Donna J. Habenicht
Donna was best known for developing the first children’s curriculum, a national and international seminar speaker, book writer, and educator.
In her many years as a beloved educator, several remember Donna’s impact on their and their children’s lives:
Lake Union General Vice-President Carmelo Mercado remembers meeting Donna for the first time at Campus Ministries on the campus of Andrews University where she’d introduced him to the idea of being a student missionary. After deciding to go, the clinic he was to serve at closed, but he was, “invited to go anyway as a student missions pastor in the Beni. That experience led me to choose to be pastor as my career path. I am so thankful for her advice and encouragement to go anyway.”
Although Shona Cross, former Illinois Conference administrative assistant, had never met Donna, she remembers her as a household name in the children’s classes when she joined the church in 1980 and became active in the Sabbath School programs. “I loved the way she laid out the classes in an easy-to-follow, and methodical way which brought the Bible alive, not only for the children, but for me as a new believer too. She will probably be shocked in the future when she learns just how many people learned to know Jesus through her work.”
Retired Pioneer Memorial Church Pastor Skip MacCarty says that Dr. Habenicht not only wrote the "Come Meet Jesus" children's curriculum for the global NET 98 mission thrust, but she also helped staff 5 children's divisions for her local church, the Pioneer Memorial Church (PMC) on the campus of Andrews University. "A small committee of 5-7 people met week after week for as long as it took, combing through the entire PMC membership list of about 2500 members choosing qualified volunteers to staff the PMC's children's divisions for each of NET 98's 25 nightly, one-hour programs,” recalls MacCarty. “It was a tedious and exhausting task. Donna never complained and provided invaluable assessments during the several months this process required to complete their task. She also participated at a high level of supervision over the 5 divisions during the nightly meetings. Her involvement at the local level of pre-planning plus her on-site supervision during the meetings was invaluable!”
Donna (Lugenbeal) Habenicht was born Dec.13, 1934 in the Philippines. Her missionary parents later moved to South America where she grew up. Her father drowned in Lima, Peru when she was 14 so the family returned to the U.S., settling in Berrien Springs, Michigan. She went to Emanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University) graduating in 1954 with a degree in Elementary Ed.
She married Herald Habenicht and spent next seven years in California as he went to medical school and residency. She supported her family as a teacher and secretary. They then moved to Puerto Rico where he worked at Bella Vista Hospital. None of the Seventh-day Adventist churches on the island had children’s programs so Donna wrote the programs and visited each church with seminars to help them get started.
After nine years of mission service they moved to Berrien Springs, Mich., where Donna worked in the Campus Chaplain’s office at Andrews University while she did her Masters (1974) and Doctorate in Educational Psychology and Counseling (1977). She spent the next 23 years teaching at Andrews and as a licensed psychologist. She was chairperson of the Education Department from 1990-1995. During this time, she published scores of journal articles and five books. The most popular, How to Help Your Child Really Love Jesus, is used around the world.
After retirement in 2000 Donna and Herald spent the next 15 years traveling the world giving seminars teaching how to promote spiritual growth and the development of Christian values in children.
Donna passed quietly to her rest on June 22 after a several year decline with dementia. She is survived by her husband of 68 years, Herald; a brother, Ed; son, Larry; daughter, Nancy; four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held on Sabbath, June 25, 2022, at Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University.
Katie Fellows is the Lake Union assistant Communication specialist.