Cover photo for Darla Lynn Dey's Obituary
1952 Darla 2023

Darla Lynn Dey

October 10, 1952 — October 26, 2023



Darla Lynn Dey: Farewell

  Darla Lynn Dey
  Darla Lynn Dey, a beacon of love and joy, was called home on October 26th, 2023, from her
  cherished home in Neenah, Wisconsin. Having enriched our lives for years with her vibrant
  spirit, Darla's life will be celebrated in a private gathering to be announced at a later date,
  hosted by her loving family and friends.


  Mom, your absence leaves a void in the hearts of all who were blessed to be loved by you. Your radiant personality, a blend of warmth and courage, will forever be imprinted in our hearts, inspiring our actions, words, and deeds.

As a boy you meant the world to me, you were my everything, my guiding star. Reflecting on the countless gifts you passed on to me, I cherish most the moments we spent together, especially during countless home gatherings with your closest friends. Those occasions, filled with laughter, storytelling, and the incredible music of the 60s and 70s, were more than just social events; they were life lessons in the art of living that only could have come from you.

Your ability to navigate the social tapestry of our lives, effortlessly bonding with everyone you met, was nothing short of magical. People were drawn to your genuine nature, often forming lifelong bonds after only a single encounter. Your contagious personality knew no bounds and created a sense of belonging that resonated with so many. We all knew where to find a listening ear and a comforting embrace when in need.

Chad and I, more than anyone, understood the depth of your love and the strength of your character. You instilled in us the values of generosity, empathy, and respect for the finite nature of life's blessings. Your unwavering love and authenticity were guiding lights for both of us that shaped the men we became.

To those fortunate enough to know you, your presence was a strong model and taught resilience, poise, elegance, and grace. We, who had the privilege of your company, are indeed the lucky ones. For Chad and me, you were the epitome of warmth, comfort, and unparalleled love.

As we bid farewell, know that your spirit lives on within us. You will forever be a part of our hearts, thoughts, and souls.

Rest in peace, our beloved social butterfly. Until we meet again, your love and legacy will continue to inspire us all.


Darla is preceded in death by her son, Chad Esslinger; daughter, Tracy Esslinger; parents, Clarence “Lefty” and Marjorie Wolfgram; and mother-in-law, Gerri Esslinger.

She is survived by her son, Shawn (Cheryl) Esslinger; grandchildren, Aarika (Caiden Shulfer) Esslinger, Devin (Jessica) Esslinger, Hailey (Brett Anderson) Esslinger, Amber Miller, and Jacob Esslinger; great-grandchildren, Caydance and Benson; and sisters, Gail (Steve) Bruce, Carol Gosz, and Karen Lembcke; and Thomas Dey.


~ John and I met soon after my brother Chad and I landed in Neenah. We became inseparable, and have stayed in touch for over forty years. John and I have always been able to see the true heart in each other.  I was so moved by John’s sentiments and beautiful tribute to our mother that I asked him if I could share it openly.

Queen Mother and Warrior Huntress



  If Darla was anything, she was a Warrior Huntress, a defender and protector of her boys and her
  way of life. She came up in the 60s. it was counter-culture, fight-the-man, peace-not war, etc...
  With two boys she took charge toward safer times and left the scene for a more stable life for
  herself and her children. It was hard! They moved 12 times in 10 years before settling into the
  home she died in last week in our old neighborhood. I am sure she did not imagine this would be
  the place where her last chapters would be written. I will always remember her as a fierce
  protector and warrior who fought against many. Too many underestimated the lengths that she
  would go for her own. Surely they will remember Darla in their own way… 
As a child, to me, she was my Queen Mother as much as she was to her own boys, Shawn and Chad. It was my first experience with a Queen Mother. I admired her, respected her, I even adored her, and more than anything I wanted to be just like her. At age eleven and twelve, I also wanted her to love me. In the years to come, she did. It was sweet, fervent, and filled a spot in me that needed to be filled. As an adopted child, like many who have lived that life, I was a lost boy in search of shelter and safety, a boy in search of the Queen Mother. 
She had Queen energy all the time and she was a master Huntress as well, skilled in the order of the forest and the ways of the jungle. Shawn, Chad and I were aspiring boys with little regard for the rules, boundaries, and limits of the real world. We would have driven over her had she not been all of that and more. She wouldn't allow it. She played the game better than we did. We tried! It was painful to lose against her. Even to lose against her was a joy, because it came with the kind of forgiveness that was firm but loving. She was formidable! 
Even more than all of this, Darla carried in her a story that is a love story, a survival story, and a heroine story. It is a story of a woman and her fight to create a sense of belonging for herself and her cubs in a world that was not kind to single mothers.
It is an inspiring story and one that is filled with love, strength, courage, and grit. One that leaves us all with a deep understanding of what it means to serve others, to stand for something, to love your own, to respect yourself, to have a code of honor, to be loyal, and to not take bullshit from anyone - including your own family.
To this, and to you Darla, my Queen Mother; I say thank you, and thank you to all the gods for placing you onto my path and into my life. You were my first experience with the Great Mother that made any sense to me... You are with and in me, and I love you forever!
~ John
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