Alexis Wernsing: A Quiet Voice That Still Resonates

Alexis joins her cousin Deanna Ciacci at the University of Illinois’s celebrated “Alma Mater” statue

By Andy Kriege, YSN

“Tip of the Hat” is a feature that recognizes and congratulates those who go above and beyond to make the world a better place. If you have a suggestion for a person or a company that is doing something positive in our industry, please let us know at Communications@AVB.net.

Alexis Wernsing was “Big Ed’s” little girl, the soft-voiced daughter of Patty and Ed Wernsing of Wernsing Appliance in Litchfield, Ill.

Although she sadly passed in 2015, Alexis’s indomitable spirit lives on through two scholarships at her alma maters.

The Alexis Wernsing Innovation Award recognizes deserving students at the University of Illinois who have channeled their experience of living with a disability into positive change by creating new products, environments or protocols that enhance the quality of life. The annual scholarship is intended to inspire others and keep Wernsing’s “Can do, never quit” attitude alive and to help the physically disabled tackle their day-to-day challenges.

In addition, the Alexis Ann Wernsing Scholarship assists second-year students at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield.

Alexis was born with cerebral palsy and wasn’t expected to live past her teens. Wheelchair-bound her entire life, she was always one to blow past all barriers and exceed expectations. She overcame more obstacles and accomplished more in her 40 short years than most people do in 80.

In spite of her handicap, nothing held her back. She graduated from local Litchfield High and went on to earn an Associate in Arts degree with honors from Lincoln Land Community College, where she worked three summers as a student teaching assistant and delivered her class commencement address.

From there Alexis pursued an art history degree at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. It was there, while serving as a teaching assistant for industrial design professor Dr. Deana McDonagh, that her career took a life-changing turn. Together with engineer Skot Wiedmann and others, Alexis and the team designed and built a voice amplifying system called AmpliMy that received a $10,000 Illinois Proof-of-Concept award from the university’s Office of Technology Management.

Alexis’s voice served her well in a quiet room, but it was nearly impossible to hear her in a crowded setting. But with AmpliMy attached to her wheelchair, she could control her voice modulation to suit the size of a venue with just the nudge of her elbow.

Skot Wiedmann, left, an electrical and computer engineering technician, collaborated with Alexis and industrial design professor Dr. Deana McDonagh on the creation of the AmpliMy voice amplifying system.

“Alexis was innovative, creative and had a ‘just get it done’ mentality,” recalled Dr. McDonagh. “She had such an impact on the community here. She was an incredible caretaker of others and she lived with such a purpose.”

The professor continued, “That was one life worth living. Every day was packed with things to get done. Regardless of the difficulty or the pain level she was at, her mantra was the always the same — ‘We got this.’ Within milliseconds of meeting her you looked past her disabilities and realized those were just logistical.”

Indeed, Alexis touched the lives of all she knew, and enjoyed many friends both online and in person. And, like her father, she was a great fan of the St. Louis Blues hockey team, and often attended their games with her family.

Related: Big No More, Ed Wernsing’s Back and Better Than Ever

Alexis died at the age of 40, and her passing was mourned by friends, family, colleagues and the Illinois House of Representatives, which issued a resolution commemorating her accomplishments.

As one who helped pave the way for the physically challenged, Alexis will be remembered for facing life’s challenges with dignity and grace. And while her work helping others with disabilities lives on through the innovative device that she helped invent, it is her quiet voice that still resonates deep in the hearts and minds of all those she touched.

For all that and more, we give a Tip of the Hat to Alexis Wernsing.

BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, furniture, mattress and CE dealers.