Lois J. (Benzino) Sonnenberg, 92, died on October 10, 2020. She was born at home on March 28, 1928, in Tonawanda, NY, to Margaret (Cain) and Frank Benzino. A fearless tomboy, she and her three siblings grew up in what was known as the gritty “Gastown” section of Tonawanda during the Great Depression. Despite the deprivations her family endured, Lois propelled herself forward in what became a lifelong zeal for learning, and for helping others. As a teenager during wartime she entered the Cadet Nurse Corps program to become a Registered Nurse, and while studying at the University of Michigan, met a sailor from Ohio named Otis Sonnenberg. They married in 1948, becoming dance and life partners for 70 years. Together they raised a family and farmed in Henry County, OH, where Lois also served the community as an RN in the small, rural hospitals of Napoleon and Defiance.
Her thirst for new challenges then led her to pursue a Bachelors degree (and later, a Masters) in Education at Bowling Green State University, first commuting from the farm, and then finishing up after the Sonnenbergs moved to Bowling Green, OH in 1965. She was a creative and high-energy English teacher in both the city’s Junior and Senior High Schools, always encouraging her students to push themselves and have fun along the way. In time, she would discover with delight that her efforts prompted a number of her students to become teachers, as well.
After retiring from teaching, Lois became a county Vocational Education consultant, then an independent Language Arts consultant, and capped off a remarkable career encouraging adult learners to enroll in programs of study at BGSU, just as she had done.
Lois and Otis nurtured in their children a love of music, learning, sports, and travel. The family became active in the ministries of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, and Lois served in various leadership roles there. She and Otis were frequently the first persons to greet and welcome newcomers, and eventually co-taught a new disciple class that helped prospective members find an area of service in the church that best utilized their unique gifts and talents.
Lois loved to throw a party, celebrating confirmations, graduations, and engagements, or simply to gather extended family and friends for an informal fest of food and laughter. Known and appreciated for her quick wit and sense of humor, she was once seen at a family reunion wearing a nametag on which she had printed “LOIS LANE.” With vivid blue eyes and a beautifully bright, genuine smile, she was simply magnetic.
Words were her super power. In her 80s, while fighting and winning a battle with cancer, she published her first book—a clever spoof on the classic Mother Goose rhymes. Then she embarked on a mission to record the stories of her life, and in 2016 proudly published “Gastown Girl: A Memoir,” described by historian John T. Slater as a compelling account of “a person who was neither famous nor ordinary.”
Lois was predeceased by her parents, her siblings Ralph (Anita) Benzino, Robert (Vivian) Benzino, and June (Bill) Carroll, her husband, Otis, as well as dear friends Wally and Janet Bruns, Al and Wilma Smith, Bill and Billie Harrington, Dave and Mary Jane Elsass, and Bill Rock.
She will be forever treasured and deeply missed by her children David (Annette) Sonnenberg of Bowling Green, OH, Daniel (Beth) Sonnenberg of Wilmington, NC, and Peggy Anne (Gary) Gaige of Alpine, NY; grandchildren Ella Fleming (Bonita Springs, FL), Stephen Sonnenberg (Wilmington, NC), James Sonnenberg (New Bern, NC), and Libby (Garrett) Eiholzer (Stanley, NY); great grandchild William Fleming (Bonita Springs, FL); many loving nieces and nephews, colleagues, and friends.
The family has chosen to have a private graveside service at Oak Grove Cemetery. A Memorial service at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church to celebrate Lois’ life will be scheduled at a later date. Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to Dunn Funeral Home in Bowling Green.
Contributions in her honor may be made to Brown Bag Food Project, 530 Sand Ridge Rd, Bowling Green, OH 43402, or brownbagfoodproject.org.
To share an online condolence or fond memory with the Sonnenberg family please visit www.dunnfuneralhome.com