Debra Smrekar left a legacy of art, music, and gardening


Debra Smrekar (1960-2023)

Debra Smrekar was born December 10, 1960, to parents Emery and Janet LaTarte (deceased), in Sheboygan, WI, the youngest of four daughters.

Debra passed away at the age of 62, on April 11, 2023. Her husband Michael L. Smrekar was by her side.

She graduated from Sheboygan South High School in 1979, and worked at the Sheboygan Recreation Department during the summer months. She loved outdoor activities, creating art, family gatherings and attending functions at Hope Church.

After finishing high school, Debra chased her dream of becoming a teacher. She graduated from UW-Madison with a bachelor of science degree in art education. Later, she earned a master’s degree from UW-Whitewater. She had a life-long passion for learning.

Debra married Michael L. Smrekar on July 26, 2002 at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Beloit, WI.

Debra devoted 35 years of her life to teaching. She was employed by the Sheboygan School District and the Janesville School District where she also taught summer school art classes. She spent the next 31 years of her career teaching elementary art for the Kinnikinnick School District in Roscoe, IL. She was considered an excellent teacher and was said to bring out the best in her students. Debra was known for her creative nature, her kindness, her wit and her ability to make each student feel special.

She was very involved in district and community fund-raising projects, after-school workshops, coordinating the Veterans Day programs at both Stone Creek and Ledgewood School in Roscoe. Every spring, Debra coordinated the annual student Art Fairs, showcasing student art work from both schools. Over the years, several of her students won best of show art awards at the Young Arts Show at the Rockford Art Museum.

In 2020, she was selected as Teacher of the Year in the Kinnikinnick School District. She was the recipient of the PTO Gem Award, the WREX Teacher of the Week and a finalist for the Rockford Art Museum’s All Star Teacher Award.

After retirement, Debra worked as a substitute teacher for the Janesville and Kinnikinnick School Districts.

Debra and her husband enjoyed attending Wisconsin Badger and Janesville Parker football games, music, and theater performances. She loved gardening and visiting Rotary Gardens in Janesville.

Debra was an exceptional nature artist and portrait and nature photographer. She illustrated painted sweatshirts and wall murals and created bird sculptures.

Debra is survived by her husband, Michael; three sisters, Jane DenBoer of Sheboygan, Nancy Hilbelink of Sheboygan and Gail (Greg) Grube of Cleveland; sister-in law, Diane (Michael) Mueller of Verona; eight nieces and nephews, Laura (Christopher) McBrair of Menasha, Steven (Kelly) DenBoer of Sheboygan, Kristin (Doug) Rice of Oostburg, Lisa (Thomas) Dhine of Howard, Karl (Mandy) Grube of Howards Grove, Melissa Martin of Sheboygan and Brandon Mueller of Crystal Lake, IL; fourteen great nieces and nephews and an abundance of loving relatives and special friends.

Debra was preceded in death by her parents, her father-in-law and mother-in-law Thomas and Barbara Smrekar, and her two brothers-in-law, James DenBoer and Larry Hilbelink.

A visitation will be held on Friday, April 21, 2023 from 4:30 until 6:00 p.m. at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church at 2222 Shopiere Road, Beloit, WI 53511. A Funeral Mass will immediately follow at 6:00 pm.

Debra's family wishes to thank the staff at Agrace Hospice for their loving care of Debra, the doctors and staff at Mercy Health, UW Health, Ortho-Illinois who treated her with kindness and compassion, and the support of family and friends.

In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory can be sent to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital or to Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville.

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