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Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth, formerly of Oswego and Chicago, Ill., died from depression and suicide on Feb. 20, 2016.

Aletha was born on Dec. 29, 1984 to Bonnie and Bryce Pinnow.

The parents promised a tiny baby to their older daughter (who was sorely disappointed by the giant 11 pound baby that came home with them). This was an auspicious start for Aletha, who spent her life defying expectations and charting her own hilarious and unique path.

She loved animals, theater, Halloween, Star Wars, cartoons, preparing food for loved ones, and cuddling with aforementioned animals. She did not love France (they know why) and William Shatner (who also presumably knew why). Aletha was fond of making her mom laugh until she literally cried and helping her dad do anything and everything. It is impossible to sum up a woman so caring, genuine, vivacious, hilarious, and sparkly. Those qualities were so obvious to everyone around her. Aletha was her family's whole entire world. She enriched the lives of countless colleagues and students. Unfortunately, a battle with depression made her innate glow invisible to her and she could not see how desperately loved and valued she was.

Aletha found her true passion in fifth grade when she decided to become a special education teacher. She graduated high school a year early to enroll in her future alma mater, Northern Illinois University (NIU), in anticipation of that goal. It is the ultimate understatement to say that Aletha loved working with people with disabilities (especially people on the autism spectrum). She was a special education teacher for over a decade and she was, as she was happy to tell you, awesome at it. She saw the potential and value of every single one of her students and she loved them with a ferocity that would make a rabid mother bear quiver.

If the family were to have a big pie in the sky dream, we would ask for a community-wide discussion about mental health and to pull the suffocating demon of depression and suicide into the bright light of day. Please help us break the destructive silence and stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.

Aletha was preceded in death by her adoring grandparents: Barb and Dave Ashby and Orla and Don Pinnow.

Aletha is survived by her parents, Bonnie (Momster) and Bryce (Dadzilla) Pinnow; sister/seestar, Eleni (Smelly) Pinnow (Steve Rosenberg), and BFF Sara Clark. Aletha is also survived by an uncle, Mark (Casey) Ashby; aunt Charla (Doug) Antrobus; aunt Theresa "TT" Ashby; cousins Stacy (Igor) Zapadinsky, Leslie Antrobus, David (Dorothy) Ashby, Phil (Lauren) Ashby, and Steve (Maris) Ashby. Countless heartbroken friends mourn Aletha with her family. Aletha also leaves behind her devoted pitbull, Asta Louise, and two cats, Fido and Ralphie. Because Aletha was so dedicated to her vocation as a special education teacher, she also is survived by hundreds of students whose lives are immeasurably better because of her, and by colleagues in Wheaton, Chicago, and Duluth.

The family would also appreciate if friends and colleagues would share memories and photos of Aletha with themthis would provide us comfort as we find our way without her.

MEMORIAL SERVICE: 2 p.m. June 4, in the Church of the Good Shepherd in Oswego, Ill.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to endow a scholarship in Aletha's name at NIU. Checks (with the memo line "NIU Aletha Pinnow Endowment") may be mailed to: NIU Foundation, PO Box 746, DeKalb IL 60115-0746

Donations can also be made online at with the endowment information included in the Other' box.

