LaVonne was born on the Fourth of July in 1936 to Russell and Lucille Sime on their farm in Eden Township, Iowa. She was born with spinal bifida, but with extra effort LaVonne was able to walk and run with her peers. She was active in the 4-H club growing up and would share that she learned many life-skills that served her throughout her life. Being raised on a farm, she had many fond memories of working together to accomplish the huge tasks of successful crops and animals. Meals were always at the table, and she would often want to sing songs while eating. She remembers her Dad scolding her, “No singing at the table!”
LaVonne was baptized and confirmed at Trinity Lutheran Church, where she sang in the choir and played the organ. She graduated from Rake High School and knew that she wanted to go to college. She worked at the corn cannery to help pay for her tuition. During her college years she travelled abroad to Germany and loved playing saxophone in the college band. She earned her education degree with a music minor from Luther College.
While reading the Lutheran Magazine, she answered a call for teachers in Nome, Alaska.
Bravely traveling alone, she arrived in Nome in 1963 to teach. During her first year of teaching, she caught the attention of a local young man, Franklin “Frankie” Okleasik. They married at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church on June 30, 1964 and made their home in Nome for the rest of their lives.
Having a family was one of LaVonne’s greatest life joys and accomplishments. She was a loving, thoughtful and playful parent. She actively nurtured faith in her children with daily morning devotions before school and never missing a Sunday worship service. She encouraged singing and music in the home, and patiently taught each of her children to play the piano. She was a strong advocate of learning and education and did whatever she could to make sure her children were doing well at school. While raising her children, Lavonne taught piano lessons to youth in Nome and hosted many piano recitals for their families.
LaVonne was an active member at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Nome. She was the church organist on Sundays, pianist on Wednesday evening services, choir director and church secretary. She volunteered her time with Sunday school, vacation Bible school, 4th, 5th, and 6th-grade Bible study, high school youth and women’s group. She willingly played piano for local marriages, funerals, church conferences and local events. She volunteered to direct the Messiah during the Christmas season for many years. She helped start the Nome Preschool. For years she led Al-Anon meetings and served on the board for the Turning Point Detox Center. She demonstrated loving service to her community.
LaVonne helped to support her family with babysitting, selling Shaklee products, and began her own small business “Nome Advertising.” She worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, The Nome Nugget, Nome Public Schools as a substitute teacher, and Northwest Campus. LaVonne worked for the City of Nome for 18 years as the Deputy City Clerk. She loved providing cheerful customer service to locals paying their property taxes and utilities, as well as the camaraderie of the office staff.
She reluctantly retired from the City, but was able to devote more time to her family, especially her life partner and best friend, Frankie. LaVonne loved spending time with family. Frankie loved to cook, and she loved company. Together they shared many meals with friends and family in their home, summer picnics, or going out to eat together.
LaVonne was affectionately known as Grammie to her grandchildren. She taught many of them to play the piano and always said it was her gift to them. She would love to read books to them and would often have two on her lap at a time. She enjoyed walking them down to the Polar Cub Cafe for ice cream as a treat, but this was always her favorite treat. She could never turn down ice cream!
These last five years, though, have been hard without the presence of her husband Frank. Her life here has been full of love, laughter, as well as pain and sorrow; yet challenges were met with faith. She would often sing, “Keep on praying. God will answer prayer. Keep on praying.”
LaVonne gave us gifts of music, singing, hard work, love of family, being fair, having a servant heart, and a faith in God. Thank you LaVonne —daughter, sister, friend, teacher, music enthusiast, servant, wife, mother, and Grammie!
LaVonne is preceded in death by her parents Russell and Lucille Sime, in-laws Martin and Sarah Okleasik, husband Frankie, infant son William Edward, brother Ronald Sime, and daughter-in-law Denise Amarok Okleasik.
LaVonne is survived by her sisters Lois Forney and her husband John, and Joan Winter and her husband Don; daughter Sara Anne, son Franklin Jr. “Buddy”, daughter Katie and husband Wilson, and son Tom and wife Dianne, as well as 14 grandchildren: Ryan, Jordan, Ivory, Zoe, Grace, Heidi, Zachary, Kayla, Keegan, Joshua, Ivik, Qaulluq, Talugnaqtuaq and Kavlaq.