Dennis Neil Ribbens

Dennis Neil Ribbens died at his home near Watersmeet, Michigan on March 1, 2022, after having been diagnosed with prostate cancer years before. He was blessed to be able to continue swimming in the lake, taking walks or ATV rides through the woods, and enjoying the company of his family up until shortly before his death. He died surrounded by many of his children and comforted by the presence of his beloved wife, Harriet.

Dennis was born on November 30, 1935, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He is the fourth child of Johan Karel and Cornelia (Vande Creeke) Ribbens. He met his wife Harriet (Hofstede) his freshman year at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan when they were both late for a rehearsal of Handel’s Messiah. It was love at first sight, and they were married by graduation. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Calvin, Dennis went on to receive a master’s degree in English, a master’s degree in library science, and a PhD in library science, all from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Although these degrees required him to commute to Madison, Dennis was a present father throughout and spent many weekends on adventures with his children. Dennis was committed to serving the church in many teaching and leadership roles, and he was also deeply engaged in church music. He loved to sing from his boyhood on, literally singing aloud within 48 hours of his dying.

Love of teaching, reading, and language was a hallmark of Dennis’s life. After completing his PhD he worked as the director of the library at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin for 27 years. During this time he oversaw the building of the Seeley G. Mudd library and the change to an electronic catalog. He particularly loved to teach in the Freshman studies program at Lawrence, passing on his love of literature to his students and improving the writing of anyone whose papers he read. He was active with the Wisconsin Library Association for many years, including serving as president. His scholarly interest was in land ethics, with a special focus on Aldo Leopold and his work.

Dennis’s interest in land ethics stemmed from a deep love for God’s creation. His best hours were those spent outside. He grew up swimming in Lake Michigan and loved to swim his entire life. He and Harriet went canoeing, camping, and biking together throughout their marriage, even in the early years when it involved bringing their young children along. During his years at Lawrence University, he also farmed 75 acres, primarily raising sheep. When he retired, he moved to the Michigan Northwoods where he and Harriet continued to worship God by enjoying the woods, lakes, and wetlands surrounding them.

The love Dennis had for his dear wife Harriet is in part evident by the eight children they raised together. He is survived by his wife as well as five sons, two daughters, twenty-four grandchildren and twelve great grandchildren. These include his son Eric, father of Neli (Paul) Ribbens-Nwawolo and Samara; his son Peter (Nora), father of Clarissa, Joel, and Daniel; his son David (Lois), father of Seth (Hannah), Alexander (Amanda), and Paul (Yazmin); his daughter Kristen (Glenn) Bruxvoort, mother of Abigail (Will) Wilson, Brandt (Jenny), Cora, and Dirk (Stephanie); his son Hans, father of Bryn (Matt) Wied, Hannah, and Lars; his son Dirk (Kelly), father of Rebekah and Elissa; and his daughter Sarah (Andrew) Dionne, mother of Anna, Ezekiel, Thomas, Esther, Magdalene, and Ruth. Great-grandchildren include Harriet, Fiona, Henrik, Adeline, Ari, Belle, Emília, Jamison, Coen, Judah, Emre, and Crosby. Dennis was an important figure in the lives of all who called him Dad or Grandpa. He will be sorely missed.

Dennis is preceded in death by his parents and siblings, his son Nathan, who died as a child at nine, and his son-in-law Glenn (Kristen) Bruxvoort.

Above all, Dennis was a child of his Heavenly Father. His only comfort in life and in death was that he was not his own, but belonged — body and soul, in life and in death — to his faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who fully paid for all his sins with His precious blood.

Dennis’s wife and children rejoice that their husband, father, and grandfather, so strong and vibrant in mind and body, is now rejoicing upon a greater shore, and in a greater light. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones (Psalm 116:15).”

A funeral service will be at 2 pm on Monday, March 7 at Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Appleton. A live stream link will be available, please check back for information.  

In lieu of flowers we ask that you thank a teacher who made a difference in your life, and if you prefer, make a donation to the Ice Age Trail at or your local food pantry.