A bridge to honor
By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD – Thirty-three years after a traffic accident took the life of the only female Wood County Sheriff’s Deputy to be killed in the line of duty, Deputy LaVonne Zenner is being honored for her service to law enforcement.
On March 29, Gov. Tony Evers was in Wood County to sign Senate Bill 507, now 2021 Wisconsin Act 211, designating the bridge on State Highway 13 and County Highway A over U.S. Highway 10 in Wood County as the “Deputy LaVonne Zenner Memorial Bridge.”
“Deputy Zenner was an active member of her community committed to serving her friends and neighbors, and it is an honor to designate this bridge in her memory,” Evers said. “It’s people like Deputy Zenner who truly embody what it means to be a Wisconsinite and make our state and communities better places to live. So, I want to thank the bipartisan legislators who worked to send this bill to my desk on behalf of the Wood County Sheriff’s Department to honor her memory and service.”
Wood County Sheriff Shawn Becker and Deputy Sara McCormick testified before the Wood County Board of Supervisors to garner county support and during public hearings at both houses.
“I really wanted to get the part of the highway where the accident occurred on the old US HWY 10. I did not know how to get anything like this to be named,” explained McCormick. “So, I called our local Wood County Highway Department. They had some ideas for me; which lead me to call others. I also knew that this was a US Highway, meaning federal but learned that Wisconsin could name it. However, US Highway 10 is already designated as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway and they said we could not have the highway per Wisconsin DOT.
“However, they offered the overpass/bridge at CTH A over US Hwy 10 instead, which I jumped on. After that it was figuring who do you call to start this. I looked at the area where the accident happened and called the representatives that are elected in that area. Rep. Spiros’ office was an enormous help and took the lead on writing and introducing this bill.
“Sheriff Shawn Becker and I went to Madison to testify at both house transportation committees, along with one other person but he wished to remain out of the light, for personal reasons. Then it passed both houses and on to the governor. And here we are. We have other things in works. Everything we have done was with the permission of the family.
“I didn’t want to forget her service to the community. She was killed with our uniform on; she made the ultimate sacrifice to this area. Not many people have done that and I hope never will. It is also to remember the family that gave everything. She did not have to do any of it.”
Deputy Zenner was fatally injured in an August 1989 four-vehicle, chain-reaction crash on State Highway 10 and Staadt Road in the town of Marshfield at the age of 39. Zenner was in uniform and on her way to work with the sheriff’s department. She left behind two children.
“Our mother loved to be around people,” recalled LaVonne’s children, Angela (Zenner) Ford & Eric Zenner. “She was a stay-at-home mom for most of our childhood and was very active in our town, church and schools. Her and my dad became very active in the Marshfield JCs and Immanuel Lutheran Church and School activities. It was in the JCs that she met Lori Smith, a 911 dispatcher at the Marshfield Police Department. They became the best of friends and Lori started to invite her to the department in the evenings while she worked. She became hooked. She then got involved with volunteer police work, Pittsville deputy employment, and finally decided to go to school for law enforcement.
“Her life was taken from all of us way too soon and we have only been able to imagine all of the wonderful future impacts that she would have had on our lives and her communities that she was involved in and cared so much for.
“We are so deeply amazed, honored, and grateful for the bridge (overpass) to be named in her honor. We know that our mother is with us and watching over us every day but with this bridge being named after her, it makes us feel that she is even closer and will forever be remembered. She had so many friends, colleagues and family that loved her and now they can feel close to her again whenever they drive over or under the bridge.
“We greatly appreciate all of Sara’s interests and hard work that she has put into getting this bridge (overpass) named for our mother. It takes a very caring and determined person to work through the challenges and efforts that were needed to make this happen. We will forever be grateful for Sara.
“Sara also became the mastermind in getting her a diploma and making a special plaque for the gravesite. We are so thankful and deeply humbled that Sara would work to make this happen also.
“Sara has reopened our mother’s story and has given us this opportunity to tell it again. We are all touched by Sara and everyone’s efforts to keep our mother forever remembered with the dedication of the bridge (overpass) in her name.
The bill was introduced by state senators, Jerry Petrowski, Kathy Bernier, and Patrick Testin; and co-sponsored by state representatives John Spiros, Scott Krug, Donna Rozar, and Nancy VanderMeer.
“I am extremely proud that this legislation has been signed into law,” said Rep. Spiros. “It has been a privilege to work with the Wood County Sheriff’s Department to pay tribute to a fallen deputy and ensure that her commitment to serve her community is never forgotten.”
“As a Wood County Board Supervisor and State Representative of the 69th Assembly District, I am proud to support this Bill honoring the fallen Wood County Sheriff’s Deputy LaVonne Zenner,” said Representative Rozar. “It is wonderful to honor such an individual who dedicated her life to protecting the citizens of Wood County.”
“We know that our mother would be so proud and honored for the respect that she is getting,” LaVonne’s children added.