Donna Habenicht, Andrews University educator, dies

Retired psychology professor had far-reaching influence, especially in children’s spirituality.

Katie Fellows
Donna Habenicht, Andrews University educator, dies
[Photo: Lake Union Herald]

Donna J. Habenicht, emerita professor of counseling psychology at Andrews University, passed quietly to her rest on June 22, 2022, after a lifelong dedication to children’s program curriculum and education. She was 87.

Donna was best known for developing the first children’s curriculum in the Adventist Church and as a national and international seminar speaker, author, 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 he decided to go, the clinic where Mercado was to serve had 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,” he said.

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 said 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 five children’s divisions for her local church, the Pioneer Memorial Church (PMC) on the campus of Andrews University. 

“A small committee of five to seven people met week after week for as long as it took, combing through the entire PMC membership list of about 2,500 members, choosing qualified volunteers to staff the PMC’s children’s divisions for each of NET 98’s twenty-five nightly, one-hour programs,” MacCarty recalled. “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 five 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 education.

She married Herald Habenicht and spent the next seven years in California as he went to medical school and residency. She supported her family as a teacher and secretary. The couple 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, the Habenichts moved to Berrien Springs, Michigan, where Donna worked in the Campus Chaplain’s office at Andrews University while she completed her master’s (1974) and doctorate in educational psychology and counseling (1977). She spent the next 23 years teaching at Andrews University and working as a licensed psychologist. She was chairperson of the Education Department from 1990 to 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 and teaching how to promote spiritual growth and the development of Christian values in children.

Donna passed away 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 June 25, 2022, at Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University.

Katie Fellows is the Lake Union assistant Communication specialist.

Katie Fellows