Bluebird’s History

One man's dream.

Bluebird has a long history of providing hope for adults with cancer. What started as a single Camp Bluebird retreat in Alabama in 1985, has evolved into many retreat programs across the country. While attending a Bluebird retreat in North Carolina, Bill Timm, a Spring Lake resident battling cancer, decided to bring Camp Bluebird to West Michigan.

Bluebird provided Bill with hope, and that hope led to a dream – a dream of sharing the inspiration and support he felt at the Camp Bluebird experience with West Michigan residents diagnosed with cancer.

Although Bill Timm died in 1994, his dream lived on through his wife, Robin, and their friend and pastor, Rev. Peter Theune. Together they united four organizations – A local Church, North Ottawa Community Hospital, Hospice of North Ottawa Community and the American Cancer Society of Ottawa County – and the first Camp Bluebird of West Michigan was held on the shores of Lake Michigan in 1996.

Today, Bluebird hosts five weekend retreats including offerings for newcomers, couples (a survivor and a caregiver) and a reunion gathering.   We also hold monthly support groups in Spring Lake/Grand Haven and Holland including a Spanish speaking group.   Our name has changed to Bluebird Cancer Retreats of West Michigan but we remain committed to Bill Timm’s dream – a dynamic, healing journey toward emotional and spiritual well-being for persons who experience cancer.

The Bluebird Staff

Committed to lead with compassion & excellence.

Renee Denslow

Executive Director

Renee joined Bluebird in January 2009 and carries a special meaning in her heart for the mission and those we serve.  “My dad had 4 separate cancer experiences spanning over 40 years of his life.  He battled and rallied each time primarily because of his incredible attitude and strong will to live” shares Renee.  “The Bluebird mission inspires me every day to try and put others first and to help people find joy in life, even in the most challenging times”.  Renee lives in Spring Lake with her husband Erik, and has three children, Maya, Anna & Eli.

Tanya Kval

Development Coordinator

Tanya comes to Bluebird with a solid background in project management and fund development.  She served on the Tri-Cities Unity Auction committee for nine years and was the co-chair for the last three.  Tanya joins Bluebird with a distinct passion, having endured a cancer journey with her sister in-law and her children.  As Development Coordinator, Tanya will work with our volunteer team to run our retreats and support groups.  She will also chair our annual gala event which is our largest fundraising event for Bluebird.  Tanya lives in Spring Lake with her supportive husband Dr. Tim Kval and her two sons Keaton and Karston and her daughter Katya.

Board of Directors

Serving with a heart for the cause.

Patty Keller

President – Bluebird Cancer Retreats

Teacher, Spring Lake Public Schools

As an educator and active leader in the Spring Lake Community, Patty brings a host of talents to the table. “In working with children for the past 30 years, I have seen firsthand the pain that families endure when dealing with cancer.  I have had students who have lost parents, grandparents & siblings to cancer and that is so hard to work through.  It is my love of family and work with children that have drawn me to Bluebird.”

Loril Garrett

Vice President – Bluebird Cancer Retreats

Outpatient Nursing Supervisor, Cancer Program, Spectrum Health

With a personal passion and professional experience, we are honored to have Loril as part of our Bluebird board.  Loril comes to Bluebird with an incredible background in Oncology beginning with her first clinical rotation in 2001.  Loril has spent many years working as a case manager and a nurse navigator, following patients from the time of diagnosis, through treatment and into survivorship.  She is known for being a nurse that cares deeply about the needs of cancer patients.  Loril has been attending bluebird events and referring her patients our way for many years and we are now lucky to have her officially joining our team!

Shelley Brocci

Secretary – Bluebird Cancer Retreats

Lead Volunteer, Mercy Health/Johnson Family Cancer Center Patient & Family Resource Centers

After spending 8 years as a volunteer in the Patient Education Resources Center at the University of Michigan, Shelley has brought her energy and passion to the Lakeshore by opening a resource center at the Johnson Family Cancer Center.  She shares, “it is a well documented fact that people affected by a cancer diagnoses seek access to information and support.  I saw first hand the impact of relevant, credible, accurate information provided in a warm and comfortable environment”.  We are thrilled to have Shelley bring her talents to Bluebird to help us reach anyone in our community in need of this kind of support.

