In Memoriam | Michelle Renfro

By Michelle L. Cramer, Founder & Executive Director

Michelle Renfro joined On Angels’ Wings as a volunteer photographer in November 2016. She quickly showed herself to be dedicated to the families that OAW serves, and received our annual V.I.P. (Very Important Photographer) Award in February 2018. From 2017 to 2019, Michelle volunteered her time and talent to provide a free photo session to a family in need nearly every month.

In an OAW photographer spotlight post on social media in 2019, Michelle wrote:

I started volunteering with OAW in November of 2016. My husband and I suffered a miscarriage during our second pregnancy almost 28 years ago. It was devastating and heartbreaking and left me with this feeling of emptiness that I can not even begin to explain. Luckily, we were able to go on and have a third successful pregnancy and got our rainbow baby. The loss of my second has always remained with me though, and I felt I wanted to do something to make that experience “different” for someone else.
Over the years, that thought remained, I just didn’t know what I could do. When our oldest daughter also experienced that same loss, I felt strongly that I really needed to figure out what I was going to do. I started hearing about On Angels’ Wings, and decided it was a perfect match to use my photography skills to try and make things “different” for someone experiencing the loss of their child.
My time as a photographer with On Angels’ Wings has been cathartic in a way. Not only am I helping others, but it has been a way that has helped to heal myself too. I have learned that I am really not alone in my experience. Talking about it, sharing my story, and raising awareness has given the experience a meaning that was not there before. I understand that child loss is not an easy subject to have an open discussion about, but spreading awareness, making it known, and giving back to these families who are suffering so greatly, has become my calling.

Michelle became a wonderful personal friend and confidant. We spoke often about the vision for OAW, but also about the good and bad of our own lives, lifting each other up in prayer and encouragement.

In February 2020, Michelle was diagnosed with Cholangiocarcinoma – liver cancer. She started chemo immediately, just as the world shutdown. She was passionate about others being cautious to protect those around them from COVID, because she was otherwise confined to her home, unable to fully live as she loved to do, because she could not get COVID.

Multiple times over, Michelle expressed to me her sadness and frustration that she was not able to volunteer her time to OAW like before – she missed loving on the families we served and giving them just a little piece of her to help them on their journey.

While she avoided the virus, she lost her fight with cancer on August 14, 2021. Although honest about her cancer journey all along the way, Michelle was always so positive that everyone was certain she would beat it, despite the fact that her form of cancer was aggressive. When things changed, they changed quickly — suddenly she was gone.

I’m going to miss my friend and her beautiful heart for those around her. She was dedicated to the OAW families she provided images to, often working with the same families more than once.

It is because of her commitment to this organization and those families that we dedicated the Encourage Studio in our space in her name at our open house event on December 8, 2021. Michelle was ever the encourager to every person she encountered – this bright and beautiful space seems only befitting to her legacy. Michelle’s late husband, two daughters and their spouses were present for the dedication, placing the plaque on the wall in her honor.

Additionally, some OAW recipients and volunteers have left messages for her below. She was passionate about the OAW mission, as evidenced in the video below that she did for us in 2019.

Much love to you, my friend. I miss you. I’ll see you on the other side.

Michelle C.

Michelle was always friendly, supportive, and gracious when taking our photos. She also loved taking photos of our family, especially our son. Our son was not supposed to survive birth or not live long after. Michelle was the photographer who came to the hospital and took photos for us. She photographed for us for 2 years following his birth (he will be 4 in September 2021). When she was no longer able to volunteer her time for photos, she checked in with us regularly. Michelle provided precious memories that we can keep forever. We are so thankful for the time she spent with us and that she was a part of Owen’s journey for as long as she could be a part. Thank you for loving our family so much. We are so grateful to have met you.

Tom & Jessica Masterson, Parents of Owen

After connecting with Owen’s family at his birth, Michelle shared this in February 2018:

[Doing these OAW sessions] has not been an easy road. To be quite frank, there are times that have been downright difficult, but I knew that what we were providing these families was the difference in what I had felt so many many years ago. While it does not make it easier, while nothing can make it easier, it is the memories, the proof that this tiny life existed. The photos that remain as memories fade, the story of their tiny love.
In September of 2017, I went to one of those emergency calls. The baby had been diagnosed with Acalvaria in utero. No-one knew what the outcome would be, but it did not look favorable. I went there and met the sweetest family and their sweet son at probably one of the most scary points one can imagine. I took this sweet boy’s photos. Photos with his Mother, Father and both Grandmothers. Photos to tell his story, the story of Owen.
The next day my own Mother went into the hospital for a surgery that did not go as planned, and it became a difficult time for our own family as my Father also had some medical issues at the same time. In the middle of the stress, fear and worry, I received a message that sweet Owen was being discharged from the hospital to go HOME with his family. Sweet little Owen was a warrior, and had given me the gift of joy in the middle of a storm. I was able to take photos with Owen and his family again after he went home. Again sweet Owen gave me a gift, baby snuggles, one of my very favorite things.
So here we are, the day before my birthday, and once again sweet Owen has given me a gift. Earlier today I planned with his Mom to do photos with him again. Owen the warrior will be six months on March 12th. Again he has put a smile on my face, and joy in my heart. Sometimes giving freely from your heart pays you back in the most amazing ways!! Thank you sweet Owen!!

I loved how she was around our OAW families and how she embraced each family and continued to be in their lives. I felt the first time I met her I knew how amazing she was. She was so giving and I was truly blessed to have known Michelle. I am forever grateful for what all she did for OAW not only her time she gave and her amazing talent, but the gift she gave each family. God blessed OAW with your sweet soul and your talent. I am forever grateful, my dear friend, to have known you and have you in my life. Your presence is greatly missed. Love you, sweet friend.

Michelle Slavens, OAW Support Coordinator

Her kindness meant a lot to us. She captured the beauty in a very painful situation. Thank you for donating your time and talent to people who are going through the worst times of their lives. Thank you for capturing the beauty during the pain.

Jessica Rice, Mommy to Jaxon

You are an amazing woman, with the most loving and giving spirit. The world is a better place with you in it.

I am blessed to call you friend.

Jennifer Snider, OAW volunteer photographer

Michelle went out of her way to capture beautiful pictures. She waited for the sun to set to get one of my favorite pictures during our maternity shoot. Then, she insisted on making the drive to Kansas City to take pictures when Kaylyn was born, even knowing that Children’s Mercy would provide a local photographer. She showed so much patience and grace that day. It meant the world to us. She gave us pictures that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Thank you a million times over. We will forever be grateful for the pictures you took of our angel, as well as the pictures you took of our family. I hope you truly know how much they mean to us.

Nichole Hyde, Mommy to Kaylyn Mae

Michelle was kind. It meant more than the world that she donated her time and talents. For what you have given us, Thank you.

Saturnina Esguerra, Mommy to Scarlet

Because of Michelle and On Angels’ Wings, I was able to actually get maternity and new born pictures of my rainbow baby. My maternity pictures first scheduled appointment had to be cancelled. Michelle stepped up and filled in just a few days later, insuring that I got pictures before my baby was born. She was beyond loving and supportive and just full of energy and ideas. Willow ended up coming early and if we had not done them when we did then I would not have gotten those precious memories and pictures. Michelle had such an amazing energy around her and it felt like she had been a family friend for years, even when I had first met her.

Kaylin Oney, Mommy to Willow

Share This