Lois Kathryn Bennin, 69, lifelong teacher and inspiration to all who knew her, died on November 20, 2017 at Aspirus Hospital in Wausau.
Lois was born on June 30, 1948 in Sheboygan to Angeline (Jerale) and Harvey Bennin. In 1955 she contracted polio, which left her as a quadriplegic but undaunted toward life. She graduated first in her class of 438 from South High School in 1965 and went to Edgewood College in Madison where in 1969 she received a B.A. cum laude in French with a Spanish minor. At Edgewood she worked with the school to make various changes to the campus to make it accessible and was the editor of the college newspaper and active in drama. During the summer of 1967, Lois and her mom went to Roosevelt Warm Springs, Georgia where rehabilitation staff worked with her on specific accommodations that would allow her to live independently without assistance for basic daily activities.
After graduating from Edgewood, Lois moved to Champaign, Illinois to attend graduate school at the University of Illinois. In 1971 she received an MA in the Teaching of French and then did a year of graduate work in the Teaching of Reading. In 1985 Lois received an Ed. M in Special Education.
Her work life began in 1972 at the Champaign County Opportunities Industrialization Center, a non-profit training center for economically disadvantaged adults. Initially hired as an instructor, she was promoted to lead instructor, a position she held for four years, and ended her tenure as the English as a Second Language specialist. In 1985 Lois led the effort to start a Center for Independent Living in Urbana, (now called PACE) writing a successful grant proposal and serving as its first executive director. After a year and a half, she returned to being a GED instructor, working at two area prisons and a nursing home, ultimately helping 44 students pass the exam over an 18-month period.
While in Champaign Lois served on a three-person panel to draft the first wheelchair accessibility building codes for Champaign and Urbana and served on the regional and state consumer advisory councils for the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services from 1981 through 1987. When the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District added wheelchair lifts to buses, she helped orient the drivers and posed for a photo for the promotional brochure. Lois herself was able to get a drivers license using a specially equipped van she owned. She loved to drive and drove herself everywhere.
In 1988, attracted by the warmer weather, she moved farther south to Chester, Illinois and took a position with the Chester Mental Health Center where she taught 11 to 21 year-old forensic or mentally ill male prisoners. However, it became increasingly difficult to keep up with a full-time job and in 1996 she decided to retire and move to Beverly Hills, Florida, where her good friend Doris had moved some years before.
She tremendously enjoyed the last twenty years in Beverly Hills where she bought a house and relished living on her own independently but rarely alone. Her home was always full of friends she was helping in various ways and who in turn gladly helped her. Lois refused to let her many physical disabilities limit her life and always focused on what was possible, what was fun, and what would be helpful to others. On Halloween, trick-or-treaters from around the area made her house a regular stop; Lois enlisted her friends and handed out more than 400 bags of candy every year. She composed a theme song for Beverly Hills and performed it at a church talent show. Through her tutoring business she coached students of all ages to reach their educational goals whether it was learning to read, getting a GED or earning a college degree. Lois was always game to learn new things, and tutoring a new subject was just an opportunity to stretch her own mind. Most recently she began teaching herself Arabic.
Lois deeply felt her Catholic faith and was very active in Our Lady of Grace Church conveniently located just down the road from her house. She was often seen zooming down Roosevelt Boulevard in her electric wheelchair hurrying to attend mass, lead her Bible study group, attend Centering Prayer, participate in book club, organize some project like the bus ministry or teach youth at Sunday school. She loved to create materials for her confirmation class. She was particularly pleased with a 48-page prayer book geared to youth she designed and edited. In 2016, Lois was honored by the National Society for Volunteer Catechists as a finalist for Catechist of the Year, an award that recognizes gifted religious educators. In nominating her, Susan Salisbury said, "Lois lives the faith. Every time I see her, she has the radiance of God's love shining through her face. She makes her classes come alive." In 2016 Lois was accepted into a three-year ministry development program offered by the Lay Personal Ministry and began traveling to Tampa monthly to participate.
In later years, while Lois still lived alone, she also had the help of caregivers in the morning and evening. In February, she was hospitalized and put on a ventilator. Ultimately she moved to the North Central Health Care Northwinds Vent Community in Wausau, Wisconsin to be closer to family. At Northwinds Lois was participating in numerous activities and making headway on a new set of challenges when she died suddenly.
Lois is survived by her brother Tom Bennin (Melanie Rettie) of Sarona, Wisconsin, her sister, Mary (Jorge) Cardona of Madison, two nieces, Anne Kremer (Dean) Strauss of Ledgeview, Wisconsin, Elizabeth Kremer (Tim) Flanigan of Green Bay, two nephews Joe Kremer (Stephanie Adamany) and Oliver Cardona both of Madison, and four great nephews, Nick and Chris Strauss and Frank and Fritz Kremer, as well as long-time family friend, Pat McKeough. Many of her friends were like family to her during her Florida years among them caregivers Cathy Yarborough, Lisa DeLuca, and Shannetta Murray; John Ortiz and his sons Mario and Nicholas, Marge and Bill Henry, Joe and Carol Dougherty, Carol Scully, Loretta Stelmach, Judy Gross, Chris DuPlain, Moises Nunez, Jayne Avery, Nancy Roix and all the folks at the donut shop. Her sister and brother-in-law, Jane and Frank Kremer, infant nephew John Cardona and her parents preceded her in death.
Funeral services will be held at St. Cyril and Methodius Church in Sheboygan on December 16, 2017 at 1:00 pm. Visitation begins at noon. Internment will be at the Garden Terrace Mausoleum at Trinity Lutheran Cemetery following the service.
In Beverly Hills, Florida, a memorial mass will be held at Our Lady of Grace Church on Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 8:00 am. A reception will follow.
822 New Jersey Ave.
Sheboygan, WI 53081
822 New Jersey Ave.
Sheboygan, WI 53081
Burial to follow at Lutheran Cemetery