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March 28, 2007

Former professor Sens dies after illness

Lee Anna Sens of Monroe, former University of Louisiana at Monroe professor and developer of the university's occupational therapy program, died Friday.

Sens, who helped the program gain accreditation and become the first certified program in the state, was 66. She died after a short illness.

Sens attended college at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., where she earned a bachelor's degree in voice and painting.

She went to graduate school at Texas Women's University, gaining master's degrees in occupational therapy and education.

Peggy Meredith, former student and then faculty member under Sens, said anyone who knew Sens would say the same things about her.

"She was quite a visionary," Meredith said. "She had a vision of on-campus clinics for training occupational therapy students, which just wasn't the norm then. She saw that as an instrument by which students could learn the best. She really believed in training by doing."

The impact of Sens' life goes beyond the occupational therapy program, though, Meredith said.

"She was very much a mentor," Meredith said. "She was a person who could be what you needed her to be at any point in time, and the sense to know what that was. She never made you have to ask."

If there was a need interfering with a student's ability to succeed, she'd try to help. It was common for Sens to help students not only emotionally, but financially as well, Meredith said.

In 1970, Sens was the youngest program director in the country to develop an accredited professional occupational therapy program, Meredith said.

Sens established the Mary Nell Sens fund as part of ULM's foundation to help students who needed a little assistance, Meredith said.

Friend and former student Danna Robertson said Sens was more than a teacher.

"She was the kind of person that wanted you to be happy and wanted you to do what you wanted to do," Robertson said. "She was multi-talented. People said she was equally as talented of a painter as Monet, but she never thought she could paint."

She wrote children's stories that were never published, Robertson said, and had a piece of pottery shown at the Dallas Museum of Art once. She even sang for the New Orleans Metropolitan Opera.

"She was just an amazing person; talking to her was always so easy," Robertson said. "I'd call and talk to her for two or three hours a day sometimes. Having a bad day? Call 'Mama Lee.' She gave so much to so many people. Some of the doctors in town wouldn't even be doctors if it weren't for her."

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