May 6, 2022
2:00 pm
to 3:00 pm
May 6, 2022
2:00 pm
to 3:00 pm

Debra J. O’Neill

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Debra “Debby” O’Neill, age 66, a loving wife, mother of three sons, and grandmother of two, passed away in the comfort of her home surrounded by her loving family on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. 

Debby was born November 1, 1955 (celebrated as All Saints Day in the Catholic Church), in Detroit, MI to Peggy and Bill Szafranski, and was the fourth of nine children in a loving and active family. Debby fondly remembered her days as a little girl, dressed up as a nun, saying the rosary, while helping her mother fold diapers.  She graduated from St. Mary’s of Redford High School in Detroit.  She was a loving sister to her brothers and sisters and remained close to all throughout her life.    

Debby met the love of her life in high school and married Bill in June of 1979.  Bill often refers to himself as the luckiest man on the planet.  She spent the next 42 years training Bill, who turned out to be quite a project and a bit of a slow learner!  Bill also helped her to become an Olympic Champion, winning a gold medal in eye-rolling.  He provided the inspiration for plenty of practice. Throughout this, there was deep and abiding love and care between the two of them.

Deb was also quite thrifty throughout her life.  As evidence of those skills, the family has found multiple stashes of cash in creative locations throughout the house.

Deb was selfless and found joy in helping others.  Whether it be serving on the Alpena County School Board, being a volunteer for hospice, or comforting a stranger through grief at her local church, she was one to help when needed. 

One of her loves in life was dancing, whether it was at her Alpena cottage late at night, as exercise at home, or with her boys on any occasion – she never missed an opportunity to find joy in dancing through life. 

She was a beautiful aunt to her many nieces and nephews who speak of her as one of the nicest and most loving people they know. 

Debby’s greatest passion in life was being a mother and grandmother.  Her enthusiasm for motherhood was evident in raising her three sons.  She was the happiest in life when she was caring for and guiding her children (and she was the best at it). Throughout her children’s lives, Debby remained committed to their growth, happiness, and wellbeing.  She was a constant in the stands at wrestling meets theater productions, homework sessions, and graduations. Debby’s cheers and encouragement were recognized by all. Through this love and support, Debby raised her three boys: All-Americans, State Champions, Valedictorians, Homecoming Kings, loving husbands and fathers, and what she was most proud of – kind, compassionate men (again, she was really good at being a Mom!).  As the boys grew, Debby expanded her passion for motherhood into a career as a breastfeeding peer counselor and lactation consultant, at Michigan State University Extension, ensuring new mothers in the northern Michigan community were well supported.  In her final years, Debby pivoted her attention to her granddaughters, delivering a wealth of love and support.  The love returned by Sawyer and Hazel was ten-fold and filled Debs’s heart with so much joy each day. 

She was known to be strong, kind, patient, and a peacemaker, consistently putting others before herself.  Above all, Deb was loving – she made a conscious effort to give all her love away, to Bill, her boys, family, and friends, every day.

Debby was preceded in death by her father, Bill, Mother, Peggy, and sister Donna. 

She is survived by her loving husband of 42 years, Bill, her three children, Will (Katie) O’Neill, of Cleveland, Ohio, Kyle (Jaclyn) O’Neill, of Caledonia, Michigan, and Colin O’Neill, of Boston, Massachusetts; granddaughters, Sawyer and Hazel; her sisters, Dolly (Paul) Hunter, Diane (Bob) Gielniak, Denise (Bob) Beale, and Dawn (Rick) Cuppetilli; and her brothers, Billy Szafranski, Tom (Laura) Szafranski, and Paul (Cathy) Szafranski, and an abundance of nieces and nephews.   

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) Foundation.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Friday, May 6, 2022, at St. Mary’s Cathedral at 2:00 p.m.  Visitation will begin at the church at 1:00 p.m.

Arrangements were entrusted to Nelson Funeral Home and Cremation Service, PO Box 1548, Gaylord, MI 49734.

19 comments on “Debra J. O’Neill”

  1. It is incredibly sad to lose such a wonderful person at such an early age. Deb was a childhood friend and neighbor, classmate for 12 years. My deepest sympathies to Bill, her sons, and her siblings.

    Many of my fondest memories as a child were the fun and games on Robson from the early hours until after the street lights came on with the Szafranski’s. Deb made a difference in the lives of many and will be missed severely.

  2. Debbie was always such a kind, wonderful person. Always smiling. Our families grew up together, with so many fond memories. God bless.

  3. MeLissa Olson

    To the entire O’Neill family – I am deeply saddened to learn of your loss. I spent many years sitting in many different bleachers with Debbie. She was always kind, compassionate, and proud of her boys. Grief is a never-ending journey, but let love guide you on the path and it will allow you to shed tears when needed or laughter when appropriate. She will always be with you…

  4. Cathy Szafranski

    When I think of my sister-in-law Debbie, I see her dancing and singing. Likely why I hold such a special place for her in my heart. But that’s not all. I think of her strength and compassion and how she touched other mothers with her patience and kindness. I was fortunate to have Debbie visiting on a day I was struggling to wean our daughter. I was a total mess and she was there to give me just what I needed. In her gentle way, she offered me the guidance, reassurance, and softness I needed at such a stressful time. Debbie was so much more than words can express but the heart knows and will feel the abundant blessings we all have from knowing her. Until we meet again…

  5. Deb, Donna and I “hung out” every day each summer, and had a BLAST biking, swimming, roller skating, playing ‘calling all cars’, getting a frozen Coke at Grand River and Greenfield and just talking and laughing on Robson St. We stayed outside each night until the street lights came on!!
    Debby was a kind, loving friend, Mother and Wife. She made a difference in every life she touched. She is now dancing in Heaven with her parents, Bill & Peggy, her sister Donna, and Miles and Jean Gerou, who loved her like their own daughter.
    My Deepest Sympathy to the O’Neill and Szafranski families.
    Deb will live on in our hearts ♥️
    I am blessed to have had her as a friend!

