Community mourns former UMD prof LaVonne Levar

A memorial service for former UMD professor LaVonne Levar was held at Sacred Heart Music Center on Sunday. Ushers were directing mourners to overflow seating as early as 15 minutes before the event began and parking was full for blocks around. Levar had battled pancreatic cancer since 1999 and passed away at age 58. Levar was a speech pathologist professor and director of the Robert F. Pierce Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic at UMD. She was first hired in 1985 and her biggest legacy on campus was her impact on the Communication Sciences and Disorders department and Project Interact.

Faith Loven, associate professor in UMD's CSD department, was hired the same year as Levar. Loven and Levar worked together from 1985-2004 and co-authored several papers together. "When you were with her, you were the best person you could be. She had that gift of bringing out the best in people," Loven said. "She will really be missed."

Levar's impact was felt in the professional world too. "Project Interact was probably the one professional accomplishment that gave (Levar) the most satisfaction," Loven said.

While Levar was director of the clinic, she began a community outreach program called Project Interact. A weekly dinner was given to families of children with speech disorders as a networking opportunity. After dinner the kids split from the adults, where graduate students from UMD's CSD department educated parents and worked with children. The endeavor was funded by the Edwin H. Eddy Foundation, a Duluth-based foundation founded by a physician with a stutter. Mark Mizuko, head of the CSD department, began working with Levar in 1985. "I remember walking down from the Kirby Ballroom with (Levar) as we attended an orientation session for new faculty," Mizuko said. He added that without Levar's passion and guidance, the clinic and program would look very different than it does today. The clinic and the CSD department were located in Montague Hall when Levar first arrived at UMD in 1985.

"Montague Hall was the pits," Loven said. "They don't even have people in there anymore." Levar constantly lobbied administrators for additional funding and used every opportunity to remind them of the value of the clinic and the CSD department. "She was probably the first strong advocate we had for our Professional Clinical Services at UMD,” Loven said. “She argued — nicely — with administrators — top administrators — for years about how we needed to improve."

Eventually the clinic and the CSD department were moved from Montague Hall to the Chester Park building on the corner of College Street and 21st Avenue East. “Even though she was no longer working at UMD when (the move) happened, LaVonne worked hard to bring about the new clinic ... in the Chester Park Building,” said former colleague Lynda John, who works at the Chester Park location.

Loven also thinks this move was because of Levar's lobbying. "She always reminded administrators — in a nice way — that 'we're still here and we provide a very valuable service to the community, and our physical facilities should reflect that.'"


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