Though life would still go on, believe me
The world could show, nothing to me
So what good would living do me
God only knows what I'd be without you.”
The matriarch of the Hartrum family, Debra Lynn Hartrum, took her last breath in Charlotte, North Carolina on November 12th, 2021. She passed on to the next world peacefully, surrounded by her loving family while listening to her favorite album, Pet Sounds, with Sloop John B. bringing her home to rest.
Debbie is survived by her best friend and husband Kerry Hartrum, sons Kris, Dustin, Adam, and Jameson Hartrum, grandsons Max and Woody Hartrum, sisters Pam Ryan, Sondra Cooper-Gullion, and Lynda Zivalich, and father Frank Cooper. She has fourteen nieces and nephews. Preceding her in death is her mother, Frances Cruise (Honey) and her brothers Charles “Chip” Gordon and Frank Cooper Jr.
Debbie was born September 9, 1956, in Würzburg, Germany to Frank Cooper and Francis Bowers. She lived in Lima, Ohio until her family settled in Los Angeles, California. As a child, Debbie was a dancer, gymnast, and beauty queen. She rescued stray cats and hid them in her closet, sneaking them food from dinner. Grandma Honey found them every time.
After graduating from Burbank High in 1974, she worked as a model and then as a flight attendant for PSA. She met her husband Kerry in a production of Grease at The Manatee Players in Bradenton, Florida in 1982. Kerry was Danny Zuko and Debbie was Cha Cha, the best dancer at St. Bernadette’s. The two fell in love and were quickly married at the beach on Anna Maria Island.
After moving the family to Ohio, Debbie attended The College of Wooster, obtaining her BA in Religious Studies. She also received a Master’s in Theology from Princeton University and a Master’s in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University. She was a lifelong academic and a prodigious reader. She loved film, especially Gone with The Wind, West Side Story, White Christmas, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Graduate, and The Godfather.
Debbie passion for the theater never waivered. She ran two performance groups in the late 80s/early 90s, KIDS KIDS KIDS and THE NEW GENERATION. Two of those kids made it all the way to Broadway and thanked her for it. From day one, she had her own boys in acting, dancing and voice lessons, and touring around festivals singing Beach Boys covers in tiny Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses. Sometimes Surfin USA. Sometimes Kokomo.
Deb not only raised, but homeschooled her four boys, and unofficially adopted many of their wayward friends. To say that her life was dedicated to her family is a gross understatement. Everything else was insignificant by comparison. Her family’s well-being consumed her every waking thought. “Family is everything,” she’d say, over and over. “Don’t forget that.” It was her mantra. Now it’s all of ours.
Debbie created a meaningful cultural hub at her Marion Street Home in Shelby, North Carolina. For decades, she nurtured a warm, welcoming space full of food, friends, parties, and the sounds of Frank Sinatra and The Beach Boys. She was well-known for her big Italian dinners, passed down by Grandma Honey and Aunt Milly. Gigantic portions of vodka rigatoni, spicy meatballs with raisins, stuffed shells, and endless Christmas cookies filled our bellies with her love.
Debbie loved to argue, and she was good at it. If she didn’t like something, she told you. She was a persuasive, anxious, tenacious, rebellious woman. She also didn’t have much of a poker face and was as gullible as they come. Dad’s jokes drove her up the wall, but you could tell she secretly liked them. At least that’s what he told her.
Above all else, Mama lived for her boys and grandsons. She loved her sisters, nephews and nieces, her mom and dad, her animals, Christmas, her Italian heritage and the performing arts. She was deeply in love her best friend and husband, Kerry. Debbie was so many things through the years. She was the beating heart of the Hartrum family. The connective tissue that held us all together. She was our mama, our sister, and our Nonna. God only knows what we’ll be without you.