  6. This is such a sad thing; writing a comment because my beautiful Aunt Deb has passed away. I loved her so much; anyone and everyone that ever met her did. She was the perfect combination of beauty, intelligence, sense of humor, kindness and compassion for others. There was no one like her.
    I was lucky that my Uncle Bill would take me along with him when he would pick up Deb from work most days, when they were young, in love, and excited about their futures together. It was such a happy day when I found out they were to be married, and Deb would officially be my aunt! We had lucked out! But my Uncle Bill was quite a catch, so they truly made the perfect couple!
    I’ve watched them raise their three boys, who are the kindest, most amazing human beings I know and love.Bill, Deb, Will, Kyle, and Colin are the very best of our family. Period.
    I will miss her so much, and feel so incredibly blessed to have her as family. I know her spirit is right here with us, and will guide us through this really difficult time. Thank you, sweet Aunt Debby, for showing all of us how to be truly exceptional. I will love you always!
    Love you,
    (Tracey Lyons)

  7. Dawn Cuppetilli

    Dear Bill, Will (Katie, Sawyer & Hazel) Kyle(Jaclyn) & Collin
    Through the tears and heartbreak I celebrate Deb (k.k.) and everything she still is, and she is everything! Such joy and love she gave and left us with . Deb was my calm, I was her storm we were a perfect combo! So blessed, so very blessed she was my sister. I will live as she would want and love her forever.
    ❤️Dawn (k.k.)

  8. Billy McEntee

    Holding the entire O’Neill family close to my heart; Deb was a magnificent mother and this eulogy is a gorgeous testament to her profound, brimming life.

  9. Bill and boys, I’m so sorry for your loss. I have nothing but fondest memories of Deb. Hold fast to your faith in the days ahead. Deb McKenzie-Cole

  10. My entire family has fond memories of Debby and her family. I worked at MSU with her and cherished the times I was allowed to accompany her to the playgroups, she was such a kind teacher to the parents she served. Our kids graduated with hers and she supported them in their interests as well. We only occasionally saw her in recent years but were always warmly greeted with a big smile. My kids were especially saddend at the news. We send our prayers for your family and can see from her obituary that you’re already remembering all the fondness your family shared. God bless.

  11. Deborah (Duchin) Wilutis

    Debby and I were inseparable during our “formative years”, and for that, I will be forever grateful. I was incredibly blessed to have her presence in my life. Though decades passed, and we did not live near each other, she was always just a text or phone call away. When we did speak, part of us were still just young girls who understood each other and laughed together. She will remain in my heart and continue to inspire me with her wisdom and calm influence. May perpetual light shine upon her.

  12. Colleen and Newell Cerak

    Dear Bill, Will (Katie, Sawyer & Hazel) Kyle(Jaclyn) & Collin,
    Newell and I are so thankful for the amazing woman, wife, and mother Deb was because we see the fruit of her work with the amazing O’Neil men. Deb was strong and kind and so blessed as she was so loved by her family and friends. My favorite memory is mother/son dance with Will and Kyle dancing with Deb and laughing so hard. We are praying for the family as Deb will be greatly missed.
    Newell and Colleen
    We are so sad that we are not able to attend the funeral as we will be out of town. We would love to give you all a hug.

  13. Larry & Lisa Stempky

    Bill and family, our thoughts and prayers go out to you during this difficult time. Deb was such a wonderful person and we will not forget the fun times we had while living in the Dixon Lake subdivision.

  14. To Bill and sons,
    I’m sorry to hear of your loss. What an amazing woman. I’ve heard fond stories and memories of your families growing up together from my twin, Marlene Gatesy.

  15. Joyce Hayes-Schaefer

    Deb was there for me, in a season of my life when I needed her the most. We met shortly after she and Bill moved to Atlanta and we connected in a very special way. After my husband died, Deb and Bill were true gifts from God. They were so kind and generous to me and Deb was my voice of reason, a rock for myself and my two young sons, She cared for them as if they were her sons in support while I tried to rebuild our lives. Eventually, the miles separated us but I have never forgotten
    how much her kindness and support meant to me. She has always held a special place in my heart as well as her entire family. My thought and prayers are for all of you. Love, Joyce Hayes-Schaefer.

  16. I am so deeply sorry for your family’s loss of a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and aunt. I can’t imagine how all your hearts ache at this time. My prayers are with you all.🙏🏻❤️

  17. I was so sad to hear about Deb this morning. She was always so sweet and kind. She took the time to help me understand the process of kidney donation when my brother-in-law was going through it, and it has helped me through a few more experiences as well. My heart goes out to your family as she was the center of your lives. 😘

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