We offer our condolences to the family and colleagues of the Rev. Leslie “Laelia” D. Tawnamaia, who died on May 29, 2020, at the age of 65.
Laelia was born on January 10, 1955 in Berwyn, IL to Robert Lee Rucker and Charlene (Pauquette) Rucker. In 1986, she graduated from Lesley University, Cambridge, MA with a Bachelor of Science in Human Service. Following graduation, Laelia’s career included working in different settings, being self-employed for a time in a bookstore, gem, and jewelry store that she and her partner opened and managed, retail management, personal attendant care, administration/bookkeeping and working as a financial administrator for a small physician’s office. Later in 2011, she received her Master of Divinity from Meadville Lombard Theological School, IL.
Laelia served as an intern minister at the First Universalist Unitarian Church of Wausau, WI (Fall 2010-Spring 2011). She was granted preliminary fellowship in 2012, and ordained on August 18, 2013 by two congregations: The Universalist Unitarian Congregation of St. Johnsbury (UUCStJ), VT and the Washington, Vermont UU Congregation, VT.
Rev. Tawnamaia served the UUCStJ under various positions: Worship Committee Chair and Worship Leader (2001-2009, 2009-2011); Buddha Dharma Study and Practice Group Facilitator (2002-2008); Board Clerk (2002-2004); Board Trustee (2003-2006); Finance Committee Member (2003-2007); Finance Committee Chair (2004-2008); RE Committee Member (2005); Bylaws Revision Taskforce (2005-2006); and as an Endowment Trustee (2005-2008). For the First Universalist Unitarian Church of Wausau, WI, she taught three sessions of RE classes on mental stress on health for 7 to 9 graders (2011). Furthermore, Rev. Tawnamaia regularly participated in the UUMA cluster meeting of Central Vermont (2011). Before and after serving the Wausau congregation, she led services around VT, from Bennington in the south to Derby Line on the Canadian border and many in between. Her sermons and services focused on Hiroshima, Doctrine of Discovery, animal rights and AIDS memorial. From 2011 to 2012, Rev. Tawnamaia served as a project collaborator and website coordinator for the Peace and Unity Bridge (PUB): Cultivating and Understanding Friendship among Non-Muslims and Muslims (a project of Washington, Vermont UU Church).
Rev. Tawnamaia also volunteered for many community activities. She was co-founder of the Women’s Earth Centered Spirituality Practice Group(1980’s); and chaplain volunteer for the Fletcher Allen Hospital, VT (2003-2004). She served as an assistant for the Body Mind Research Classes at the Brookline High School, MA.
Laelia loved the music shared at UU services, including her own. It reminded her of growing up with her parent’s choir performances of Handel's Messiah and other sacred pieces, and it was a rich way to bolster the sense of community she felt music engendered. She enjoyed gardening, reading, Reiki, mostly vegetarian and whole food nutrition, listening to music, singing/dancing, developmental psychology, yoga, journaling, women’s studies, rock/mineral/gemstone/crystal collecting, stone bead jewelry crafting, and herbology. Laelia's other interests, included walking in nature especially with her beloved canine companions whom she gave a home to over the course of her life. She was an eco-feminist living a simple lifestyle with strong interest in sustainability and developing a green version of habitat.
Laelia learned later in life (1990's) that her father was among the first American troops sent into Nagasaki after they were bombed. It helped her understand her father's distance, and her lifelong compromised immune system.
Laelia is survived by her husband Greg; her brother Brian and his wife Linda; her aunt Donna Didier; as well as many of her cousins and friends.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the local animal welfare organization of one’s own choosing.
Her burial was private.
Notes of condolences may be sent to the family care of Guare & Sons Funeral Home at 30 School Street, Montpelier, VT 05602, or message may be left
Information may also be found at the Unitarian Universalist Retired Ministers and Partners Association.