Monica Wernette died January 13, 2023, leaving behind a legacy of generosity, kindness and love. Those who were lucky enough to know her, will always remember the twinkle in her in eye, her ever- present smile, and her love of storytelling. She was truly a citizen of the world and an extraordinary person who will be missed by a legion of family members and friends.
The daughter of Charles and Vera Wernette, Monica was born on August 8, 1951, in Clay Center, Kansas. Her early years were filled with the joys of small-town living: swimming, bicycling, fishing and camping on the river with family, summertime softball, ice skating on the family farm pond, exploring Clay Center with her big brother Mike (as well as throwing the daily dispatch) and playing tricks on her younger siblings, Jon, Jean and Guy Kevin.
A lifelong learner, Monica began her formal education in Clay Center where she attended public school and graduated from Clay Center Community High School. In addition to her academic and athletic achievements, her love of a good prank made her well known to her teachers, coaches and school administrators.
She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Washburn University in 1974 where she played basketball and field hockey and where she developed her interest in public health. She went on to study epidemiology at Georgia Institute of Technology and obtained a Master of Public Administration in Public Health from Kansas State University.
Monica’s studies led her to a long career of public health service spanning the globe and earning her many accolades. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan awarded her the Peace Corps Most Outstanding Volunteer Award (African region), for her work tracking down the monkey pox virus in the tropical rain forest of Zaire. From the Peace Corps, Monica went on to work in Swaziland and Lesotho for the Center for Disease Control, and in Haiti and Liberia for the United States Agency for International Development.
When the HIV/AIDS virus emerged as a worldwide deadly disease, Monica’s expertise in epidemiology and her knowledge and experience in working in Africa led to her being tapped by the United Nations World Health Organization to be the Senior Team Leader for its Africa region. Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Monica found herself working in one of the world’s hotspots for not only combatting HIV/AIDS, but also in the middle of a civil war. Monica would later regale her friends and family with stories about teaching workers in the capital city the importance of disease prevention while also advising the new leaders of Ethiopia about the importance of public health.
The capstone of Monica’s career were the years she spent in Geneva, Switzerland serving as the field support team global director for UNAIDS. In this position, Monica travelled to and supported the teams of people working across the globe to combat AIDS. Monica’s love for people and her passion for public health made her the perfect person for this work, and she developed many lifelong friends from all different cultures and walks of life. Through her work, Monica became a trusted advisor to world leaders and public health officials.
Upon her retirement in 2009, Monica returned to her roots in Kansas to devote her remaining years to her family. While already a beloved aunt to her nieces and their families, she became even more of a presence in their lives. She delighted in the numerous family gatherings for birthdays and holidays, having missed out on many of these over the years while she lived overseas. Together with her siblings, she provided love and comfort to her parents in their final years. When the family tragically lost her two remaining brothers, Monica came out of retirement to run and grow the business her oldest brother had started.
At the time of her death, Monica was actively engaged in work, family and community. She was a member of the American Legion Auxiliary for many years, and a lifetime member of St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. She is survived by her sister Jean Wernette of Wichita, KS, sister-in-law Darlene Wernette of Clay Center, KS, numerous cousins, nieces, great nieces and nephews and many dear friends.
Monica was preceded in death by her parents Charles and Vera Gibbs Wernette, Brothers, Mike, Jon and Guy Kevin Wernette.
We are happy knowing Monica is with family and friends in heaven, we already miss her smile and the sound of her laughter.
Visitation will be from 4-7pm on Tuesday, January 17th at Neill-Schwensen-Rook Funeral Home, with a rosary at 7pm.
Mass of Christian burial will be held on Wednesday, January 18 at 10:30am at
Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Clay Center with Fr. Kerry Ninemire presiding.
Burial: Greenwood Cemetery, Clay Center, Kansas.
Memorials may be made to St’s. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Clay Center, Kansas C/O Neill-Schwensen-Rook Funeral Home, 918 7th Street, Clay Center, Kansas 67432.