Donna J. Habenicht, Professor Emeritus of Counseling Psychology at Andrews University, died quietly on June 22, 2022, after a lifelong dedication to the program and the education of children. She was 87 years old.
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, many remember Donna’s impact on their lives and the lives of their children.
Lake Union general vice president Carmelo Mercado recalls first meeting Donna at Campus Ministries on the Andrews University campus, where she 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 missionary pastor in Beni. This experience led me to choose pastoring as a career path. I am so grateful for his advice and encouragement to go for it anyway,” he said.
Although former Illinois Conference administrative assistant Shona Cross never met Donna, she remembers her as a household name in children’s classes when she joined the church in 1980. and became active in Sabbath School programs. “I loved how she organized the lessons in an easy-to-follow and methodical way, which brought the Bible to life, not only for the children, but also for me as a new believer. She will probably be shocked in the future when she learns how many people have come to know Jesus through her work.
Pioneer Memorial Church’s retired pastor, Skip MacCarty, said Dr. Habenicht not only wrote the “Come Meet Jesus” children’s program for NET’s ’98 global mission, but also helped to staff five children’s divisions of his 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 full membership list of the PMC of approximately 2,500 members, choosing qualified volunteers to staff the divisions for PMC children on each of NET 98’s twenty-five nights, hour-long programs,” MacCarty recalled. “It was a tedious and exhausting task. Donna never complained and provided invaluable feedback over the several months this process took to accomplish their task. She also participated in a high level of supervision during of the five divisions during the evening meetings. His involvement at the local level of the pre-planning as well as his on-site supervision during the meetings were invaluable!”
Donna (Lugenbeal) Habenicht was born on December 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 moved back to the United States, 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 while he attended medical school and residency. She supported her family as a teacher and secretary. The couple later moved to Puerto Rico, where they 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 missionary 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 psychology and pedagogical advice (1977). She spent the next 23 years teaching at Andrews University and working as a licensed psychologist. She served as chair of the Department of Education from 1990 to 1995. During that time, she published dozens of journal articles and five books. The most popular, How to Help Your Child Truly Love Jesusis used worldwide.
After retiring 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 died on June 22 after several years of dementia. She is survived by her husband of 68 years, Herald; one brother, Ed; son, Larry; daughter, Nancy; four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held on June 25, 2022 at the Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University.
Katie Fellows is Lake Union’s Assistant Communications Specialist.