Nature 17

Deborah Lincoln O'Dell

July 22, 1931 ~ May 11, 2022 (age 90)

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Deborah (Debbie) Lincoln O’Dell was born on July 22, 1931 in Ann Arbor, Michigan to Joseph and Winifred Hobbs Lincoln. Debbie lost her father when she was twelve and her mother a few years later.  She and her elder brother, Richard, were raised by their grandfather, Professor William H. Hobbs, an arctic explorer and professor of geology at the University of Michigan.

Debbie recalled that she was “always in trouble” as a child.  She often came home late for dinner because she was out playing “Kick the Can” with children in the neighborhood. She continued to stay out late even though she was often punished for disrupting the family’s dinner hour.  She would say, “Kick the Can was just so much fun!” Deborah’s independent and feisty spirit persisted throughout her life.

Debbie attended the University of Michigan and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Art History, specializing in Medieval Art. After graduating, she became a stewardess for United Airlines during the pioneering years of commercial aviation, where she primarily served the Chicago to Boston route.

Debbie was introduced to her future husband by a mutual friend.  Frederick (Fred) C. O’Dell, Jr. grew up a few doors down the street from Debbie in Ann Arbor, but being seven years older, he had taken little notice of her.  He was famously known to have said, “that brat?” when their friend suggested he consider calling Debbie for a date.

In 1955, Deborah and Fred were married.  Soon afterwards they moved to England where Fred had a surgical residency at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. Debbie enrolled in the famous Cordon Bleu Cooking school to study French cuisine, and also learned Swedish handloom-weaving.

When they returned to Ann Arbor in 1957, Deborah was expecting. Three weeks after the birth of their daughter, Winifred, they moved to Alpena where Fred established a medical practice focusing on general surgery.  They proceeded to enlarge their family to include two more daughters, Catherine (Cathy) and Mary (Molly) Lincoln. 

Debbie was a devoted wife and mother who believed in service to the Alpena community.  She was a member of the Trinity Episcopal Church where she served on the Women’s Auxiliary Committee.  She supported the arts through years of serving on the membership committee with Alpena Community Concerts.  She organized events at her home to introduce the community to the Civic theater.  She tutored children with reading difficulties through the Alpena Public Library.  She was also a Brownie Girl Scout leader, a member of the League of Women Voters, and a charter member of the Alpena Audubon Society.  Debbie and Fred hosted international exchange students through Rotary and foreign students at Alpena Community College.

Debbie and Fred loved Alpena.  They both loved the outdoors, and Debbie was an enthusiastic participant in their shared activities including sailing, hiking, tennis, bicycling, partridge hunting, and cross-country skiing. They thoroughly enjoyed the many strong friendships they built through these activities and being members of the Alpena Yacht Club, Lake Winyah Club, and several friend group social clubs. 

But Debbie also enjoyed quieter activities, particularly cooking, gardening, birdwatching, reading, and various hand crafts, including being a weaver with the local fiber arts guild.  For years she planted a sizable vegetable garden utilizing organic gardening principles; she also established an asparagus bed, and several flower gardens at her home including a tiered Iris garden and an English garden with delphinium, columbine, hollyhocks and primroses. Summers would find her morel hunting, berry picking, and harvesting apricots, plums and peaches and then canning and freezing the produce. She was famous for orange marmalade, bread and butter pickles, canned peaches and applesauce.  She made oatmeal bread, rhubarb and cherry pies, popovers and steamed cranberry puddings.  She was well known for the lovely meals she prepared and served regularly; her husband Fred was exceedingly appreciative, frequently saying: “Every meal a feast in this house”.

When Fred took ill in his later years, Deborah insisted that she care for him on her own, much to the chagrin of her daughters.  She continued to take Fred to concerts in Ann Arbor and on drives to their beloved Ossineke State Park. Eventually, more help was needed: Debbie and Fred enjoyed the care and extraordinary friendship of several devoted caregivers and friends, some new and many old.  After Fred died in 2013, Deborah continued to live in her beloved Alpena for five years, at which point her daughters managed to move her to Spokane, Washington, near Molly.  There, at the Rockwood Retirement and Care Center, she was beloved for her positive attitude, feisty spirit, beautiful smile and the twinkle in her eye.

Deborah is survived by her three daughters, Winifred (Brett Tan), Catherine, and Molly (Gary Coulter); six grandchildren: Reed, Lydia and Sara Tan, Frederick (Freddy) Wieffering (Kristina Ortmann) and Helen Wieffering; and C. Scott Coulter; and one great-grandchild, Frederick (Fritz) Wieffering.

A memorial service will take place in Alpena, Michigan in late June. In lieu of flowers, contributions are suggested to Rockwood Foundation, Hospice of Spokane, or Free Rein Therapeutic Riding.


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