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Ann Whalen: Buttoned Up Hope

If you have ever conversed with Ann Whalen around town, you would never know she was not actually born in Macomb County, the community she loves so much. Whether it is coordinating a 60-year high school reunion, caregiving for a sick judge, or volunteering at the sheriff’s department front desk, Ann’s resume is flooded with Macomb County pride.

Annalou Ackerman was born on December 11, 1930 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The only child Lou and Pearl Ackerman would ever have, Ann loathed her name and is known as Buttons by most.

After years without work, Lou moved his family to Harrison Township, Michigan. Ann thrived at Mt. Clemens High School, where she made friends that she would keep for the rest of her life.

After high school her parents had saved enough money for her to attend college, but Ann had different plans. She married Joseph Whalen and used the money to buy a farmhouse. “My parents would never approve of that decision,” Ann said.

Soon after, Ann became pregnant with her first son Michael. Three months after his birth, she was pregnant again with her first daughter, Joellen.

The family was thriving until Joe was involved in an accident in which he suffered a severe closed head injury. This would demobilize Joe and keep him from working again. “I just took it upon myself to provide, finding any job that I could,” Ann recalls.

After years of supporting her family, Ann birthed two more children, first Joseph, and then Juli. A few years later, Joe passed away.

“On top of working two jobs and whatever else she would find, she was also the lacrosse mom, girl scout leader, she was still a great mother even though we didn’t have much,” recalls Juli, who still lives across the street from Ann.

Just as her younger children were reaching their teenage years, Michael became a teen parent with his then girlfriend, and Ann raised their daughter, Angel. This would not be the only stress Michael would put his mother through.

After years in and out of jail for minor offenses, Michael committed murder and will spend the remainder of his life in prison. “I always say that Michael didn’t know how to deal with his freedom,” said Ann, “ It is very hard on a mother.”

Soon after, Ann was diagnosed with stage four-throat cancer. She would go through years of chemotherapy and radiation before the cancer was finally gone.

“We tell her now, you were so weak, we were feeding you through a tube, we thought you were going to die,” said Juli, looking into her mother’s eyes.

“They should have just asked me, I knew I wasn’t going to die!” Ann says while laughing and smiling at her daughter.

After many years of caregiving for the ill elderly, Ann now volunteers her time at the Macomb County Sherriff’s Department. On the first Monday of every month she has lunch with her high school graduating class. Ann loves sharing a lifetime of stories with her grandchildren, and remains unbelievably positive about everything she has been challenged with.