God gives each of us a certain number of days. Tess’s number was 24,601. She died on March 25, 2021 after a hard-fought battle against pancreatic cancer. She had a lot of choice words for her tumor, as do we. We’ll keep it clean here and just say that cancer sucks.
Tess was born November 16, 1953, in Stambaugh, Michigan, to the late Dovey and Sylvia Camomilli. Tess’s parents named her Theresa, but she hated that name, because “Theresa Jane!” always meant she was in trouble with her mom. She was Tessy/Tessie growing up, later shortened to just Tess. Tess was born on the second day of deer season, and her dad was out hunting when she came into the world. The Hanna Mine, where her dad worked, published in their newspaper that Dovey got a buck AND a doe that day. She enjoyed an idyllic childhood full of wonderful times with friends and lots of cousins.
Tess graduated from West Iron County High School in 1971 and never missed a class reunion. She graduated from Lake Superior State College nursing school in 1973 and worked as a nurse for more than 42 years.
Tess married Jay Leonoff in 1972. They had two daughters together and later divorced, but Tess remained friendly with the Leonoff family until her death. She married Ken Damitz in 1981. They made their home in Wausau before moving to the Damitz family dairy farm near Hogarty in 1985. They farmed for many years before moving to Weston.
Tess shared her gift of compassion in a variety of settings throughout her long nursing career. She worked at Crystal Falls Hospital, Dickinson Memorial Hospital, and Ice Lake Medical Clinic in Upper Michigan. In Wisconsin, she worked for Marathon County, Visiting Nurse Association, Hospice (as one of the first two nurses in the Wausau Hospice program), Pre-Admission Resource Center, OB-GYN Associates, Mount View Care Center, and Community Care Central Wisconsin (now Inclusa). Tess was funny and kind, and a fierce advocate for her patients. It became a family joke that we couldn’t go anywhere without running into former patients and families whose lives she impacted.
Tess is survived by daughters Amie Leonoff and Brenda Leonoff, both of Wausau, stepson Lee (Pam) Damitz of Crawfordville, Florida, and honorary daughters Quovaunda Jefferson, Fredericksburg, VA, ChiaChee Chiu, Houston, and Sarah Bratz, Stevens Point. She is also survived by grandson Christopher Damitz of North Carolina, honorary grandchildren Christopher and Olivia Olson, and her beloved granddaughter Arganie Leonoff, whom she helped raise. Her biggest regret was not being able to live long enough to see Arganie into adulthood.
Tess is further survived by a brother Richard (Cindy) Camomilli of New Holstein, sister Suzzette Camomilli of Kiel, and several brothers- and sisters-in-law, including special sisters-in-law Patsy Damitz, Weston, and Ruth Camomilli, New Holstein. She is also survived by several nieces and nephews including special niece Gina Provensal of Kenner, LA, and many dear cousins.
Tess collected lifelong friends throughout her journey. Friends from childhood include Carol and Dave Callovi, Iron River, Michigan, and Patsy Peterson, Crystal Falls, Michigan. She treasured her later life bestie Christy Hinkens, and coworkers and acquaintances who became dear friends: Kathy Klemm, Gretchen Iverson, Lisa Otto, Lisa Strand, Jackie Feck, Donna Kijak, Kelly McGowan, Rose Boron, Gail Coxen, Pam Zimmer, Deb Hall, David Cha, Courtney Kuklinski, Kacie Niemuth, Josh and Leslei Dickerson, and Deb Schoepke. She is also survived by the best neighbors ever, Jiggs and Joe Meurett.
Tess was preceded in death by grandparents, aunts and uncles, an infant brother Daniel, mother-in-law Cecilia Damitz, her parents, ex-husband Jay, and husband Ken.
Tess was an avid gardener and seamstress. She sewed her daughters’ clothes when they were young and took up quilting in her later years. She enjoyed canning and preparing holiday feasts with daughter Amie. Besides her work as a nurse, Tess was a lifelong caregiver, raising her kids and granddaughter, and caring for her mother-in-law and both parents during their final illnesses. Until her mom’s death in March, 2019, Tess enjoyed years of nightly visits with her mom watching the Brewers, Family Feud, and Wheel of Fortune, and reading to her from the weekly Iron River newspaper. After several years of illness, her husband died in October, 2019. It was a hard pill to swallow that when her caregiving duties were finally coming to an end, she was already too ill to take the road trip to the northeast that she had planned with Amie and Arganie.
Our eternal gratitude goes out to Tess’s oncologist, Dr. Christopher Peterson, family doctor Dr. Lor, and the wonderful nurses and staff at Aspirus Cancer Center and Aspirus Hospital oncology unit for their kindness, encouragement, and compassion on this journey. We are also grateful beyond words for Tess’s end-of-life caregivers Kathy Klemm, Christy Hinkens, Gretchen Iverson, and Delores Kessel, who helped Amie and Arganie care for Tess at home until her death. They are truly angels on earth.
The Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. Monday, March 29, 2021 at St. Mark Catholic Church, Rothschild. The Rev. Allan Slowiak will preside. Visitation will be held from 10:00 a.m. until the time of services all at the church. Social distancing guidelines will be in place as well as face masks required by all who attend. Peterson/Kraemer Funeral Home, Wausau is in charge of arrangements. Online condolences may be expressed at www.petersonkraemer.com. To maintain the safety of friends and family and our community, we will not be offering a meal after the funeral. Instead, we will plan to gather together for a picnic on a date TBD this summer to share stories and celebrate Tess’s life.
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