Lanna Hagge spent her adult life helping young people, and her enthusiasm and skills enriched the lives and careers of hundreds of students at Oberlin and Trinity colleges.
Hagge was born in Minneapolis on June 6, 1946, but grew up in Waltham, Minn., a tiny farm town populated by dozens of her relatives. Her grandparents had a nearby farm. She was the oldest child of Luella and Tray Hagge, a contractor who built grain elevators for farmers' co-ops. She attended a two-room school and was a cheerleader at Hayfield High School, where she graduated.
The first member of her family to go to college, Hagge went to Lincoln College in Normal, Ill., for several years, then graduated from the State University of New York in Buffalo. She received a master's degree in social science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
She was an enthusiastic athlete who loved running marathons, racquetball, downhill and cross-country skiing and rowing. She climbed several of the "14s," Colorado mountains that exceed 14,000 feet, and when she lived in Colorado, no visit was complete without a trip up Pike's Peak. (Her son remembers being "indoctrinated" to the ascent at age 9 or 10.) She loved riding motorcycles in the mountain canyons.
Hagge married Bernard Greenberg, a doctoral student she met at Buffalo, in 1967. They had one son, Aaron Hagge-Greenberg.
Hagge began her professional career in 1975 at Oberlin College, where she spent more than 20 years in career services, working mostly with undergraduates. One program she designed helped English majors decide on a career path. She obtained a grant to help liberal arts students figure out whether they were suited to a business career, and she organized a multi-college program that increased the number of interviews prospective employers granted students. She was a strong advocate of job exchanges.
"She was very innovative," said Lisa Kastor, a co-worker at Oberlin.
In 1997, Trinity College recruited Hagge for the position of director of career services. She continued to work punishing hours and sponsored several innovative programs for students. Wendy Zhao, a current student, said Hagge organized a club for students seeking consulting jobs that familiarized them with business terminology and a different type of interview, one that required solving a business problem presented by the interviewer.
"She genuinely cared," Zhao said. "It worked out fantastically for the people involved."
"The one-on-one was her true gift," said Peter Bennett, now interim director of Hagge's program. "That's where you felt you were the only person in the room, the only one who mattered." Just a week ago, the Trinity Men of Color Alliance honored Hagge at its annual women's appreciation dinner.
She always dressed elegantly for work; besides working with students, she met corporate recruiters in business attire and always dressed the part. She loved shoes, and because she had a long, slender foot that was hard to fit, she bought multiple pairs in different colors when she found a model that fit. She sometimes took them off under her desk, and sometimes ended up in an Armani suit and mismatched shoes.
Hagge was sophisticated, yet friendly, never cutting or sarcastic, upbeat no matter what.
"Her ability to be interested in every individual was a gift she had," said Christine Chinn, a cousin. She had a boisterous laugh but was self-deprecating and had an acute sense of the absurd.
Her work hours often left little time for home decoration or maintenance. Occasionally the Christmas tree would stay up for months, or there would be a dearth of living-room furniture because of a buying trip that was perpetually postponed. One time, her son was bringing home a foreign exchange student whose own home was elegantly appointed. Ever resourceful, Hagge dragged a stepladder, a drop cloth and a can of paint into the living room, and explained the lack of furniture by saying the room was being renovated. And after some neighbors left her a note imploring her to cut her overgrown lawn, others pitched in to help out.
In her 30s, Hagge lost most of her hearing and was forced to rely on ever stronger hearing aids. She read lips well but occasionally when driving would let her eyes rest on her passenger's lips a bit longer than was absolutely safe. Colleagues suggested that her disability caused her to be an even better listener.
"It made her focus on every word," said Bennett.
When she arrived at Trinity, Hagge had new, powerful hearing aids, but her beloved dog ate them just as she was starting her new job. It took two weeks to replace them, but she never let on that she couldn't hear.
She smiled a lot and "just said uh-hum," said co-worker Debra Delombard. "People just loved her for it."
Only eight months before her death from a heart attack, Hagge underwent an operation for cochlear implants, which partially restored her hearing and was a significant improvement. The first weeks, however, were difficult as she struggled to understand the meaning of different sounds. Taking a potato chip out of a bag, for example, sounded like thunder. Bird sounds were just another noise.
"She had to attach meaning to sound," said Fred Alford, a Trinity dean.
The operation and the challenges were all worth it, and Hagge told friends of her immense pleasure in being able to hear, for the first time, the words of Max, her only grandchild.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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