December 16, 1965 ‒ May 07, 2018
Formerly of Mount Vernon, Ohio
A Life Remembered: the story of
Denine Rae Wells-Steinmetz
Denine was a survivor! That was the verdict of someone who had just met her for the first time. That comment was accurate. Denine had to be a survivor. When she became a member of the Wells family, we were her seventh home.
Denine was the child of a couple who were both married to other people. Her Mom tried to keep her and raise her but her husband could not accept it. Her Dad agreed to take her and raise her but his wife was unable to accept her. At that point another family member took her in but that did not work out either. Denine then entered the State of Maine foster care system.
She spent the next two and a half years with a foster family. They decided that they wanted to adopt her but did not because of her interracial background. A friend who is in an interracial marriage told us she could always tell when a child was of mixed parentage. When she first met Denine, she told us, “Maybe I can’t.”
The foster family instead adopted a baby a few years younger than Denine. At that point the State of Maine advertised that Denine was available tor adoption. A family was interested in adopting her and it was arranged that they would spend an afternoon with her. That went well and the social worker took her back to the foster family’s home only to find they would not allow her back in the house. That same day she went back to her new adopting parents. All went well for two years and they adopted another child who was much younger. Denine did not respond to this very well.
Denine was in kindergarten and one day she came home and told her parents that the custodian had exposed himself to her. After repeating the story to her parents and the primary school principal, she was taken to the office of the Superintendent of Schools where she revised her story. Those were the days when such stories were thought to be imagined.
At this point the State of Maine took her back and she was sent to Sweetzer Home for emotionally disturbed adolescents. Denine was six years old at that time and she spent the next year as a resident at that Home.
The Wells family, at that time, had five children. Kathy, the oldest daughter had been in the hospital suffering from Spinal Meningitis. Those were the days before such things as Intensive Care Units and Kathy had a convulsion and swallowed her tongue. By the time that was discovered Kathy had suffered severe brain damage. Kathy now became a ward of the State of Connecticut and we decided that we wanted to adopt a child so we could offer that child what we could not give to Kathy.
We found Denine through the work of a social worker. At that point the Sweetzer staff told us that Denine was not adoptable. We suspect that they knew Denine could not survive another family disaster and wanted to be sure we would stick by her. They told us she was borderline retarded. She was not but her level of anxiety meant she didn’t do well on tests. We fought that fight and Denine became a Wells family member one month after her seventh birthday
Speaking of birthdays, there was a real problem because not only was Denine replacing Wendy as the youngest member of the family, she also shared the same birthday. That was cause of some real stress between the two of them, made worse by the fact they shared the same bedroom. Fortunately, that stress also built a closeness that continued to the end of Denine’s life.
We’ve shared all of this to show just how much Denine has had to endure and to affirm that what our friend said years ago, “Denine is a survivor.”
When she graduated from high school, Denine went to Johnson and Wales Culinary College. That did not go well and after, a series of jobs where she worked in a foundry or painted windows, or serve fast food, she found her a job that really was the right one for her. She worked as a skip tracer for a major credit card company. She enjoyed the work and did well at it.
In the meantime, Denine married Keith Steinmetz and their son, Adam, was born. Family was everything for Denine. After she died, we found a fireproof chest in a closet. When we opened it, every single piece was directly related to her love of family. Every paper Adam created was found in that chest. Every report card, every memento for every member of our family found its way into that fire chest.
Denine developed hydrocephalus in 2993 and her doctor did not diagnose it until damage had been done. Finally a surgeon put in a shunt to relieve the pressure but Denine was never able to work full time again. To compound the issue, her husband, Keith developed cancer and died. Denine was a rock of support for him during that time.
Denine moved from Mount Vernon, OH leaving behind all of the memories that were connected with that city. She came to Xenia, OH to be closer to her brother and sister-in-law and her parents. Adam graduated from Xenia High School and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Denine was able to be there when Adam graduated basic training and even visited him in Las Vegas where he was first stationed.
Through all of this, Denine’s health continued to deteriorate without any real diagnosis. Despite these health challenges Denine’s under-standing of family caused her to become active in an Air Force Moms group. That became a central part of her every day life. As her condition worsened the support she received from Tom and Cindi with occasional help from her parents allowed her to continue to live on her own in her home.
Despite the fact that her health continued to fail, the end came unexpectedly. Denine was diagnosed the Amyloidosis just a week before she died. It is a rare disease where the body produces a protein that enters the body organs and makes them so rigid they cannot work the way they are supposed to work. By the time it was diagnosed it was too late. She was too ill for any possible treatment.
Denine was a survivor. She saw many losses throughout her life but she kept on and did better than perhaps anyone might have expected given her difficult early childhood. She was in a family where she was loved and her family was precious to her.
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