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Shriner's Hospital for Children
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Life Story / Obituary
Dennis Merritt had unconditional love for children. He believed strongly in the innocence of a young heart, and he did his best to make those in his life feel valued and worthwhile. He was a wonderful mentor and guide not only for his own children but to the many that came his way. It always proved to be a good time whenever Dennis was around. With his loving, caring and uncanny sense of humor, he delighted all with his presence. In his family he found his greatest joy, and in the lives of those he touched, Dennis will be deeply missed.
The decade of the 1960s ushered in an entirely new way of thinking within the culture of America. The Vietnam War was at the forefront, and young people everywhere were learning how to make their voices heard. The Civil Rights Movement was news of the day, and “Beatlemania” continued to change the music scene. Throughout these changing times, many found reprieve in the form of drive-in theaters and beloved television shows. Yet for David and Rita Rae (Schmit) Merritt, the birth of their son, Dennis Gene Merritt on April 12, 1965, gave them another reason to celebrate the love of family.
Born and raised in the lakeshore city of Muskegon, Michigan, Dennis grew up alongside his six siblings, Debbie, Dave, Diane, John, Dawn, and Dean. His father supported their large family as a railroad engineer while his mother was a busy homemaker. Although born with severe club feet, Dennis underwent numerous surgeries as a young boy at the Shriners Children’s Hospital for which his family was grateful. Even so, Dennis never let this setback stop him from enjoying the various sports he loved. In his youth he enjoyed playing football, baseball, and basketball. He absolutely loved going fishing at the area lakes, rivers, and creeks, and always with a good friend by his side.
The loss of his mother at a young age was a difficult time for Dennis and his family. In time, his father remarried, and Maureen took Dennis and his siblings into her heart with open arms. As a family, they made their home in Muskegon Heights and through the years they spent many summers in Mississippi visiting extended family. They always enjoyed celebrating everyone’s birthdays together, and having fun with his sibling's boxing in the basement was one of his best pastimes.
Dennis received his early education at Roosevelt Elementary School. Eventually, when they moved to the Lakeside area, Dennis began attending Bunker School. With his fun-loving and easy-going ways, it didn’t take long for Dennis to make many new friends. He enjoyed numerous adventures during his youth where fond memories and shenanigans abound. Dennis continued to excel in sports. In high school, he played Big Red football, and he was also a member of the wrestling team before graduating from Muskegon High School in 1983.
Dennis fell in love with Rita Patino, and before long they married. Dennis loved and took her two daughters, Danielle and Debra on as his own. Together, Dennis and Rita welcomed the birth of their three sons, Michael, Marcus, and Dennis Jr. into their fold. Raising his family in Lakeside was a highlight for Dennis where he loved taking his kids fishing at his favorite spots. Attending sporting events created memorable times, and he loved getting his children involved in sports at a young age. Dennis was a wonderful father and he counted playing basketball, baseball, and football with his children as the best days of his life. Although his marriage to Rita ended, Dennis was forever grateful for the children they shared.
For many years, Dennis served as a nurturing example as a coach. Affectionately known by many as, “Coach D”, Dennis made sure every kid got to practice and made it to games on time. He was such an influential and caring mentor to so many children, even kids he never coached looked up to him. Around them he was always happy enjoying the greatest of times. Although Dennis would have loved nothing more than being involved in sports and the lives of children full time, he also worked hard to support his family. Dennis particularly liked jobs that challenged him. He especially enjoyed his job in construction, and as a gate and crane operator at Cannon of Muskegon.
Dennis eventually married his second wife, Janet. He always made it a point to spend time with his children whenever he could, and he was always loving, attentive, and involved in their lives. Even after they divorced, Rita went on to have another child, Victoriana, and when he went to pick his kids up, he made sure to include her. Known as “dad” to many, Dennis treated all the kids in his life as his own. He considered them the innocents in life’s web and flow, and he loved them just the same. While shaping and cultivating their young lives, he went above and beyond, no matter the circumstances.
Sports were a large part of Dennis’ life, but he also had quite a green thumb. Close to his heart was his love for dogs, too. Dennis believed that a dog was indeed man’s best friend. This was especially true over the years when he enjoyed his canine companions, Rowdy, Molly, and Abby Sue. Cooking with his mom made for good times along with fishing with family. Dennis always looked forward to fajita dinner nights at his daughter, Danielle’s house and spending time with family during their many fish fries. Just simply getting together during the holidays and fun times at Halloween warmed Dennis’ heart. He was especially overjoyed to welcome grandchildren into his life. He loved taking them to soccer practice, the beach, football games, and out for Sunday dinners. When he and Janet later divorced in 2015, Dennis moved to Texas with his sister.
A truly good man is one in a million, and Dennis Merritt can be counted among them. With quiet faith he led by example, and he counted himself blessed by the love of family and good friends. Always an inspiration, Dennis made his mark in the lives of those who came to know and love him. In doing so, his memory lives on in the hearts he touched with ways all his own.
Mr. Dennis Gene Merritt, age 51, passed away Friday, April 22, 2016 in Lewisville, Texas. SURVIVORS: His parents, David (Maureen) Merritt; former wife, Janet Merritt; children, Michael (Javonnia) Merritt, Marcus Merritt, Dennis (De'Asha) Merritt Jr., Danielle (Marcus Norman) Merritt, Victoriana Girard; grandchildren, Johnathan, Sidney, Mia, Mya, Janiyah, Georgia, Dayana, Jozlyn, Dayton; siblings, Dave (Marva) Merritt, Debbie Hewitt, Diane (Bart) Zavitz, John (Sue) Kelly, Dean (Sue) Merritt, Dawn Noyes; many beloved nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. Dennis was preceded in death by his mother, Rita Rae Merritt and daughter, Debra Ann Santos.
MEMORIAL SERVICE: Friday, April 29, 2016, 11:00 am with visitation one hour prior to the service at the Clock Chapel-Muskegon with Rev. Robert "Blue" Loera officiating. MEMORIAL: Shriner's Hospital for Children. Please visit www.clockfuneralhome.com to leave a favorite memory of Dennis and to sign his online guest book. Clock Funeral Home-Muskegon.