By Barb Arland-Fye
In his homily for the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, Pope Francis spoke of the wondrous experience of love between a husband and wife who embrace the sacrament of marriage. He could have been talking about Rand and Jeanne Wonio, a Davenport couple married 40 years whose children learned well from their parents what it means to love.
Rand, 65, an attorney for Lane & Waterman LLP who also provided legal representation for the Davenport Diocese, died of cancer Oct. 3 at home, surrounded by family members.
“I think Rand’s strength was his family. Obviously, he and Jeanne were a team, with eight children,” observes Father Tony Herold, pastor of the couple’s parish, St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.
The team rallied around Rand in the last months of his life in great and small ways. After a Sunday Mass following Rand’s incurable cancer diagnosis in February, “we all got together and anointed him with the sacrament of the sick. Most of the family was there,” Fr. Herold recalls.
In July, doctors determined Rand’s cancer had spread to his brain. They advised him to shave his head because he would lose his hair during radiation treatments. His six sons, in solidarity, shaved their heads, too. “They all came home on a Friday night with their heads shaved. Rand was very moved. It was a fun weekend for him,” Jeanne recalls. When the sons appeared in the Communion line during Mass that weekend, “It showed the strength of the family; obviously, the kids loved him,” Fr. Herold adds.
“Team A” or “Team B” as Rand and Jeanne fondly called their kids during his illness, came home over the past couple of months to take turns spending the night with their dad so Jeanne could get some sleep. Being part of a loving family involves sacrifice, and the Wonios accepted that fact.
When daughter Helena realized how sick her father was, she offered to change her wedding plans. Her father insisted that she go through with them. As the wedding day approached, “I asked him if he’d like us to come home and have (Fr. Tony) come over and we would get married there. I felt it was very inappropriate to be celebrating.” But her father was “a very firm man and he said, ‘No. I want you to have your wedding as planned and have a beautiful day.’ It was a beautiful day. All the prayers people were saying for my wedding and for my dad truly worked. My father was able to write a speech while he was sick and my brother Kirk gave the speech at the wedding reception.”
Rand watched the wedding on the Internet at home, via a video live streaming platform. “Rand, in his weakened condition got up out of bed and got into a chair so that he could talk with Helena on Face Time before she walked down the aisle in Michigan,” Fr. Herold says.
Alex, the couple’s second-oldest son, stayed with his dad so that Jeanne could attend the wedding. Her brother, Greg, made arrangements for a charter plane so that Jeanne could fly quickly to and from the wedding. “It was a beautiful wedding, of course; sad and happy and wonderful at the same time,” Jeanne says.
Helena and her husband Matt skipped a honeymoon to spend the last week of Rand’s life with him. “It was such a blessing to be here with our family, especially when he died. We were all in the room. A lot of us were saying the rosary when it happened. So it couldn’t be more peaceful,” Helena says.
Bishop Martin Amos and Msgr. John Hyland brought Communion to Rand the Monday before he died and prayed with him, surrounded by Jeanne and members of their family. “It was a very moving time for me,” the bishop says.