Minister, advocate for social justice, dies from car accident injuries


BY BILL GUIDA
bguida@kenoshanews.com


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The common thread connecting reflections about the Rev. Georgette Irene Wonders were of a woman undaunted, someone who lived what she preached and compassionately led by example in ministering to the most unfortunate.

Wonders, 61, minister of Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist the past 10 years, died Friday night after being critically injured earlier this week in a freak car accident.

Wonders’ wife, Hope Engeseth, herself a chaplain for a major Chicago hospital, spoke of being especially blessed to have been part of Wonders life for 14 years.

“She was a major light in this world that illuminated it. Once illuminated, we all have the responsibility to live our lives intentionally. That was her call: to live life intentionally and not take things for granted,” Engeseth said.

She spoke of the little things they made sure to do each day to show their love for each other, how their bond was built on trust and mutual respect. Every day, they made equally sure to laugh about things together, Engeseth said.

Rabbi Dena Feingold, of Beth Hillel Temple, said she, too, will miss laughing with Wonders, as the two women often did.

“We went to conferences together, rode in the same car. There was a lot of laughing. She was always a lot of fun to be with. She had a dry sense of humor and could always see the funny in things,” Feingold said.

“I think that her impact on this community will be felt for a long, long time to come because she was out there, she was present, advocating for mental health, against racism, hunger ... her example and the way she conducted herself in the community is something that won’t be forgotten,” Feingold added.

Veronica King, president of the NAACP Kenosha chapter and vice president of Congregations United to Serve Humanity, said Wonders’ memberships and leadership in both organizations, was significant in bringing diverse people together in common cause. King compared Wonders’ ministry to that of the late Rev. Olen Arrington Jr., who founded Kindness Week.

Though of different religious denominations, Wonders and Arrington forged a strong bond fighting for the less fortunate and most vulnerable in the community.

“In this community, she’s right up there with Rev. Arrington as a drum major for justice. She was right there whatever the cause was. She was

there

,” King said. “Not all preachers fight for the causes. You can’t say that about a whole lot of clergy in town. But Georgette was

there

.”

The Rev. Tim Berlew, pastor of First United Methodist Church, met Wonders when he came to Kenosha three years ago.

“I quickly found out that she is a legend here in Kenosha in terms of her work in social justice. Early on, I went over to Bradford Community Church and had a cup of coffee with Georgette in her office. Two hours had passed before I knew it,” Berlew said. “Georgette is one of those people who is interesting, widely read and knowing so much about so many things, and an easy person to just sit and spend time with ...

“That she is loved by her congregation and the community was certainly evidenced (Thursday) evening at (the vigil for Wonders). Bradford Community Church was filled with people from the congregation, from the community, and from the Unitarian Universalist Association connection,” he added. “Georgette did not shrink from confronting the difficult issues of our time. In confronting those issues, however, the importance of community was always at the forefront. It would never do to confront hard issues and leave people outside of the circle.”

‘Tremendous inspiration’

Other tributes:

“Georgette’s was a tremendous inspiration in that her faith was manifested in her actions, and her leadership transformed the congregation and the community.

“She inspired us to live our values. She challenged us to think about what is ‘community,’ and she showed us how to stand for what we believe is right. She leaves behind a great legacy of social justice work. I can only begin to imagine the ways our congregation will carry her legacy forward.” —

Dawn Lingo, president, board of trustees, Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist.

“I will miss her. The community will miss her. With a name like Georgette Wonders, what else could she do but make the community a more wonderful place. She did that in big and small ways every day.” —

The Rev. Tim Berlew, pastor, First United Methodist Church.

“(Georgette Wonders) has been my spiritual icon ... She truly was a kind, compassionate woman, who we were so blessed to have as our spiritual mentor and our friend.” —

Barb DeBerg, member, Bradford Community Church.

“When a homeless shelter gets built (in Kenosha) people will remember the role Georgette had in it. She was a mover and shaker on that issue. When people think about social justice in Kenosha, people will think of her and Bradford Church, too.” —

Rabbi Dena Feingold, Beth Hillel Temple

“Georgette had a great capacity to be emotionally present and accessible. She insisted that holding another’s pain was never burdensome for her; it was what she was called to witness. At Christmastime, she always made room for the possibility that holidays may be poignantly difficult for people and that her ministry was especially available then.

“Georgette could always raise the energy around new ideas and the art of the possible.” —

Carolyn Feldt, member, Bradford Community Church.


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