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I did not know Aletha, but what a moving and wonderful obituary.
I am a friend of Sara's from early childhood. I know she is so saddened about this loss. It truly sounds like Aletha was such a beautiful soul. It's easy for someone to see from reading this why Sara would have been drawn to such a beautiful spirit. My sympathies are with you all during such a sorrowful time.
To Eleni and family: thinking of you at this time. God's blessings and peace. What a touching and honest obituary. The Rev. Sally Maxwell in Duluth
I very much enjoyed getting to know Aletha through her beloved pets. Her family holds a special place in my heart and meeting Aletha was a privilege (and, I must say, a hoot. We laughed and joked and connected right away). She loved her critters and I know they, among many, will miss her. Rest peacefully, Aletha.
Thank you for for honoring your beloved Aletha in a way that will surely impact the world just like she did.
I did not know Alertha, but I too have lost a brother to suicide. I am so sorry for your loss. The silence surrounding suicide and mental illness is deafening. I too hope one day that the stigma will be gone one day. A life gone is a life lost and it still hurts. It's a life that still matters to someone. It took me years to come to terms with my brothers passing I hope your family's journey goes well.
Aletha was my sorority sister and though we were not close, she did leave an impression on my life. She always had a wonderful sense of humor and I'm pretty sure she could make anyone laugh. At an informational meeting for our sorority, Aletha and I were paired up. I was the hopeful pledge, she the experienced active. We were to introduce each other to the rest of the girls in the room. I failed miserably and mispronounced her name. She corrected me and I flippantly said yeah whatever that's what I meant. Aletha never let me forget that moment because she would purposely mispronounce my name or call me by another name and if I corrected her, her response would always be yeah whatever that's what I meant. And then she'd smile.
I lost my 22 year-old son to depression and suicide last May. His dad wrote his obituary ( and as lovely and true as it was, Aletha's is so beautifully and heartbreakingly honest. The love you had for her sparkles through this obituary (love the descriptor "sparkly" you use for her). Hayden was also the light of our lives....funny, brilliant, kind, loving, and warm-hearted. We miss him every day and I feel so sorry that you have to endure this pain. It hurts so much because we loved them so much. My love and prayers to you as you navigate the field of grief. Find warmth and comfort in your family and friends and those who loved Aletha. Until we are with them again.....
This was a beautiful , enlightening, and honest obituary. You honor your loved one's person by writing about her and sharing her with those who did not know her. You honor her by sharing her struggle of self worth, personal perception and that deep dark hole, called depression. My sympathies and prayers for you her family, and all her friends and colleagues who now must live on without her. God Bless you all in your journey, and Thank You for sharing Aletha with all of us who did not know her, but are acquainted with the struggle.
I'm really sad to read this. Beautiful tribute Eleni.
I did not know Aletha, rather went to school with Eleni, who I remember fondly, as a big sweetheart. This is a beautiful obituary that touches my heart deeply. I applaud you for your strength and I'm very glad to see you address the issue of mental health and suicide in such a way. I understand the stigma as I've personally experienced suicide in the family as well as depression. May God bless your family during this difficult time. It sounds like you have so many wonderful memories of Aletha. Take care.
This is a beautiful obituary. Thank you for honoring your daughter by opening up discussions about the troubles she has shared with so many. So sorry for the loss of this light in your everyday life.
My most humble condolences to all of you. How sad that someone with so much talent thought she wasn't worth anything. Sending you strength and prayer in the days ahead.
Never having met Aletha, I genuinely feel robbed because I didn't know her after reading her obituary. She seemed like a pretty kick ass lady. I want to thank you for writing her obituary and being truthful in order to raise awareness. Sending thoughts and prayers for your family as you remember your loved one and celebrate the life that she shared with you all.
Blessings to Aletha's family and friends. May memories hold you as you heal.
I'm so sorry. Omgosh, my heart hurts for you. With love and prayers from Minnesota.
I did not meet your wonderful Aletha. But I feel like I know her through your vividly loving and courageous words. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your hearts, and may God bless you as you cherish her memory and continue her mission to love people.
I'm so sorry for your loss and may her memory be a blessing. I don't know her or you, but feel your pain. Suicide is a tragedy and I'm so very sorry it got the best of your dear daughter, friend, colleague. Hugs to you all who are missing Aletha.