Marcia Wiersma

Treasurer – Bluebird Cancer Retreats

Marcia is a cancer survivor and part of the bluebird family as a past attendee of a weekend retreat in 2016!  We are honored to welcome her to the team and gain her perspectives based on her personal experience.  Marcia’s professional background is in banking and corporate treasury management, and she will surely bring great strengths to our board in many ways.

Rick Arnold

President – Broadview Product Development

Rick joins us with a true heart for the cause. Having walked the cancer journey with his wife Denna, a 10 year thyroid cancer survivor, Rick has the unique perspective of a caregiver and support person. He was looking for a way to get involved and give back to the community and we are very pleased he chose Bluebird.

Susan Dudick

Lakeshore Nurse Manager, Cancer & Hematology Centers of West Michigan

After graduating from nursing school, Susan knew her passion was in oncology and she has been working in this area ever since. Susan has been a volunteer speaker for Bluebird since 2012,  sharing her knowledge in patient advocacy and cancer care.  “What Bluebird does for patients and families is unmatched in the community.  Bluebird gives patients comfort to know they are not alone and helps them find their way”.  We are excited to have Susan’s expertise and skills on our team as we continue to grow our mission at Bluebird.

Gloria LeMaire

Retired – Legal Assistant/Executive Secretary

Gloria is a long time Bluebird supporter from her first board term starting in 2000. After 3 board terms, Gloria served as Retreat Director for 2 years.  When she decided it was time to spend more of her retirement in Florida, she let go of many things, but thankfully not her commitment to Bluebird.  Gloria is now serving her 4th term for Bluebird and is truly inspired by those she serves. “I have volunteered for years and I wouldn’t trade any of the time I spent with these very special individuals.” Gloria has also held board seats on United Way Allocations Committee and Volunteer Center.

Mary Mencarelli

Mary joins us with over 35 years’ experience partnering with physicians, nursing staff, support staff, and most importantly patients who life story includes a chapter with cancer.  She has held management positions at Spectrum Health and Holland Hospital.  She shares “the joy that I have gained from these years is the ability to make a difference in these patient and families experience.  I would like to continue with the ability to make a difference and I believe participating in the Bluebird organization, I can do that.”

Marilyn Sytsma

Social Worker, Parmelee And Associates

Marilyn’s daughter Erin was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 at age 36 and this became a journey for the entire family.  Marilyn made it her life’s passion to support Erin in every way, including making unique hats for her when she lost her hair.  While Erin is now cancer free, Marilyn continues her passion for making people feel their best during treatment.  She is eager to share her hats and much more with our participants at Bluebird.

Stefanie Hall-VanHouwelingen

Executive Secretary, Herman Miller

As a survivor and a caregiver, Stefanie shares a very intimate connection with cancer.  Her mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, Glioblastoma Multiforme and fought a great fight with help from amazing doctors, nurses, massage therapists, nutritionists, to give her the best fighting chance.    “Cancer can rip families apart, destroy relationships, and demolish careers… however, it doesn’t need to be that way.  Cancer can also make a person (caregiver, family member, or patient) grow into something they never thought was possible.   I believe in staying positive and making a difference in every persons journey with cancer… it can be a life changer to a “new you” in a positive direction.

Lori Zellers

Attorney

After walking the cancer journey with many friends and loved ones, many whom she is happy to call survivors, Lori is committed to alleviating suffering caused by cancer.  The Bluebird Cancer Retreats board is a great way she can use her legal expertise to support programs that offer hope and physical healing to those on this journey. Lori has a true heart for helping others. She is excited to be involved with the programs and events at Bluebird and to make a difference in the community.