With prayers, tears, and a touch of humor, La Sierra University students, faculty, and staff gathered on Jan. 26 to recall the many ways Lisa Kohlmeier, associate professor of history, had affected their lives and hearts.
“I will always be thankful for Lisa. Lisa was one of our son’s favorite professors”
During an evening prayer service at La Sierra’s Hole Memorial Auditorium they expressed their grief, comforted each other, and remembered Kohlmeier who passed away unexpectedly Jan. 23 at age 47. The event followed two days during which current and former students and colleagues expressed their shock and sorrow through various means, including on social media.
Leading the evening’s service, La Sierra University president Randal Wisbey described the enthusiasm he and Kohlmeier shared for the work of abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko, and how much his son, Alexander, enjoyed her classes.
“I will always be thankful for Lisa. Lisa was one of our son’s favorite professors while a student at La Sierra,” Wisbey said. “He loved the books she assigned, …and he loved Lisa. Whenever she talked to me about my son, her eyes would light up.
“Tonight we are here to talk about our friend, our colleague, our teacher. We do so as members of this Christian community. This is what we do when we hurt,” he told the gathering, “and when we need to most remember that God is present in this sorrow. In these moments of darkness his light still breaks through.”
“I had the great privilege of being one of Dr. Kohlmeier’s students,” said Jonathan Mamora, a piano performance major who spoke before performing an arrangement of “Abide With Me.” “She was always joyful. You would tell her something and she would truly care.”
Student Association President Nikki Godfrey read Psalm 42 and later commented, “she’s been such a part of La Sierra for me. She deeply cared about getting to know the students. She was a fighter for the students.”
“One thing I’ve experienced is how deep the well here is at La Sierra, the well of compassion and support that has been extended to our department and Lisa’s family”
Associate sociology professor Ken Crane and his family were first befriended by Kohlmeier when they arrived in 2008 and she invited them to her home for Sabbath lunch. Rebecca Waring-Crane, a former freshman composition instructor recalled, “Lisa was the first person on campus to be kind to me and my family. She made us feel welcome and we started to have a history.” She remembered Kohlmeier’s support through family difficulties and her ability to recognize ordinary things as special: “Lisa really was about making people feel at home.”
Ken Crane, who also serves as chair of the History, Politics and Sociology department where Kohlmeier worked, commented on the outpouring shown by the La Sierra community.
“One thing I’ve experienced is how deep the well here is at La Sierra, the well of compassion and support that has been extended to our department and Lisa’s family,” he said. “One of the things I remember most about Lisa is she had this sense of who was experiencing some difficulty among our students. That was part of her big-heartedness and something that we as a department want to continue as her legacy.”
In Humanities Hall, Kohlmeier’s students and colleagues expressed their sorrow and their thanks by decorating her office doorway with notes, letters, balloons and flowers.
Kohlmeier began her La Sierra tenure in 2005 after teaching history at Seventh-day Adventist church-owned Atlantic Union College in South Lancaster, Mass., for three years. She earned two bachelor’s degrees from AUC, graduating Summa Cum Laude. In 2009, she jointly earned master’s and doctoral degrees in American history from Claremont Graduate University. Her numerous fellowships and awards include an American Association of University Women publication grant, two La Sierra research grants, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Fellowship. She gave numerous scholarly presentations at universities and conferences around the United States. Her work outside of La Sierra included serving as a member of the American Association of University Women.