LaVonne Abts Tributes

I feel honored to have learned so much from Sr. LaVonne, both in chemistry class and life lessons she taught by her manner and bearing.

Jenny Lou (Ott) Plesums '67
Former Student

Sister LaVonne certainly made a strong impact in my life. She was a wonderful but demanding chemistry teacher. When I was later teaching chemistry in high school, she called me one day to tell me to sign up for the Graduate Record Exam. That was the initial step to my getting a Ph.D in chemistry at the University of Illinois, later following her steps in chairing the Chemistry Department and eventually becoming Academic Dean at Viterbo. I have felt my 20 wonderful years at Viterbo were a divine calling that came through Sister LaVonne. For that I have great gratitude

Helen Elsbernd, FSPA '65
Former Student

I was one of the privilege students who was taught General Chemistry (two semesters lectures and labs) and Organic Chemistry (two semesters lectures and labs) by Sister La Vonne. She was a marvelous teacher who demanded the best. To this day, I still use much of the knowledge gained from these classes. I graduated from Viterbo with a BA in biology and a minor in chemistry. I am professor emerita at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where I still teach and do research.

Janice Bahr '64
Former Student

Other former students have mentioned that Sr. LaVonne was terrifying or intimidating in class and that was my reaction as a Freshman in chemistry. However, if I made the effort to see her after class for help, she was wonderful: warm and eager to do whatever possible to make me understand her world of science. It was never my strongest subject, but I tried to use her teaching techniques in my thirty years of teaching English and Speech. They worked on even the most difficult students.

Rita (Walsh) Modjeski '62
Former Student

I very clearly remember Sr. LaVonne teaching Organic Chemistry. I can still hear her voice in my head. The topics of one of the first class periods was "molecular orbitals". Although the way it translates in my head "Mo LEC u lur Or bee tals"........ As I went on to teach Biochemistry, I often found my self saying - " we are going to discuss "Mo LEC u lur Or bee tals"........Sr. LaVonne was right there with me. Good memories that bring a smile to my face.

Diane Osterhaus Neefe '81
Former Student

I was a transfer student when I first met Sister. Some of my new classmates had filled me full of rumors of how tough Sister could be. But, from the first day I sat through one of her lectures and labs I experienced nothing but sincerity, support, and a true desire to see me succeed. She was one of the reasons I ended up receiving a minor in chemistry. I often thought of her as I progressed through my personal and professional life. She had that ability to pull the best out of me and others, to inspire us to do our best and she was always there to answer all our questions no matter how rudimentary. She will not be forgotten.

David Donovan '79
Former Student

I was somewhat afraid of her at first because of her high expectations for each of us. However, because of her precise teaching, I came to love chemistry and it became my forte. She started out with St.Thomas Aquinas prayer, beginning, "O Ineffable Creator...". We may have prayed it in other classes, I don't remember, but I truly meant every word before our chemistry class started. I still have my prayer on the a little slip of paper that I had in class. When I take out the prayer, I think of chemistry class and Sister LaVonne. She was excellent in her teaching ability. I thank God for her.

Joan (Koopman) Kampschroer '64
Former Student

Sister was dedicated to Viterbo and the students. We give thanks to God for her dedication to teaching chemistry to us. May she rest in peace.

Jean (Heiderscheit) Carter '69
Former Student

Sr. LaVonne was my organic chemistry teacher. Maybe a tough class, but she made it enjoyable, almost easy. What I cherish most of having her as a teacher, is that, although she had been teaching for years and had experienced the routine of chemical processes for as long, she always shared her student's experiences as brand new to her, as well. She expressed an almost childlike wonderment in observing, for the first time for us students, but also seemingly an endless first time experience for herself, as well. Having known Sr. LaVonne is truly one of many blessings.

Richard Maedke '81
Former Student

I have enjoyed taking care of S. LaVonne at the Villa. In past years she would talk of her work in S.America. She had a pleasant smile . When she would see me down the hall she would gesture her finger for me to come and see her. JO Ronning, R.N.

JO Ronning '86

Sister LaVonne was an excellent chemistry teacher and I experienced her expertise for several semesters as a student in the Medical Technology program. She convinced me, when I was a freshman, to become a chemistry tutor to a particular high school student who was struggling with the subject. It helped me to master the subject even better than I had before.

Pamela Bye Jensen '72
Former Student

Sr LaVonne scared everyone. She was a perfectionist and demanded 100% from her students. As a result of her high expectations, most of her students went on to become exceptionally successful in medicine,science, etc. She made us sweat bullets in class but it was out of dedication and caring, and it had amazing results.

Carol Hassan, MD '78
Former Student

Sister LaVonne was an inspiration to me in that, when the pope at the time asked U. S. religious communities to send 10% of our members to minister in Latin America, she said, "That must mean me!" It's so easy to think that challenges are meant for other people, because we are established in our lives, and any big change would be uncomfortable. It's also striking to me that a friend and member of my parish, Thomas Redd, will be buried on the same day as Sister LaVonne, and Monrovia, one of the places she taught, is where his funeral is. Tom and his wife, Nettie, were activists against a corrupt Liberian government, and had to flee their home in Monrovia 10 years ago to save their lives. Tom was back in the country temporarily and died in the hospital there 10 days ago. Nettie received the call at 3 in the morning. It's been so hard for her in many ways. She was cut from employment at Target five months ago in a round of layoffs. She can't go back for the funeral because she can't afford it(and it may not be safe for her). She can't grieve with their two daughters, being raised by her elderly parents. Our parish is supporting her the best we can, having a memorial Mass on the same day here. Please pray for Nettie and family, as I am asking Sister LaVonne to do. Thanks!

Patricia Tekippe, FSPA '74
Former Student

Back in the day, in the basement of Murphy was a "smoker." I would go there to study in the evenings and whenever I had a question regarding chemistry I'd go up to Sr. LaVonne's office. She was ALWAYS there and willing to help with my query. In addition to her class hours she spent untold hours in her office to be available to students.

Ruth (Frommelt) Von Fumetti '64
Former Student

Sister LaVonne taught me Organic Chemistry. It was a very difficult subject for me as we were taking it during summer school and the time element for Labs was a challenge. Sister LaVonne was so precise in her teaching, understanding of the circumstances yet did not skimp on the topic and involvement of us all. I knew her sister, Sister Janet as a very close friend and colleague in teaching. What a joy Heaven is for her I am sure.

Rita Heires, FSPA '56
Former Student
Friend of the Family