What a lovely tribute to your daughter, sister, family member, and friend. It makes me wish I would have known her. And thank you for bringing to light the subject of depression and suicide. I hope Aletha's story is shared and it brings light, love and hope to many. Her life will not be in vain. Much love to you all and may God surround you with His peace.
I did not know Aletha in life only in death. Between her courageous family writing that tribute to her and Aletha herself, she will be teaching me of what exactly I am going through and have only just recently discovered, depression. My deepest prayers and love go to Eleni and her Parents. Remember to look up to the Lord for comfort.
I went to high school with Aletha and we had several classes together. I remember her great sense of humor and kind spirit. We lost touch over the years since then but I am deeply saddened hearing of this world's loss of a caring, intelligent individual. Depression and mental illness are very serious and very real diseases that effect so many, including myself, members of my family and many others including several friends I've lost to the disease along the way. I hope that sharing Aleetha's story will help it to reach not only those people struggling to hide the sadness and hopelessness they feel with halfhearted smiles and isolation but also their friends and family that know in their gut something is not right but maybe don't want to bring it up during those flickers of happiness with their loved ones. There are many reasons we don't or can't intervene but sometimes you are given that small chance, that moment of honesty where taking every word seriously and acting on whatever is within your power to help is so important. You don't know what might be your last chance to say I love you and I will be by your side in a second if you could just wait that long before making a decision that lasts forever. Thank you to the Pinnow family for talking about this tragedy so openly and lovingly and helping to bring mental illness into the public eye.
Thank you for your courage to share your heartbreaking experience with depression and suicide. Our community has had to face those hard moments multiple times in the past 3 years. After a horrific car accident that claimed the life of a 16 year old girl we as a community were dealt the harsh reality of what depression can do. We lost 2- 17 year old boys in the initial weeks after the accident and others who were silently suffering for so long followed suit. 2 more 18 year olds would follow. One was my neighbor boy for 15 years. My daughter struggled with deep depression as a result of the accident (she was a passenger in one of the vehicles) people turned their backs on her during her deepest, darkest, grief stricken moment. Teenagers and adults alike. It has been 3 years and the struggle with depression continues. Weather depression is a result of situational issues or mental health issues it is real and the person suffering does not know how to "just be happy" "be strong" "let it go" "you have so much to live for". They can see a way out of the deep unhappiness that is with them ALL. The time. I'm very sorry for the lose of your wonderful sister. I will pray for your family as you walk out this painful grief process. It sucks!! Please pray for my girl too as she struggles to find wholeness. You are so brave to open this dialogue. God bless you.
What a great tribute to a beautiful soul! I have never met Aletha or her family, but I share in your grief of a special life ending too soon. Your words for your sister are humorous (like she was obviously), loving (her again too) and poignant. I am saddened by your loss and will pray for you and all families affected by suicide. May you find peace in her humor, love and many memories shared and created.
I am very sorry for your loss. Aretha was obviously a wonderful person and you were all lucky to have been touched by her life. I was very saddened to hear of her death, as I also lost my sister to suicide. Thank you for the beautiful obituary and sharing your story in both the Duluth News Tribune and the Star Tribune. Hopefully these stories will help open a community discussion on suicide and mental illness.
I am very sorry for your loss. Aretha was obviously a wonderful person and you were all lucky to have been touched by her life. I was very saddened to hear of her death, as I also lost my sister to suicide. Thank you for the beautiful obituary and sharing your story in both the Duluth News Tribune and the Star Tribune. Hopefully these stories will help open a community discussion on suicide and mental illness.
I'm sorry I didn't know Aletha and her family. Depression and suicide unfortunately touched our family several times. It was something our family chose to keep under cover or denied. You are so brave to bring this disease out in the open where it should be discussed. We have a 23 year old grandson battling depression, bipolar and many suicide attempts. I pray that your bravery makes a difference, even if only in one person's life.
