By The Mercury

Cecilia Delores (Birzer) Denning, 89, a long-time resident of Russell, died on April 25, 2014, at Trinity Manor Nursing Home in Dodge City. 

Cecilia was born on June 9, 1924, in Barton County near Ellinwood.  She was the 15th of 18 children born to Joseph and Mathilda (Beran) Birzer. She grew up on a large farm in rural Barton County and graduated from the eighth grade at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School.

She was united in marriage to Ralph Denning (deceased) of Russell on Aug. 18, 1947. They raised seven children and made their home in Russell, except for two years spent in Stockton in the late 1950s. 

Cecilia was a devout Catholic and active member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Russell until moving to Trinity Manor in 2010. She belonged to the Russell Council of Catholic Women and was part of the Bible study group at St. Mary’s.

In later years she enjoyed making rosaries for the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  She visited the sick at local convalescent homes. 

While living in Stockton, she was a member of the altar society and the choir at St. Thomas Catholic Church. 

In addition to being a devoted wife, mother and homemaker, Cecilia was a gifted seamstress. She worked professionally in the early years of her marriage, sewing clothing for Russell luminaries, including Bina Dole, Sen. Bob Dole’s mother, and Hollywood actress Marj Mahoney Dusay.  She made her own wedding dress, bridesmaids’ dresses and going away suit, using silk that her husband Ralph brought back from Korea when he was in the service.  She sewed clothing for her daughters from infancy into their college years.  She also crafted detailed clothing for their dolls.

She excelled at quilt making, crocheting, knitting, cross-stitching, crewel embroidery, upholstery and furniture refinishing. She made dozens of quilts and afghans for her children and grandchildren. 

She entered her handiwork at the Russell County Fair for many years, earning dozens of ribbons.

She canned fruits and vegetables and made pickles and sauerkraut with her husband Ralph every year. Her pride and joy in the garden was her large asparagus patch.

Cecilia believed in higher education and strongly encouraged her children to strive for the highest level of education possible. Being part of a traditional German farming family, she and her sisters did not attend school beyond the eighth grade. Instead, they helped out on the farm and prepared their hope chests for marriage. Because of her strong desire to complete her education, however, Cecilia obtained her GED in the early 1970s while still raising her children. She then entered the workforce, holding positions as a cafeteria worker at Russell High School, nurses’ aide at Russell City Hospital, waitress at the Russell Elk’s Club and at the Gutierrez Mexican Restaurant. She also volunteered as a poll worker during elections.

Survivors include five sisters, Clara Bahr of Olmitz, Margaret Reichuber of Hoisington, Eleanor Penka of Dighton, Inez Giessel of Larned and Bertha Achatz of Ellinwood;  seven children, Daniel Denning and wife Mary of Lawrenceville, Ga., Dori Denning of Salida, Colo., Denise DeTurk and husband Randy of Salida, Colo., Douglas Denning and wife Gloria of Manhattan, Dale Denning of Lawrence, Deanna Martin and husband Rick of Running Springs, Calif., and Kathleen Helfrich and husband Brian of Dodge City. There are nine grandchildren, Nicole Surber, Ryan DeTurk, Patrick Denning, Bryant Denning, Elise Denning, Brianna Helfrich, Jared Helfrich, Drew Martin and Aubrey Denning; and one great-grandchild, Lillian Surber.

A celebration of the funeral mass will be 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 1, 2014, at the St. Mary Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Russell. Burial will follow at the St. Mary Catholic Cemetery in Russell.  Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30, 2014, at the Pohlman-Varner-Peeler Mortuary in Russell. The vigil will be 7 p.m. on Wednesday evening at the mortuary followed by a recitation of the rosary. Memorials may be given to the Saints Peter and Paul Heritage Association and sent in care of the mortuary. Pohlman-Varner-Peeler Mortuary of Russell is in charge of the funeral service arrangements.

Contributions may be sent to P.O. Box 324, Ellinwood, KS 67526 or to the mortuary.

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