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The late Dr. Larissa Minicucci leaves a legacy with animals, tribes and beyond

Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Outdoors

Chronic wasting disease would seem a far cry from a love potion, but that night while quaffing beer, Lou Cornicelli thought he might finally have found something useful about the deer-killing affliction whose acronym, CWD, had shadowed him like a ghoul since it was first discovered in Minnesota two years earlier.

The date was Oct. 23, 2003, and Cornicelli, then the Department of Natural Resources big game program leader, had finished a CWD presentation to University of Minnesota veterinary staff and students an hour or two earlier, detailing for them the always-fatal neurological disorder that strikes moose and elk, in addition to deer.

Now Cornicelli and a handful of professors were chit-chatting while hoisting brews at a watering hole not far from the U's St. Paul campus.

The suds were cold and the conversation good. But neither held Cornicelli's attention like the diminutive, dark-haired woman at the table whose smile and laughter quickened his pulse and who was, as he was, unmistakably Italian.

Minicucci was her name. Larissa Minicucci.

"I loved her from the start," Cornicelli, 53, said the other day. "She was the smartest person I've known."

 

Cornicelli was speaking in the past tense because Minicucci, who became his wife at a celebratory pig roast in 2006, died Nov. 16 at age 45 of metastatic colon cancer.

An associate professor at the U who held a master's degree in public health as well as a veterinary degree, Minicucci left behind a trail of grief that wound from her hometown in Connecticut through Penn State and Cornell universities, where she studied, to the Twin Cities and farther north still, to tribal homes at Mille Lacs, Leech Lake and White Earth.

En route, she was valedictorian of her high school class, homecoming queen at Penn State, a researcher at the U and at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a lifeline to the disadvantaged, a teacher extraordinaire, an over-the-top football and baseball fan, a paddler, hunter, angler, hiker ...

And an animal lover.

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