Alpena Lena knew how to light up a room

I always found it ironic that, for a person who became synonymous with light, Alpena Lena much preferred to stay in the shadows.

That always surprised me in a way, because to know her was to know her bubbly personality, her ability to make new friends easily, and her natural talent for taking control over a whole room of people.

Lena and I go way back. Her family and my family have roots that are decades deep into the ground. She and her family were one of the first friends my family made when we first moved to Northeast Michigan back in 1988.

We would often gather at one another’s homes on a weekend evening and play Rook, a fabulous card game that, whenever I play today, I always think back to those times. Lena was a natural at all things and she could tell stories that would have you rolling on the floor.

I remember, at one such gathering, my youngest son, Andrew, came into the house after a snow battle outside, displaying a good sized “egg” on his forehead — a casualty of the skirmish. Lena jumped up out of her seat and said, “I’ve got the remedy for that,” as she pulled a long knife out of her kitchen.

Andrew’s eyes were as wide as saucers as he watched her carry the knife over to him, not knowing whether she was going to slice the egg away or apply the cold surface to his head to relieve the swelling.

It was classic Lena.

On one of our weekend gatherings, Lena got to talking about Alpena’s holiday Christmas parade and the need for something different to happen to it. She was frustrated by the fact it occurred on Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving and many people were working and unable to attend. She talked about moving it to evening and the fact that, then, floats could have colored lights. I shared with her that, before moving to Alpena, the community where I last worked did such a parade and it had become a huge hit.

After more discussion, Lena said she was going to write a letter to the editor suggesting such a move, but she wanted it just to be from Alpena Lena.

Lo and behold, the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce thought the suggestion had merit and the parade moved from its traditional Friday afternoon event to become an evening affair with lighted floats and decorations.

From that point forward to the day she died, Alpena Lena often was mentioned in an editorial, a column, or a news story as being the inspiration behind the lighted parade.

While Chamber of Commerce folks knew who Lena was, as did many in the community, I never shared her true identity until now. Until today, she always was simply Alpena Lena in the newspaper.

Just weeks before this year’s parade and tree lighting downtown, Alpena Lena passed away quite unexpectedly. For all of us who knew her, it was a sad reminder of how fragile our lives really are.

In honor of her and her love for Alpena’s Christmas events, this year, her family was asked to light the community’s Christmas tree. It was emotional and fitting that Lena’s family had that privilege.

I know Lena had to be smiling, watching as her husband, Gary, son Jeff, Jeff’s wife, Katie, her granddaughter, Briley, daughter, Tracie, Tracie’s husband, Jeff, and her daughter, Kristi participated in the event.

Lena Witt was a special person who knew how to “light up a room.”

Thank you, Alpena Lena, for voicing an idea for change years ago that has made the community come together in the spirit of Christmas ever since.

Bill Speer recently retired as the publisher and editor of The News. He can be reached at bspeer@thealpenanews.com.


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