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Former News Reporter, Editor Dies

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Former News reporter, editor dies

Brain-stem stroke left Owen Eshenroder paralyzed, but not silent

AUG 4 1998 




Owen Eshenroder, a former Ann Arbor News reporter and editor who was paralyzed by a stroke in 1993, died in an Ann Arbor hospital Sunday night at age 50.

Eshenroder joined The News in 1970 as a reporter covering court news and worked his way up to assistant metro editor in charge of the newspaper’s Ypsilanti bureau.

Eshenroder suffered a brain-stem stroke in January 1993 that left him paralyzed, except for minimal use of his right hand.

He was remembered Monday at the Ann Arbor City Council meeting when Mayor Ingrid Sheldon asked council members and the audience to keep him in their thoughts during a moment of silence.

City Clerk Winnifred Northcross remembered Eshenroder for his big smile. “You couldn’t help but like him.”

After his stroke, Eshenroder, who remained in Ann Arbor, spent a year on medical leave, then took a disability retirement from The News.

Unable to speak for months after the stroke, Eshenroder laboriously spelled out words by blinking as visitors moved their hands over an alphabet chart. His first message was: “Hi folks. I’m still in here.”

Eshenroder eventually was able to use a voice-activated computer to keep in touch with friends through e-mail. In 1995 he wrote a story for The News describing his situation and his efforts to recover.

News reporter Susan Oppat said Eshenroder was the type of person who “when people went to visit him, he would actually cheer them up.” Nancy Varblow, Eshenroder’s former wife, said he called their daughter, Emily, every day and visited her frequently, even after the stroke.

Eshenroder worked as a News reporter from 1970-75, when he resigned to spend a year in Europe. He later worked at Eastern Michigan University and the Ypsilanti Press before rejoining The News in 1979. He was promoted to assistant metro editor in 1986.

In 1995, two years after his stroke, Eshenroder filed a lawsuit claiming The News violated the Michigan Handicappers Act when it declined to restore him to his job supervising reporters. The paper instead offered him a paid training period to evaluate his abilities for future openings. The case was still pending when he died.

Autopsy results to determine the cause of death were still pending this morning.

Aside from his daughter, Emily, Eshenroder is survived by his wife, Deborah Wentworth, two stepchildren, his father, Owen Eshenroder Sr. of Grosse Ile, and several siblings. Funeral arrangements had not been finalized this morning, but family members said there would be a service in Ann Arbor.