LaVerne Bernice was born into the Johnson family on May 18, 1918 in the hamlet of Duhamel in Alberta, Canada. She was the fourth child and the first girl of six children in a loving Christian Scandinavian family. Her father, Henry, was of Swedish descent and her mother, Nellie, was Norwegian. LaVerne’s parents deeply loved the Lord and were models of Christian devotion to their children. Her father would gather the family around the stove heater for devotions where they would read the Bible and have hot chocolate. LaVerne remembers her parents as very kind and generous who would give away anything- even though they did not have much themselves.
The family moved back to Washington, first to Bellingham and later to Seattle. The brothers loved their sister, LaVerne, and like most brothers also loved to tease her. Her little sister, Eleanor, came along for some feminine companionship and LaVerne relished being the ‘little mother’.
With LaVerne’s love for the Holy Word, she went off to Northwest Bible Institute (now Northwest University) and graduated in 1939. She ministered within the Assemblies of God movement and founded a church of that denomination in Port Townsend, Washington. In 1948 – 1951, she attended Seattle Pacific College (now University) where she majored in Speech, was a Phi Kappa Delta debater, and enjoyed singing in the A Capella Choir and the Oratorio Society. LaVerne had a beautiful voice and had the honor of singing the contralto solo in Handel’s magnificent Messiah. She continued to use the gift of her voice to bring glory to the Lord and would often move many to tears as she passionately sang at churches, camps and Youth for Christ meetings. She also had the privilege of singing with her brother Don, on their brother Ray’s Christian radio program. She would later pass on the legacy of love for music to her children and grandchildren.
LaVerne was an ambitious, hard-working student. Upon graduation, she moved to California to teach in an elementary school and earn her Masters in Education from San Francisco State College (now University). This degree helped aid her in an appointment as principal in a new school in Riverside – one of the few women principals of her time – where she served for five years.
A divine meeting that would forever change her life happened at a camp for the “King’s Couriers”, where she first met her beloved husband, Bill Gencarella. Bill was smitten the moment he saw her and the feeling was mutual. God had brought them together in His perfect timing and they were seldom apart after that. During their short courtship, each time Bill would pick her up for their outing, LaVerne would find a beautiful red, fragrant “Heart’s Desire” rose in the glove compartment. They were married on July 25, 1959 and were blissfully wed for 55 years.
God blessed them with two sons and LaVerne became the beloved mother to Will and David. She loved her new role as wife and mother and left her career to stay at home to care for her children. She took seriously the admonition to “train up a child in the way they should go” and spent much time instilling in them the tenants of her faith and sharing her love for her Savior though word and deed. She was able to enjoy the fruits of her labor of love as she joyfully watched her sons and grandchildren follow in her footsteps to all become followers of Christ.
Although LaVerne left her formal career, her hands found much work to do. She took great delight in running various home-based businesses and real-estate ventures. The whole family got involved and she taught her children a strong work ethic and love of entrepreneurship. Bill loved to tell people that his wife was a true Proverbs 31 woman who possessed all those qualities including “she considers a field and buys it”. In addition, she led a rich full life as she taught Sunday School, mentored young ladies, sang in the Church Choir, created paintings of God’s creation, canned their family’s produce, and was Bill’s devoted companion and help-mate.
She enjoyed making meals and sharing them with her family. Her grandchildren fondly remember making apple pies and Christmas cookies with her and knew that Grandma would always make them her prized Angel Food Cake on every birthday. Christmas family dinners would always begin with Swedish fruit soup and end with persimmon pudding with lemon sauce and you could count on turkey soup with homemade noodles the next day, as she made sure the carcass would not go to waste. In fact, LaVerne made sure not to let anything go to waste. She had a sincere desire to be a good steward and not wasteful.
Bill and LaVerne’s love and devotion for each other inspired all that had the privilege to witness it. Wherever they would go, strangers would often come to them or their family and express their admiration for the couple and comment on the tenderness that passed between them. LaVerne was a faithful cheerleader to Bill’s racquetball playing and could always be found court side at practice and tournaments alternating between watching and reading her Bible. They were constant companions and took pleasure in doing even mundane things – as long as they were together.
Although we are saddened by the loss of our beloved wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, and friend; we take comfort in knowing that she is resting in the presence of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her ardent hope was always that everyone would find the same joy in life and hope for tomorrow that she found in Christ.