Roots: The youngest of three children, Sonnenberg grew up in Colorado Springs playing football, baseball and basketball at a high school of nearly 3,000 students. His Nazarene upbringing brought him to Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, where he received his B.A. in biology before getting his Masters at Boise State in Medical Technology. He thought about medical school, but a new marriage and something like destiny turned him down a different path. He became a registered medical technologist with the American Society of Clinical Pathology and worked for the lab at St. Al's. When one of the chief pathologists had a stroke, Sonnenberg began assisting her, and the connections that grew from this work eventually led him to the Ada County Coroner's Office.
Claim to Fame: In 1979, Sonnenberg was elected chief deputy coroner, the second highest position in the Coroner's Office. Six years later he was promoted to Coroner, a position he has held for 20 years and is still passionate and compassionate about. He and his small staff are responsible for determining the manner and cause of a person's death (in Ada and the surrounding counties) and making it official. They deal with suicides, homicides, accidents, natural causes and those mysterious cases that defy concrete answers, even with the aid of forensic autopsies. It is rewarding work, but Sonnenberg admits it is also one of the toughest jobs out there. "The job itself is challenging and interesting, but it's also depressing," he said. "The satisfaction is in helping families get through this tragic time. We find the facts and give them the facts so they can deal with it and get through the grieving-learn how to get on with life. I'm in no way a counselor, but I listen, and sometimes it helps people just to talk."
Goals: Sonnenberg has been instrumental in making coroner's inquests over the years and hopes to develop more of a working relationship between the people and the system. These inquests give citizens the opportunity to sit on juries that review the facts of controversial cases (like police shootings) that would otherwise be classified. "It involves the public and lets them ask the questions they need to ask," said Sonnenberg.
Heroes: "My parents are my heroes. They never went to college, but all three of their children have degrees, and after having kids of my own, I see what they sacrificed and went through for us."
Fave Foods: "Good" lasagna, "good" steak, Grandma's chocolate cake and "good" apple pie.
Fun Facts: Sonnenberg is a practical joker (just ask the District 3 Idaho Association of Counties about the donut incident). He enjoys gardening, watching his three girls grow up and keeping a sense of humor in all things.
Future Plans: A vague mixture of golf and anything outdoors.
Parting Shot(s): "You have to be able to laugh at yourself," and "God works in mysterious ways."