Two Bethel University students share their stories about their dad’s dying from alcoholism when the daughters were 7 years old.
By Miranda Weippert | Features Reporter
Editors note: “Jim Zevnick essentially drank himself to death while alone in his apartment Jan. 14, 2004″ should be “Jim Zevnick died alone in his apartment Jan. 14, 2004. With no alcohol in his system, doctors believed that he had a stroke or his body had just given out due to all the abuse”
“Jim’s parents sent Jenna, Cally and Lisa to Big Sky Resort in Montana, to take their minds off of their dad’s death. That’s when Greg, Zevnick’s now step-dad, entered into Lisa’s life.” should be “They married about a year after Jim’s passing to Lisa’s parents invited Jenna, Cally and Lisa to Big Sky Resort in Montana, to take their minds off of their dad’s death. That’s when Greg, Zevnick’s now step-dad, entered into Lisa’s life. They married about a year after Jim’s passing”
7-year-old Cally Zevnick watched television while her 11-year-old sister, Jenna, chatted with friends through AIM on the computer in their Inver Grove Heights home. Their mom was working at Wells Fargo mortgage when she received a call from her brother-in-law asking her to come home. She heard him crying as he spoke and she knew right then why she hadn’t heard from her husband for three or four days.
Jenna knew something bad was happening when she received a call from her aunt, who said she was coming over. Her aunt rarely came over.
Forty-five minutes later, Cally’s mom was home. Her sister, who was waiting for her began telling her the news. Cally’s mom, Lisa, called the kids downstairs, sat them down and blurted out their dad was dead.
“We all just sat and cried that night,” Lisa said.
“I was in denial,” said Cally, now a 21-year-old biology major at Bethel University. “I questioned why he couldn’t just stop drinking.”
Jim Zevnick essentially drank himself to death while alone in his apartment Jan. 14, 2004.
“I never thought my dad could die,” Cally said. “But that’s the thing with alcoholism, it isn’t something you can expect to spiral that far because it takes a lot of alcohol, especially someone who has built a tolerance to it, for it to kill them.”
Lisa met Jim when they were students at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and even though they drank in college, she didn’t think he was an alcoholic. However, she knew that alcoholism ran in his family. The couple married in 1989, but she says Jim’s drinking did not become a problem until 2000.
The first incident making Lisa question if her husband had a problem was when he got fired from his long-time sales job at a fire protection manufacturer. The second incident was when she left for the weekend, leaving behind a full bottle of vodka in their cupboards. When she returned home, she found the bottle almost completely empty. When she confronted him about it, he told her he got together with neighbors.
The third incident occurred a week later. After spending all day cleaning the garage, he came in for dinner and almost passed out on his plate. Lisa noticed other little things, too, such as more smoking, incomplete tasks, a lack of responsibility and an inability to keep a job.
“I had no idea he was hiding it,” Lisa said. “I started finding bottles of vodka all over the house – under the bed, in a sleeve of the jacket, just everywhere. He also became depressed, but I didn’t know if he was depressed because of the drinking or he was drinking because he was depressed.”
According to William Porter, author of Alcohol Explained, whether or not one is diagnosed with depression, alcohol causes a chemical imbalance in the brain. He has experienced many of the things he discusses in his book as a previous alcoholic. The depression derives from from the brain, which has been reset to work under the influence and the only way to relieve the depression is to drink.
Jenna first figured out her dad had a problem while they were at a family friend’s house. Taking a break from playing with the neighborhood kids, she ran upstairs to find her uncle carrying her dad outside. Immediately, she ran back downstairs, thinking he was just sick. However, a few weeks later, while her aunt babysat her, she listened in on a phone conversation to hear that police were bringing her dad home.
At 7, Cally knew something was wrong. She remembers her parents fighting all the time. She remembers the day her mom repeatedly screamed at her dad to get in the car and leave while he stood in their entry crying and begging to stay.
“My sister and I were so confused,” Cally said. “Especially me. That was probably one of the worst days of my childhood because it was the first time I ever saw my mom that mad and my dad crying so hard.”
At 7, Eladra Ludvigsen discovered her father, Carl Ludvigsen, was an alcoholic. She knew her dad was admitted to the hospital twice for ulcers caused by alcohol intake. However, the third time he was admitted, he never came out. His ulcer bled out, causing him to die in August of 2003.
Eladra, now a 21-year-old nursing major at Bethel, doesn’t recall much of the hospitals visits, but she remembers how much the nurses care for her dad. She also remembers the fights he had with mom.
Unlike Cally’s father, Carl didn’t have a history of alcoholism running in his family. He was a successful doctor and lawyer, who drank to cope with the stress in his life. Eladra also attributes his drinking to unresolved business with his mom, who died before she was born.
“I think my dad thought he could figure things out by himself,” she said. “So I don’t think he ever got any help.”