I am so sorry for your loss; my 18 year old suffers from depression and suicidal attempts and thoughts as well. I appreciate your candid words in dealing with this subject that is more widespread than many realize! I always tell my daughter that I wish she could see herself through my eyes, because then she would know what a beautiful and wonderful person she really is. Thank you for sharing your story.
I did not know Aletha, but I really wish I did, she sounds like she was a remarkable woman! So much of her life sounds so much like mine. As a very young girl I wanted to help the handicapped, my uncle was blind and retarded, and I wanted to protect him but also I wanted to educate people. I also loved animals, and wanted to help those that were persecuted, like pitt bulls. I was so sensitive, I would cry about it all. This sensitive behavior turned into depression. Unlike Aletha, I didn't pursue my passions, I never thought I would be any good at anything. My father who grew up in Proctor and went to UMD and U of MN, then received is doctorate in geology, this was a hard act to follow. It sounded like you were a close nit family, of course this makes it even harder for you all, and for that I am so sorry.I guess the main reason that I'm writing this to you, is that it was a very moving obituary, and if you could open that line of communication between someone who is struggling with depression and their family, counselor, doctor or anyone who will listen without judgement. I think that would be wonderful. I know it's hard right now, and when each holiday or other special day in your lives goes by, and you think of Aletha, I'm hoping that pain wont go on to long, and soon you'll remember those times with her and you'll smile. I wish you all the best, and keep talking to each other, good or bad. Pam
Firstly - I am so sorry for the death of your daughter, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. A death like hers is like no other as the answers, if any, are few and far between. Secondly, what a wonderful, honest tribute to Aletha to state how she died. How very courageous of you to state your pie in the sky dream - of starting conversations about mental health. This will be a good way for her family and friends to begin the grieving process and not keep what others may think (a shameful secret) locked away. As someone who last lost loved ones by suicide, I understand (a bit) of your pain. Take care of yourselves and each other during this time and times to come.
Your obituary was so honest and open. I pray for comfort for you and your family. I'm so sorry for your loss. The article I saw written on yahoo has helped me so much. My brother in law died by suicide in December 2015. As you said life after feels so different and sometimes scary. Thank you for your beautiful tribute it has helped me to realize I need to put out there what happened and help with some type of solution for others.
I did not know Aletha, but what a powerful and heartfelt tribute to your sister. It takes courage to dig deep in your soul to allow others in. You've done just that. I commend you for that courage. What a blessing you are to those that are fighting depression or contemplating suicide. Your message is heartfelt and I know will help millions. May God comfort you and your family during this time of sorrow,
I did not know Althea but at a time in my life I shared in that devastating illness. I'm glad it did not take hold of me to the point it did with Athea. This obit is brilliantly written. It's a wonderful testimony! Thank you for sharing...
I did not know Aletha, but I wish I had. She sounds amazing. We share the same birthday, although mine's ten years earlier. She sounds like someone I would have been instant friends with, as odd as that sounds coming from a stranger. It's true that the funniest, most outgoing people sometimes mask the greatest fears, depression. I wish she could have held on one more day. Sometimes that's all it takes to see that it does and can get better. My thoughts and prayers are going up and out to your family.
When my cousin died of suicide, I said "That was the depression speaking." Your "Depression Lies" statement is the full truth. Thank you. In addition to support for Aletha's scholarship fund, I would like to take this opportunity to recommend taking the Mental Health First Aid Training to become better acquainted with dealing with mental health issues.
To the family of Aletha: I would like to express my deepest condolences for the loss of such an amazing person may our heavenly father give peace to her family & (pets) and all the people she met and captivated with her amazing personality. blessings from Odessa TX.
When the darkness becomes your closest companion the heart and soul are meaningless. Aletha, if you read all the beautiful comments not to mention the, "Sparkly," obituary regarding your being it wouldn't be enough. Medications, Counseling, etc. list goes on it's a serious disease that through words even in the scripture David is the one who was depressed as he wrote, "Darkness became my constant companion". Much love, heartfelt sympathy for a family that who will love Aletha until they meet again. Find a cure for all the Aletha's. God Bless all of you.
I did not know Aletha, but am so moved by this obituary and understand completely. She is up there in heaven with my sister, Cynthia, and I am sure they have become fast friends, because it sounds like they were similarly hysterically funny and good souls. Depression took them, they did not take themselves, really. Thank you so much for sharing your family's story. RIP Aletha (and my "seester" Cynthia, too). Much love. Amanda C.
My thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time. Aletha, you will be remembered for all the right reasons. To the family, I send you my best thoughts and wishes as you make your way forward.
I did not have the pleasure of personally meeting Aletha, nor her family members, however, I am familiar with their pain, both Aletha's and her families. How lovely and truly caring this obituary is, and though Aletha couldn't see it's truth during her time on earth, I am certain that her loved ones tried desperately to convince her to recognize these qualities in herself. Depression is a unbearably heavy DISEASE that truly needs public attention and understanding. Thank you for sharing your story, so that others might learn and be moved to action. Prayers to your family.
I lost a brother to depression and suicide and I am so sorry for your loss. My uncle, a priest, also faced a lifetime of depressive episodes and he said mass for my brother. One of the poems that he included helped me cope. When the one great scorer comes to mark against your name He writes not that you won or lost but how you played the game Aletha lived a remarkable life and brought happiness to many people. She probably won many battles with depression before she lost the war. May you find comfort in your memories.
As someone living with depression, and having survived through very difficult times, this moved me immeasurably. I'm so sorry for your loss. Part of me can't help but identify with Aletha. I'm sure she loved you all very much. Sometimes it's just so very hard. ♥
I stumbled across Aletha's obituary via the Washington Post. It brought me to tears. Clearly, Aletha was well-loved, and lived well, bringing immeasurable joy to those around her. This was a stunning tribute. Thank you for helping the rest of the world to get just a glimpse into the amazing person that she was. I am so very sorry for your loss.
For a very brief time, Aletha was my sorority sister. Of the sisters, she was the most welcoming. She had the brightest smile and a bright spirit. She was incredibly kind and had an enormous heart. She made me a sorority paddle that hangs, with all of its sparkly greatness, on my wall . I can recall, like it just happened, the moment when she found me in the library to present the paddle to me. I am very saddened that the darkness of depression did not allow the brightness of her spirit to illuminate within herself because she truly did leave an impression on those who knew her, even if it was for the briefest of moments. She sparkled. She illuminated. She loved. She made a difference. My deepest condolences.
Thank you so much for sharing this. You're right about the lies depression tells it's victim. You reminded me that I do have a mom who loves me and helped me to see what it would be like for my mom if I do it.
Dear Aletha,Thank you so much for your courage in sharing what most people in our society try to hide. i have friends who have lost a child to this.. I want you to know how very grateful I am to you for writing this and grateful that I happened to see it. This so tremendously helpful to me and Ithank you from the bottom of my heart for it. I hope that you can work through your grief and have peace and happiness in your life.. my thoughts are with you.
As someone who came dangerously close to the same fate as your sister, I appreciate how you are ferociously trying to spread the word and bring this disease into the light. I have been aiming to do the same since I survived 8 years ago. Bless your heart and may your sister rest easy in peace. Love from California.
I have fought both clinical and now chronic depression since 1993. I hear your pain; I understand your beautiful sister's choice. Know that God knows her best. He recognized that she was not herself when she died, and she is now with Him, relieved of all her perceived unworthiness. She SHINES!! God bless and support you.
By far the most genuine and touching obituary I have ever read. I am so sorry for your loss. I am praying for you and your family.
I read a post on Facebook and appreciate very much your candid statement and outreach to the community to make this an open honest dialogue. I pray for your family to have comfort and my sympathies are with you all. Best obituary I have ever read, everyone always wonders how someone died and your honestly will bring light to a often avoided topic.
As the comment below says, this is truly a moving and wonderful obituary for a person who was loved, and who undoubtedly loved you right back. I didn't know your sister, but as someone who suffers mightily from depression, this obituary, and your article in the Washington Post, hit home. I'm so sorry that your sister's burden became too much for her to carry. But your heart-wrenchingly honest and transparent response to this tragedy will save lives. Thank you for reminding us that we are loved, and that the tricks our minds play on us are tricks, and not reality. With my deepest sympathy, I hope that you'll be able to remember her with more smiles than tears, sooner rather than later.