“She was sunshine. Absolutely radiant. ”

To read on Omaha World-Herald website:

Mall employee remembered for her work, optimism, smile

  • By Courtney Brummer-Clark 
radiant

Debbie Drustrup

COUNCIL BLUFFS — People may not have known Debbie Drustrup’s name, but they knew her smile.

Visitors to Mall of the Bluffs were familiar with the petite lady with curly brown hair and a big smile who cleaned up tables and picked up trays in the mall’s food court. She started working there shortly after the mall opened in 1986 and was still there until cancer forced her to stop three weeks ago.

Judging by shares of her obituary on Facebook, she touched many people:

“Always remember her smile.”

“She was such a good worker. She always had a smile on her face.”

Debbie Drustrup was born in Council Bluffs on Dec. 28, 1957. After her first year in school it became clear to her parents that she required additional help, said her older sister, Jennifer VanMoorleghem of Omaha. Tests concluded Debbie had suffered a brain injury, most likely from trauma during birth, and it resulted in an intellectual disability.

Debbie continued in school and, with special education help, graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1977.

She then took courses for people with disabilities at Iowa Western Community College. She moved into her own place at Greenbriar Apartments more than 20 years ago. The location was perfect: within walking distance to her job at the mall.

Last summer she began having frequent and severe headaches. A hospital scan revealed a brain tumor, the result of colorectal cancer that had metastasized and spread to her brain, lungs and liver. Later it spread to her bones.

She underwent chemotherapy for a time, but stopped when the treatments became too much for her to bear, VanMoorleghem said. Trying to explain that her illness could be terminal upset Debbie, so her family opted to keep the truth from her. “After the doctor gave us the prognosis, I told her, ‘The time may be coming to move onto heaven with mom and dad,’ ” VanMoorleghem said. “That upset her. So I changed the subject. I got my Kindle out and we sat there and sang Bee Gees songs for the rest of the night.

“When I got ready to leave later that night, she said, ‘This was a really fun night.’ Her optimism amazed me.”

VanMoorleghem, who became Debbie’s conservator after their parents died, wanted to find a social outlet for Debbie; VanMoorleghem thought she would enjoy having a group of friends. “She found some of that through living at Greenbriar, and she met people at the mall who would include her in get-togethers.”

Then, in 2012, Debbie was approached by Marland Gammon, the adviser to a group called the Black Squirrel Aktion Club. The club is an off-shoot of Kiwanis and focuses on community service projects and events for people with disabilities. Debbie embraced the group wholeheartedly.

She joined in twice-a-week cleanup events at Bayliss Park, appeared in the club’s annual talent variety show (last year she lip-synced the Bee Gees’ hit “Stayin’ Alive”) and assisted in community projects and fundraisers. She also was an officer for the group, set to be president next year.

On April 13, Debbie and her sister stopped at the mall office to turn in Debbie’s keys. Linda Gentry, Debbie’s supervisor, and members of the staff surprised her with a plaque in recognition of her service.

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