CELEBRATION OF LIFE SERVICE: February 6, 2016 at 2:00 pm in St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Winchester, Texas with interment to follow at the Church Cemetery.
There was new joy and laughter in heaven when Lavonia Evelyn Hannusch Dobson joined the heavenly saints Friday, January 29, 2016. She is survived by daughter Effie Leatherwood and her husband Eddie Leatherwood III of Dublin, Texas; daughter Becky Rische and her husband Gary Rische Jr. of Austin, Texas; son Kelly Dobson Jr. of Houston, Texas; grandson Chip Leatherwood, his wife Katie, and great-grandson Cal; grandson Cole Leatherwood and his wife Jessica; granddaughter Rachel Rische. She was preceded in death by her husband Kelly Dobson Sr., both parents, all three brothers, and one sister-in-law.
Her family will miss her dearly.
They enjoyed doing everything together.
That was actually the title of a national magazine article about her family in the 1970s.
On the truth-o-meter, that statement rang mostly true. There were exceptions on weekend mornings at 4 a.m. when everyone had to get up to work cattle. Rousing teenagers out of bed at that hour was not enjoyable. After catching and saddling horses, they all waited for daylight by forcing down eggs, bacon, and homemade biscuits Lavonia had made by getting up earlier.
The fried chicken she made to take to horse shows other weekends was a lot better received…and so were the slow-baked, Sunday-after-church roast and potatoes. She never enjoyed cooking, but having been raised on a cotton and cattle farm, she knew how to fuel life on a working ranch. It didn’t really occur to her kids how busy she was combining a day job with nighttime college courses, along with cooking and running a household for a family of five, and partnering in the ranching business. The college degree she started at The University of Texas at Austin at age 20, she finished at age 40. It turns out the intervening life experience gave her an advantage. Her last year of school, strangers would stop her and say “I know you from that film.” That’s how she learned her student teaching had been filmed and shown as an example of good teaching.
Her master’s degree took another 10 years while combining family, work, and ranching. She often advised her children to earn college degrees early in life because it took too long the way she did it. But she’d also say with a smile that she was glad she already had nearly-grown kids who made her proud, before she earned her counseling degree–if she had known how many things could go wrong, she may never have had kids.
Her sense of humor was subtle like that. She’d simply admit freely to a crush on Elvis, joked often of her distaste for vegetables and exercise, and reveled in the attention of a good-natured tease from her family.
Her husband, Kelly, on the other hand was a larger-than-life character–loud, gregarious, adventuresome, and full of jokes. It was easy to think they were opposites, with the exception of how much they loved their kids. It turns out they were more alike than it appeared. When Lavonia was widowed at age 51, with grit and vigor she kept up the pace of her earlier life and led her own adventures. Summers between each school year, she would counsel kids at the Brown Schools for children in San Marcos. Later she founded the Austin Community College Bastrop campus and taught there year-round in the evenings. It always surprised her that students wouldn’t drive the 30 miles to Austin for college classes, when she had driven a 250-mile round trip after work twice a week to take her master’s degree courses at Sul Ross State University. Eventually she added landlord and dog breeder to her titles. Her side ventures funded 10 years of summer travel around the world, and her new goal was to collect refrigerator magnets for all of the United States she visited. She lost interest around number 48. For some reason she was left mostly unimpressed by her travels. “People say you’ll see things you’ll never forget, but I don’t remember a bit of it,” she’d say later with a chuckle, and everyone laughed with her, not knowing if that was a product of her fading memory or a very full life.
As a mom she offered a lot of safe space, a lot of non-judgmental time. Her love felt pure and patient. That made her a good counselor, no doubt—added to the fact that her laughter came easy. She laughed at herself a lot, and she was easy to entertain. When she retired after 38 years of teaching and counseling, her co-workers’ speeches repeatedly told how they would miss her laughter.
Lavonia’s first students were classmates of her children during her West Texas days in Sierra Blanca and Ft Hancock. Those students stayed in touch with her for many years, which was a tribute to how she could not only teach them, but bring out a sense of self worth they may never have known otherwise. No doubt she later affected many more the same way.
Her final doctors and nurses spoke of how her family was blessed to have such a pleasant and easy-going mom–and they had only known her as she suffered the final weeks of her Stage 4 cancer. Lavovnia survived wild West Texas, she survived the sudden, early death of her husband, cancer in her 60’s, a shoulder replacement in her 70’s, and at the age of 79 she escaped the 2011 Bastrop fires by driving down her street with flames whipping along both sides of the road. She got out with a make-up bag and a briefcase. Her home and pets were lost.
Through it all she lived a life of quiet faith and gratitude, quick with a thank you to those she loved. Baptized, confirmed, and schooled through the 8th grade at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Winchester, she lived her faith daily, which had been so well nurtured by her original family. After seeing the results in their early life together, husband Kelly Sr. made sure all three of their children went to Lutheran schools too, something he could see he had missed as a child.
Lavonia considered herself a daddy’s girl, and since she was the only girl and the youngest child–and like her brothers, a good-natured, hard worker–that idea was believable. After leaving Winchester, each of her three older brothers opened their homes to her at one time or another before she married, which made her grateful and proud. One time in the middle of the night this past year, she was talking in her sleep and one of her children wrote down her words:
“I was brought up in a family who respected each other and other people–I think those things are very important, just like my education. I am grateful to my mother and father, my three brothers and my sisters-in-law for all their advice over the years. Thank you.”
And once in her last few weeks as she was told good night, she said “thanks a million for everything…no 2 million, no 3 million.” And the shared laughter of that moment still rings sweetly on earth as it does now in heaven.