Jenna says she was was close to her dad until she noticed his drinking. Her mother says Jenna became more sad and hesitant once the drinking started. Jenna asked her mom to go to her Girl Scout events instead of dad because she was afraid of how he might act.
“I basically became scared of him and didn’t want to be around him because I never knew which version of him I was going to get,” Jenna said.
One version of her dad would get mad at Jenna for no reason and chase her around the house. The other version of him waited to hug her after school.
In his book, Porter writes “alcohol can cause any emotion to run unchecked,” which would be one explanation for why there were different versions of her father.
Cally recalls visiting her dad in an alcohol treatment center, but the memories aren’t clear. But she still keeps the cards he wrote to her while in treatment.
“All I remember is going into a house and there were a bunch of guys,” Cally said. “They were all cooking and it was just like, ‘OK, my dad’s here,’ but I didn’t understand why.”
Lisa kicked her husband out of the house after he completed his fourth treatment and was forced to find a job to be able to pay for his own apartment.
He signed up for one outpatient treatment and four inpatient treatments – Minnetrista once, Regions Hospital twice and Hazelden once.
“Every time he came out he seemed normal, but would then go back to drinking soon,” Lisa said. “It almost started to feel like a death sentence in a way. The ups and downs were chaotic and I couldn’t deal with it and raise a family.”
But a father is a father, no matter how sober or drunk.
One day, their father picked up Cally and Jenna from their after school program, letting them know he had a surprise waiting for them at home. Once they pulled up to the house, they saw a trampoline in the backyard with neighbor kids jumping on it.
Jenna recalls spending time outside up north with Dad and their grandparents, boating and water skiing. Cally recalls him taking them swimming in his apartment pool and Roller Blading.
Lisa says her husband was a good dad. He loved hanging with friends, watching and playing sports and playing with the kids.
“I don’t think drinking affected his parenting,” Cally said. “To me, he was the best dad.”
Eladra also recalls good memories she and her three siblings had with their dad. One day, Carl had all four children dressing up to be taken to a fancy restaurant in a limousine for dinner. Another day he armed the four kids, all under 11 years old, with whipped cream and started a food fight.
“He was full of life,” she said. “He did things all out.”
After Jim died, a new man came into the Zevnicks’ lives. Jim’s parents sent Jenna, Cally and Lisa to Big Sky Resort in Montana, to take their minds off of their dad’s death. That’s when Greg, Zevnick’s now step-dad, entered into Lisa’s life. They married about a year after Jim’s passing.
“We didn’t like him,” Cally said. “He jumped in as a leader of our family right away.”
Cally and Jenna had to get used to their new step-dad and to Greg’s son, Brody, who lived in Champlin. The family eventually ended up moving to Champlin.
Greg, who was a Christian, took the family to go to Grace Church in Eden Prairie, according to Cally. Before Greg, the Zevnick family was Catholic and didn’t attend church often.
“Once we moved we went to a new church and I actually started to get involved,” Cally said. “I actually became a Christian. I met Jesus and it changed my life. It changed my entire family’s life.”
While Eladra attributes her career path in part to her dad, Cally does not. She does, however, believe that if it weren’t for her dad’s death, she would not have become a Christian.
As a private Christian university, Bethel is a dry campus. The Student Life Handbook states, “The possession and/or use of alcohol is prohibited for students in the College of Arts & Sciences during the academic year.”
If students fail to comply with these policies, they can be dismissed from the university.
The Covenant, a written guideline for life that Bethel students sign states, “The Bible identifies character qualities and actions that should not be present in the lives of believers,” following with examples such as drunkenness.
“People are half and half at Bethel,” Eladra said. “There are people who take the Covenant seriously and don’t drink and the other half completely ignore it and drink.”
Both Cally and Eladra admit to drinking, but both also claim to having no interest in alcohol.
Cally says if she were to start drinking she’d become an alcoholic, due to her addictive personality.
Eladra says she is sensitive when it comes to alcohol and if someone is drinking to be more social, it rubs her the wrong way. In her mind, drinkers drink because of a problem.
Porter writes that drinking to get through social occasions can actually make things worse. Instead of coming across shy and awkward, one simply comes across as drunk.
Both believe drinking at Bethel is a problem because there’s not a normalcy to it. To them, the Bethel community has a mentality to keep things closed when it comes to drinking and they don’t like that alcohol can’t be talked about out loud due to students’ fear of being kicked out of Bethel.
“Drinking isn’t evil. It’s a sin, like any other sin,” Eladra said. “It’s not super special or above other sins.”
Both also agree on the difficulty of distinguishing when alcohol is problem, before it’s hard to stop and before it’s too late.
“I’m always scared that someone has a problem with drinking,” Eladra said. “And I know people drink just to have fun but when does it become a problem? It’s a hard line.”