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Michael Wenning dies at 75; pastor presided at President Reagan's burial

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The Rev. Michael Wenning, the retired senior pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church who presided at former President Reagan's 2004 burial service in Simi Valley, died Tuesday at his home in Mission Viejo, one week before his 76th birthday.

The cause was leukemia and kidney failure, said his wife of 54 years, Freda.

From 1995 to 2001, Wenning led Bel Air Presbyterian Church, where former President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, had worshiped for years. The pastor also made regular visits to Reagan's home and Century City office when the former president, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, stopped appearing in public. Reagan, 93, died June 5, 2004, and Wenning conducted the burial service at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.


FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier headline on this obituary said the Rev. Michael Wenning presided at President Reagan's funeral. He presided at Reagan's burial.


"I was very sorry to learn today of the death of Rev. Michael Wenning," Nancy Reagan said Wednesday in a statement. "Bel Air Presbyterian Church was always an important part of our lives, and I was grateful to Michael, as a former pastor, for contributing to Ronnie's final services."

A native of South Africa, Wenning (pronounced Venning) was born in Capetown on July 5, 1935. After he and Freda married in 1957, they moved to the United States. He received a master's of divinity at Texas Christian University and a master's in psychology and counseling at New York University. He returned to South Africa for his doctorate from what is now the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

He became pastor of a Presbyterian church in Durban, South Africa, in 1969. Deeply affected by the American civil rights movement and chafing against the apartheid policies in place in South Africa, Wenning began integrating his church by inviting blacks and whites to worship together and welcoming black and Indian ministers.

Wenning and his family moved back to the U.S. in 1977 so he could lead a Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh. He moved on to Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Hills from 1986 to 1995. He took over at Bel Air Presbyterian Church two years after pastor Donn Moomaw resigned when administrators discovered he had had sexual contact with five women from the congregation in 10 years.

Wenning's tenure at Bel Air was "a healing chapter for the church," said current pastor Mark Brewer, who replaced Wenning in 2001.

After serving at a church in North Palm Beach, Fla., in semi-retirement, Wenning returned with his wife to Southern California in 2007.

He is also survived by two daughters, Michelle Blankenship of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Andrea Bull of Fresno, and four grandchildren.

claire.noland@latimes.com

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