Family speaks out after losing dad in Vandercook Lake drowning

JACKSON, Mich. (WLNS) -- Fun times on two Jackson lakes turned tragic over the Independence Day holiday when two men died in separate drowning incidents.

Late Tuesday night, authorities say 54-year-old Verne Southworth of Brooklyn downed in Wolf Lake when he was swimming between two anchored boats.

Hours earlier, police say 42-year-old Dennis Henderson died in Vandercook Lake after a heroic rescue.

6 News talked with Henderson’s family as they mourn his loss.

Angie Bitner says she heard the news about the father of her three young girls late Tuesday night.

“Explaining that to the girls, you know, they love their dad,” Bitner said.

The sheriff’s office says Henderson was on a raft with friends in Vandercook Lake when it overturned.

Witnesses say the local father saved a toddler by putting her back on the raft, but he struggled in the water and drowned.

Bitner says she’s left wondering what happened because she knew him as a strong swimmer.

But she’s comforted knowing that he was a hero in his final moments, saving a little girl from a similar fate.

“Dennis, he would give you the shirt off his back. He was just that kind of guy. He would lend a hand, and very giving,” Bitner said.

Even though they haven’t been together in several years, Bitner says they’ve remained close, sharing a set of 7-year-old triplets.

She’ll remember him as a loving father with a big smile.

“His girls are going to miss him terribly and his parents,” Bitner said.

Henderson, who worked laying floors and enjoyed riding motorcycles, also leaves behind an adult daughter and two grandchildren.

As his family makes funeral plans, Bitner hopes what happened to him serves as a reminder to stay safe in the water, especially at Vandercook Lake, which has seen several drownings in recent years.

“People need to be more cautious and they need to put life preservers on their children. Take those extra precautions if they do swim out there. We have kids without fathers and mothers without sons and it’s a sad situation,” Bitner said.

A gofundme account has been set up to help his family with funeral expenses:

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