The Rev. Georgette Wonders danced down the aisle of Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist whenever the choir and congregation sang Cris Williamson’s “Song of the Soul.”
The image, as described by the Rev. Tony Larsen, minister of Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist in Racine, conjured visions of Wonders laughing and twirling, if only in spirit, as the choir led a full house Monday night in singing the song to close a joyous memorial celebrating Wonders’ life.
The commemoration packed the spacious sanctuary at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church, 2001 80th St.
Wonders, 61, sustained critical injuries in a freak car accident. She died Friday night with family by her side at Kenosha Medical Center.
Like her father, a retired steel mill worker who taught her about social justice, Wonders was “stubborn and strong willed” as a leading advocate for the less fortunate, Larsen said.
The prolific reader and “rabid vegan” was passionately serious about her and Bradford’s work to lift up the downtrodden. But she was equally prone to enjoying the humor in life, Larsen noted, painting a picture of Wonders familiar to all who knew her.
“She had patience with a lot of people who would have fallen through the cracks” and a mother’s inveterate “fondness for babies,” Larsen said.
He drew laughter from those present when he added, “Georgette gave Hope (Engeseth, her wife) the ability to laugh at difficulty, and Hope gave Georgette the ability to slow down.”
Referring to Puccini’s opera “Turandot,” Larsen recounted how Puccini was told by friends he would never finish the work before he died. Puccini told them that they could complete the opera for him.
“Their choice was to build on it, which they did,” Larsen said, adding, “In fact, we’re in that place here: We can finish the work and build on Georgette’s life.”
The Rev. Tim Berlew read from the last piece Wonders ever wrote, a letter concerning the Shalom Center’s plans to establish a permanent homeless shelter. Wonders planned to present it herself at a public information session last Wednesday but never regained consciouness.
The final sentence speaks directly to Fran Hansen of the Shalom Center: “We look forward to partnering with you in the months and years to come and give thanks that we are called to be God’s hands on Earth and able to answer, ‘Yes!’“
Adelene Greene, a member of Second Baptist Church in Kenosha, spoke of the ties Wonders forged with the late Rev. Olen Arrington Jr., Second Baptist minister, in working to bring diverse peoples together in the Kenosha community.
“(Wonders) not only picked up the torch at Bradford Church, she kept it burning,” Greene said. “I’ll always remember Georgette as a woman of courage, conviction and compassion.”
Greene added that all Wonders asked in return for her tireless efforts was “for fairness and justice for everyone she fought for.”
“She did her job as a good and faithful servant of God’s people,” Greene said.
Standing about 6 feet 10 inches, Russell Rose, a member of the Bradford congregation, elicited laughter when revealing he fondly nicknamed his diminutive new minister “Small Wonder.”
“You could be fooled by her (height) — but that is a dynamo!” Rose said, adding sadly that he hardly got to spend enough time with Wonders. “But, when I met Georgette Wonders, I knew I can do anything.”
Rose, like others who spoke, talked about Wonders’ infectious quality of giving people hope and confidence in themselves.