In Memory

Debbie Jesswein

Deborah Jean "Debbie" Jesswein (1950-2023), Administrative Assistant, MSU Sociology

She was born on January 19, 1950, in Detroit, MI, to John and Wilma Newman. After graduating from Livonia Franklin High School, Debbie earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. In 1975, she married Jim Jesswein in the MSU Chapel on campus.

Debbie’s first priority was her family. She raised three children, Bronwen, Blair, and Bryce, and was active in PTA at Marble Elementary School in East Lansing for several years. As the children were growing up, she worked as a substitute teacher in several local school districts. After the children were grown, Debbie worked at MSU in a variety of positions. Since 2010, Debbie had been an administrative assistant in the Sociology Department at MSU where she worked on grant proposals with faculty members for submission to federal agencies. She was dedicated and meticulous, with a high attention to detail, and enjoyed working with faculty. Outside of work, Debbie enjoyed family gatherings, home improvement projects, and working outside in her yard.

Debbie was preceded in death by her parents and sister Linda of Livonia. She is survived by her husband, Jim, and her children, Bronwen (David), Blair (Maggie), and Bryce. Debbie is also survived by her siblings, Greg (Kathy) of Maine, Tim of Florida, Mike of Michigan, and Nancy of Michigan.

No services are planned at this time.

Many faculty and staff at MSU Sociology worked closely with Debbie over the years and shared fond memories of her kindness, curiousity and dedication to her job.

"Many of us have gotten to know Debbie very well over the years, after she joined our department first as a temp in February 2010 and later in a permanent position in March 2011.  She has long been a valued colleague, a trusted confidante, and generally a witty and funny person we were privileged enough to call a friend.  We will miss her!" said Sociology Chair Dr. Aaron McCright.

The department honored Debbie with a moment of silence at the beginning of their bimonthly meeting and are planning a more permanent way to honor her memory.

Many of us have gotten to know Debbie very well over the years, after she joined our department first as a temp in February 2010 and later in a permanent position in March 2011.  She has long been a valued colleague, a trusted confidante, and generally a witty and funny person we were privileged enough to call a friend.  We will miss her!
One thing I will miss very much are the kind of meandering, wide-ranging conversations that Debbie and I had over the years.  She was a genuinely curious soul, who always asked great questions.  What started as a discussion about the impacts of NCAA conference realignment soon found its way to the lighting techniques of film noir and to the fate of the Roman Empire before ending on CIA interrogation techniques.  Without fail, she left me wanting to do more research on topics in prep for our next convo.

Aaron McCright, Sociology Chair


Debbie was tremendously helpful with my accounts and arrangements all the time she was with the Department.  It was always a delight to stop by her office and chat for a while.  Both professionally and personally she was a tremendous asset to the Department.  And she always loved the fudge I brought her from Mackinac Island.

Craig Harris, Professor Emeritus


I retired many years  ago,  so  I  did not work  with her for as many years  as some others of you.   But like  so many others,  I found her  very warm, and competent  and  helpful  and had  many  interesting conversations with her-  because of her wide ranging curiosity.

Stan Kaplowitz, Professor Emeritus


As the department's last acting chair, I can testify that she was a wonderful translator and interpreter of many MSU and federal regulations that made our department life and grant applications possible and easy for both for the  faculty and grad students. Best of all, she was an intelligent, hard-working, kind, and generous human being who shared her energy and her person and life with us.

As they said at his passing for another wonderful person Hamba Kahle, Nelson Mandela - Hamba Kahle, Debbie Jesswein - farewell, go with grace and peace, we will miss you.

Dave Wiley, Professor Emeritus


Debbie had so many wonderful qualities. She was warm, thoughtful, brilliant, gave terrific feedback on my proposals, and had a great sense of humor.

In the course of helping with a grant application, she became great friends with my overseas colleague and inquired about his well-being just last week.

She will be missed and remembered with much fondness.

Steve Gold, Professor


At times, especially as one keeps up with current affairs, it can be difficult to imagine that our world is heading towards a good place.  But, getting to know someone like Debbie reminds us that there are indeed “good souls” on this earth and consequently that there is room for optimism.  Debbie was a wonderful human being who I know will be truly missed by those who loved her the most.

Raymond Jussaume, Professor


Even the few interactions I’ve had with Debbie left a lasting positive impression and her warmth, knowledge, and skills will be missed.  

Angélica De Jesús, Graduate Student


I echo everyone's sentiments and I am heartened to hear the connection that Debbie had to everyone in the department.  She was a soft place to go when life was cruel.  When I was going through my divorce, she was a sanctuary for me and let me cry in her office without any sense of judgement or discomfort.  She was happy to offer a hug when I asked and I will so dearly miss her.

Jennifer Carrera, Associate Professor


I'm so shocked and saddened, and my heart goes out to her family and friends and to all of us. I got to know her a lot better over the past few months as I stepped into new territory at MSU. She was incredibly patient and kind and unfailing in helping me toward my goal. She was the kind of colleague you could count on and have a chat with as well. I will miss her terribly.

Stacy Smith, Assistant Professor


So very sad. We’ll miss her so much! She was just a joy to work and talk with.

Cliff Broman, Professor


Like all of us, Sophia and I were terribly saddened to learn of Debbie’s passing.  From her very first day with us Debbie was a source of inspiration, constant encouragement, and support to our entire department. Her genuine kindness towards, care for, and support of us all was unconditional. Debbie truly made the world a better place and everybody she met a happier, wiser, and more reflective person.

