Som Khenthavong, 77, of Waukesha, was born to eternal life on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. She died peacefully, surrounded by her loving family. She was the mother of Keo (Michael) Keller, Manivhanh (David) Vogt, Bic (Richard) Behrendt, Veomany and Lamkeo; grandmother of Jonathan, Steven, Joshua, Ashley and Emily; and great-grandmother of Hayley, Grant and Lucas.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Choungchanh; her son Norkham; her parents, and brothers and sisters. She was also beloved by many other relatives and friends.
Som was an amazing woman who lived an extraordinary life. She began her journey in the Southeast Asian country of Laos. During the Vietnam War, Som’s husband, Choungchanh, volunteered to join American anti-communist forces in Laos. After Laos succumbed to a communist dictatorship, the communist regime routinely killed or imprisoned the soldiers who fought alongside American forces, and even targeted the families of the Laotian soldiers who fought with American troops.
Choungchanh was captured and sent to a prison camp.
To protect the lives of her six young children, Som bravely traversed the treacherous Mekong River with her family in a daring escape into neighboring Thailand. There, the family found respite in a refugee camp.
In 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced that the U.S. would begin accepting refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Several members of Waukesha’s First United Methodist Church heard about the refugee program and agreed to sponsor a family. Soon thereafter, the Khenthavongs found themselves halfway across the world in Waukesha. They arrived in winter, seeing snow for the very first time.
They came to their new home in their new country knowing little English and possessing little more than the shirts on their backs.
But First-Church families embraced Som and her children with true Christian compassion. There were Sunday afternoon homecooked dinners, English lessons, driving lessons, and even an occasional camping trip.
Years after they were settled in Waukesha, Som received a phone call late one night. The call was from her husband.
Choungchanh had been imprisoned for years by the communists in Laos, miraculously escaped, and was eventually reunited with his family in Waukesha. The Khenthavong family has thrived in America. The children completed their education in Waukesha public schools and went on to college. They continue to contribute to their communities today as engineers, teachers, managers, etc.
Som later settled into retirement in Waukesha where she divided her time between spending cherished time with family and friends, and maintaining one of the best herb and vegetable gardens in all of Waukesha County.
Visitation begins at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 2, 2017, followed by a memorial service at 3:00 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Waukesha, 121 Wisconsin Ave. Schmidt & Bartelt of a Menomonee Falls will oversee arrangements. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to First United Methodist Church of Waukesha.
Schmidt & Bartelt A.A.
Schmidt & Sons Funeral and Cremation Services, Menomonee Falls, is
serving the family. For more information, call 262-251-3630 or visit