- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

LAINGSBURG, Mich. (AP) - Week-old Blake Rodeman is gurgling and fussing. Then, to make it totally clear that he’s hungry, he sucks his tiny fist.

Kate Rodeman cradles her son, gently bouncing him to soothe him. She breaks out in laughter as he tries to nuzzle her breast through her sweater. He’s an active baby. “He’s a screamer,” she said, smiling again with pride. “Even the doctor said so.”

It’s been nearly seven months since the death of her husband, Lansing Firefighter Dennis Rodeman, 35, the Lansing State Journal (https://on.lsj.com/1V4kdl1 ) reported. Police say he was intentionally struck by a hit-and-run driver on Sept. 9 while he was collecting donations for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Blake was born March 22, two weeks early. Labor was induced after Kate’s blood pressure began to rise. Now, at home in Laingsburg, six days after giving birth, the new mom is at ease, handling her pregnancy, delivery and care of her newborn with a grace that astounds those around her.

Her baby is definitely a firefighter’s kid, decked out in red sweatpants and a red T-shirt that says “Little Chief to the Rescue.” Dennis picked out the baby’s name before he died. The baby’s full name is Dennis Blake Rodeman.



Kate, 27, said the birth was bittersweet.

“When I look at him I see the life that I want but at the same time I see the life I can never have without Dennis,” she said, her voice breaking slightly.

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She agreed to talk about the baby, but she wants to limit it to just one interview with the Lansing State Journal. She gave just one other interview, to WILX-TV, to thank people for their support after the funeral.

Nearby in her living room, is Justin Conklin, a Lansing firefighter who has acted as Kate’s media liaison and protector since that terrible September day. Conklin worked with Dennis, and his wife, Nicole, is a coworker of Kate’s at Sparrow Hospital. The Conklins, and two other firefighter families, live close by. Conklin said he’s been besieged with requests for media interviews with Kate, including at least a dozen in the past week.

While she’s grateful for the public’s good thoughts, the attention can be overwhelming, she said.

“Ever since this whole thing happened, everybody just wants a piece of my story,” she said. “I don’t need to air out everything, like every business. That’s just not me.”

Even patients at Sparrow recognize her and offer words of support. She went back to work in mid-November, working two 10-hour shifts each week. A few weeks before Blake’s birth, she took time off but she plans to return in July.

She understands the interest.

“I know that they want to know how we’re doing. They do deserve that considering all the things they have done for me, all the support, the prayers, the kind thoughts. And they want to see my little guy.”

Dennis and Kate’s life together as a family was just beginning when it was cut short. They had married in June. They were expecting their first child. The couple had recently moved to a house on 26 acres in Owosso, where Dennis planned to hunt.

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When he was struck down, he was brought to the Sparrow emergency room, where Kate was on duty. She said goodbye to him then. That night, Nicole Conklin drove her to Owosso to pick up some clothes and then took her to her parents’ house in Charlotte. She never returned to live at the Owosso house.

“I couldn’t live in that house anymore. It was just too big of a property to be there by myself,” she said.

She sold that house and moved in late January to a new place, a four-bedroom, two-story home across the street from a small lake. It’s in a Laingsburg subdivision near Sleepy Hollow State Park, about a 25-minute drive to Lansing.

Her parents, Mel and Bernadette Demesa, and her sister Kamille, 22, are staying with her and plan to move in permanently once their Charlotte home is sold. Her parents will live with her for a few years before they retire to their native Philippines, she said.

Kate’s father, also a nurse at Sparrow, moved to Charlotte in 1995, and the family followed in 2002. Kate was 13. She graduated from Charlotte High School, then went to Kellogg Community College and Spring Arbor College. She met Dennis Rodeman at Sparrow, while they were both on the job, two years before they married.

Besides her family, she has the support of Dennis’ family, including father Max Rodeman of Charlotte and mother Tonya Cook and her husband, Mark, in Vermontville.

And then there’s the Lansing Fire Department. Conklin said firefighters coped with Rodeman’s death by pledging to support Kate, and now Kate and Blake. Ten firefighters responded to a single text message to move her furniture to the new house, for example.

Kate’s need for privacy extended to the delivery of her baby. Conklin was in the waiting room, keeping other firefighters and their wives, eager to support Kate, at bay.

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Conklin said the delivery room and waiting room would have been filled to overflowing had she allowed it. But no one stood in for Dennis. She even texted Conklin her thoughts so he could share them with anyone who insisted. There were dozens. “Everybody thought she needed somebody,” he said.

“When Dennis died, I shared him with everyone. I would like the birth of my son to be my moment and mine only,” she texted.

She said she felt her late husband’s presence in the delivery room. “Dennis and I have always had this special connection. I just know he was there.”

The baby was born at 12:23 p.m., weighing just over 8 pounds. It was three hours before she let visitors in.

It’s part of the balancing act she faces as an unwitting public figure who wants her privacy but also wishes to express gratitude. A GoFundMe site raised more than $157,000 in donations. There have been other fundraisers and the Lansing’s Police and Fire Retirement Board voted to give Kate one-third of Rodeman’s final compensation for life and one-quarter to her child until age 21.

She’s learned to cope with the attention.

“It’s a constant battle. I know when to say, ‘Just back off for a second. I need my time.’”

Her Catholic faith helps, too.

“I pray, and I talk to Dennis. It gives me a security in knowing that I know that things happen for a reason.”

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Firefighter Adam Ruff, who was a member of the Rodeman wedding party and a close friend of Dennis’, called her “phenomenally strong.”

“It’s just amazing to see how she’s been so supportive of everybody else but also able to support herself,” he said.

Kate said she had no choice.

“I don’t have the option to fall apart. I have a little tiny human being to take care of and being strong is my only choice,” she said.

Blake will grow up hearing stories about his dad from Dennis’ family and friends. She’ll show him pictures and visit Fire Station No. 1 to share meals with the firefighters. Blake will know his dad as a good-natured ex-Marine who loved to play with his nieces and nephews and children of his friends.

“He would help anybody who needed help. He was somebody that you could count on and make you laugh … He had a kind heart,” Kate said.

Dennis is still a big part of their lives.

“It’s just a feeling that I know that he’s here, watching over us.”

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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