladies with an edge that interested her most. If there was ever a problem with all her tech, she’d blow up her stepson Ryan’s phone until he answered to come fix it, she don’t know what buttons she pushed but all of a sudden it’s all kerfluey and stuff. He hooked her up on multiple occasions and even upgraded her devices and connections for a more seamless experience each time. Yeah buddy! He spoiled her good.
Deb was unique and one of a kind. She was exuberant and authentic and there will never be another one like her. She had a way of making you feel special, no matter who you were. And if it was your birthday, look out, because she would sing you your own special birthday song with new custom lyrics every time and a Cha Cha Cha after every line.
She loved her nine grandchildren fiercely and gushed about them endlessly. She even got to see her beloved granddaughter, Brittany, give birth to three beautiful and perfect great-grandbabies. What a blessing! Freddie was her first and she always regaled how she’d put headphones on Tina’s belly so he could hear Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin. Then there was Nate–a charmer like his father, with the face of an angel. Later there came Aidan and Connar, two more laid-back good ol’ boys who like to get their hands dirty and when the stepkids came along, she also gained the little sweets, Hallie, Hanky, Nellie and Logan. She loved their cute, kissable faces! And they all loved their sweet, quirky Nana.
At the end of the day, Deb loved nothing more than to sit outside on the deck or in the garage with her sweetie and drink beers and wine. Especially, in the summertime, when the living is easy. All she’d need is a bonfire to feel complete, as they’d swap stories, listen to tunes and drink up their nightcaps. She’d constantly say how blessed she was and how much she loved her family, and how she’d hoped they knew just how much.
We do know just how much – and we love you, too. We’ll miss you our sweet mom, ma, Debbiecakes, Stepmunster. We hope you’ll haunt us from Heaven. And we’ll consider it an insult if you don’t.
A memorial service for Deb will be held at Noon on Saturday, February 4, 2023 in the Coalburg United Methodist Church, 1906 Wick Campbell Road, Hubbard, OH 44425 with Pastor J. Victor Bowling as celebrant. Friends may call starting at 11:00 a.m. prior to the start of the service.
Please wear something bright and springy that reminds you of Deb. Any flowered, hippie-influenced, tie-dyed pattern is great. The last thing she’d want is for you to feel all stuffy and uncomfortable on her behalf.
The service will be streamed via YouTube with a link to be posted on social media ahead of the service.
The family would like to express their gratitude to the staff of St Elizabeth’s 5 floor and the staff at Hospice House for their tender and loving care of Deb.
Arrangements entrusted to Dillon Santucci Funeral Home in Vienna, Ohio. Friends are invited to express their condolences and memories to Deb’s family by visiting www.dillon-santucci.com.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Deborah “Deb” Bowling-Nesbitt, please visit our floral store.
A television tribute will air Friday, February 3 at the following approximate times: 6:47 a.m. on WYTV, 9:43 a.m. on WKBN, 10:58 a.m. on FOX and 8:12 p.m. on MyYTV. Video will be posted here the day of airing.