Michelle Elizebeth Engebretsen found peace in her home surrounded by her family on the morning of May 12th 2020 after a four-month battle with cancer. Michelle was born in Seattle, WA on September 29, 1966. She was the first of six children, born to Dr. Charles S. Wassum III of Virginia and Ruth Anna-Stina Eriksson of Sweden. Growing up, she attended a Christian school in Johnson City, TN until 8th grade, when she moved to Marion, VA, later graduating from Marion High School. Michelle attended Brigham Young University and part way through served an eighteen-month mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Los Angeles, California. Upon completing her mission, she returned to BYU and graduated with a degree in American Studies in 1990.
Like her father, Michelle took great interest in learning about the nature of man, the need for a limited role of government and consequently, a deep respect for this nation’s founding fathers. Consequently, upon graduation, she moved to Washington, DC, where she worked for the Heritage Foundation. Later, she met her husband, Thomas Q. Engebretsen of Delaware. They were married in the Washington DC Temple in Kensington, MD in July of 1992. Following this, she worked for a congressman in the US House of Representatives and, in time, left to earn a Masters of Education from the University of Maryland.
Michelle found joy teaching in Silver Spring, MD, where she taught academic English to first generation college students, part-time and full-time workers, refugees, parents, and first-generation students from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South and Central America, and the Caribbean. She was able to adapt the curriculum to the needs and interests of her students, taking the necessary information and sharing it in a way that was clear and accessible to those in her classes. Her warm personality and empathy towards these students from differing backgrounds created an environment not only conducive to learning, but to connection. Even today, she is known, remembered, and cherished for her ability to not only love and see people as they are, but to help them feel valued, appreciated, and empowered.
While in Maryland, Michelle bore a daughter, Emma. Four years later, Samuel was born while living in Denver, CO. Michelle spent a total of ten years homeschooling these two children, to whom she was able to share her light, love of learning, and goodness. She was committed to helping her children foster a love of learning and encouraged them to pursue what interested them personally.
Growing up, Michelle had wanted to have a large family, but infertility issues made that reality improbable. At age 46, Michelle left Alaska for a brief but life changing event to visit Taiwan. She was there for nearly three months, and spent the time preparing herself and her family to learn the Chinese language and culture. While there, she worked to develop a connection of trust and love with three small children, ages 3, 4 and 5, all siblings. She and her husband adopted them in June of 2012. This experience is chronicled in the website Lifeisgoodak.blogspot.com, which gives a description, in her own words of her experiences and the growth and love that was fostered.
With the three new people in their family and in a completely different environment culturally, the adjustment period for everyone was difficult. Despite these ups and downs, Michelle did her best to make peace and create a loving environment for the children. In order to understand her children more fully, she immersed herself in an array of books and ideas relating to parenting, trauma, and adoption. This knowledge helped her cultivate greater empathy towards her family members and all of those around her.
The time in Alaska had been well spent with many friends and new experiences for her newly expanded family. After eight years in Alaska, Michelle flew down to Salt Lake City in 2016, to check out the area and, following her own instincts, bought a home there after only three days. After the move, Michelle returned to her passion for teaching and assisted special education children in the same school where her youngest three children attended. In time, she obtained positions to teach ESL and English at High and Junior High Schools in Salt Lake City to newly arrived refugees and first-generation immigrant students.
In January of 2020 Michelle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Through the early days of her diagnosis she continued to care for others in and out of her family despite the pain. As her condition worsened, she acted as guidance and production for her fearful family giving gracious love to all who visited. While many of her physical and mental facilities began to fail her love for her family stayed strong and though she was taken from us too soon her love will forever be in our hearts.
A Service for Michelle is scheduled for May 21st at 1pm EST in Marion, VA at Bradley’s Funeral Home. This 1 hour service will be broadcast via ZOOM with the following link. https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86140612872
Friends and family please click the link below to share a short audio recorded story or memory of Michelle.