Brendan Mullen, Professor


Debbie has touched our lives in so many ways. She made our department a community. I loved stopping by her office and chatting with her. She always asked about my dad, how he's doing after my mom passed away. She always asked about Rivka, my daughter, and shared daycare tips from the time when her daughter grew up—it turns out we used the same YMCA summer camps in Haslett. She always asked about my trips. The last time when I stopped by her desk was in July. We chatted away about Italy. We talked about the beaches, then air pollution & Canadian wildfire, and then the conversation shifted to climate change, and ended (again) with how my dad is doing. How would I know that would be the last time.. 

 She will always be remembered.

Xuefei Ren, Professor


Debbie was one of the people who helped me the most in the department. She was always positive, willing to help, and warm-hearted. I remember when my father passed away from a sudden heart attack several years ago, Debbie comforted me with her big heart, saying that was how she wanted to leave this world—quick and painless. Now she has left us peacefully, leaving her warm heart and happy memories for all of us to cherish. She was one-of-a-kind and will be missed by everyone.

Cathy Lui, Professor


Debbie was a wonderful colleague and friend. She was always so kind, generous, and patient. I will miss her warmth in the department greatly. 

Rebecca A. Karam, PhD


Debbie was a great colleague. She was warm, kind, caring, and optimistic.

She was proud of her work and helped me in so many ways. I will always remember her smiles and the laughter we shared. 

Zhenmei Zhang, Professor


I am so terribly sorry to hear of Debbie's passing, but glad to learn she passed peacefully in her sleep. Isn't that how we all wish it would be when it is our time? I echo everyone's thoughts of Debbie. She was kind and helpful and such a gem. My sympathies to her family and my prayers will be for them.

Jodi Yelnick, Assistant Professor



Such sad news. Debbie was so kind and patient, and I will miss her greatly.

Molly Copeland, Assistant Professor


From the SSRC Pandemic and Reflections grant team

This is indeed shocking!

Our interactions with Debbie were brief and professional, but were sufficient to realise that Debbie was a sincere, concerned, and affectionate person. 

We pray for her soul to rest in peace and courage for her family to bear the loss 


Vidya and Anand (IRMA, India)

Professor of Economics

IRMA, India


Unbelievable and shocking . I am still trying to comprehend what is said in your mail about Debbie. It was a privilege to know her through email correspondence with her and connecting with her often for financial transactions was a pleasure instead of being bureaucratic. she was so prompt and kind to reply with as much details as asked for. Felt so connected with her despite knowing her only through emails and through your conversations which often mentioned her name .  

My heartfelt condolences to her family , friends and colleagues at MSU.  

Take care 

Anandhi S (MIDS, India)

Professor of History

MIDS India

***This is so shocking.  Each interaction with Debbie was so pleasant that I thought when we meet it will feel like meeting a friend.  And that ends like this...

I am not sure whether we can let her family know our deep respect for her, but if you think that is appropriate, perhaps we can send something on our behalf?

 Such a tragedy.

Deepest condolences,

Bandana Purkayastha, Ph.D. (she/her/hers);  

Associate Dean, Social Sciences, Regional Campuses, and Community Engagement. College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor,  University of Connecticut. Sociology and Asian American Studies,


International Sociological Association: Vice President, National Associations, 2023-2027

American Sociological Association: Asia and Asian American section's Contribution to the Field (career) award, 2016;     Jessie Bernard award (career award), 2019. 

Sociologists for Women in Society:  President, 2013-2014;  Feminist Mentoring award (2018).  


This is truly shocking and very sad news.  Like the others, I felt that my interactions with Debbie were more than bureaucratic - she was cordial, helpful and always pleasant in her emails and interactions.  She is quite possibly the best financial rep I ever interacted with and remember thinking that you were so lucky to have her on your team. She was so professional, prompt in her replies and advice and always looking to make things easier for the researchers and get them reimbursed in a timely manner.

 I know her passing is a huge loss to you and your department.  Please convey to your chair and colleagues that even those who only knew her through emails and phone calls thought that she was wonderful. 

I am really saddened by her untimely death.

With much sadness,

Elizabeth Chacko

Professor of Geography,

The George Washington University


A rude reminder that life is short. Hope her family can emerge through this tragedy with the passing of time.

 With a heavy heart 

Paromita Sanyal

Professor of Sociology

Florida State University


I am so sad to hear the sudden and totally unexpected loss of your colleague Debbie of whom you had spoken while you were here in Kolkata. I do remember that you had so thoughtfully taken back the little memento for her and had mentioned how supportive she was in matters of reimbursement.

It is such a shock for her family and friends to cope with the suddenness of this loss.

My heartfelt condolences to all who feel the pain of her passing.

With sadness,

Sharmila Kumam

Associate Professor

Department of Geography

Loreto College, Kolkata, India



Bernard Finifter

Finifter, Bernard


  • PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1967
  • MA, University of Michigan- Ann Arbor, 1962
  • BA, Antioch College, Yellow Springs, OH, 1959





Lawrence Busch

Busch, Lawrence

1990-1997 Professor of Sociology

1997-2017 University Distinguished Professor

1998-2013 Co-Director for the Center for the Study of Standards in Society

2017-2019 University Distinguished Professor Emeritus




McAdoo, Harriette Pipes


Dr. Harriette Pipes McAdoo was named University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Human Ecology in 1996. She also was a core faculty member of the African Studies Center starting in 1993. She edited the well-regarded anthology, Black Families.

She received her PhD in Educational Psychology and Child Development from the University of Michigan in 1970.






Morrison, Denton "Spud"

1964-1990 Professor of Sociology and researcher at the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station








John Rieger IVSA 1988 Rochester

Reiger, Jon H.


1961-1971 Michigan State University Department of Sociology





Harry SchwarzwellerHarry Schwarzweller


1972-2010 Michigan State University Department of Sociology

1955 masters degree in sociology, Cornell University

1958 PhD in rural sociology, Cornell University

1958-1968 University of Kentucky Lexington

1968-1972 University of West Virginia