Vanessa J. Leite, PhD., passed away on April 7, 2023, after a short, yet courageous, battle with cancer. She was surrounded by her loved ones throughout her battle and at her passing. Her strength and grace during her cancer fight was profound and she never once complained or felt sorry for herself.
Vanessa was born on May 16, 1978, to Armin and Elizabeth (Unruh) Klassen in Filadelfia, Paraguay. During her early years, you could always find her playing outside in the dirt with the dogs, playing with her friends, visiting at her grandparents’ house, getting treats from Oma, fixing something with Opa, or swimming in their pool (once we got all the frogs out of course). She had a wonderful childhood in Paraguay.
In 1983, Vanessa, her mom, and her sisters, Tanya and Olivia, moved to Newton, KS. After living there a short time, her mom met and married Alcione (Al) Leite in 1984. This union brought Vanessa a brother and a favorite playmate, Dustin Leite. In 1986, Al adopted all three of the girls, and we all became the Leite Family.
Throughout her life, Vanessa would make fast friends with anyone. Her sense of humor and shenanigans always made her someone that people gravitated towards. Her laugh was one of the BEST laughs ever and if you could get her laughing, it made you feel like you were on top of the world. The loss of her is felt deeply by hundreds of people, all who felt an intense connection to her.
Vanessa loved to play sports, especially soccer, and was always stronger and faster than most of the boys. In fact, there were times, as a child, that people thought she was a boy because of how she dressed and behaved. Some of her favorite things to do were to ride her banana seat bike around town, play kick the can, climb trees, beat her siblings in Super Mario, make forts, and go mess around down by Sand Creek and hope that we didn’t fall in. She also enjoyed watching scary movies while one of her sisters sat on the stairs as a lookout for her parents, so she could warn her if she needed to turn off the movie quickly. One year for Christmas, our brother put her present in a Barbie box, and Vanessa opened it and started crying. She DID NOT want a Barbie! Once she opened the box, she was relieved to see that it was actually an action figure.
Vanessa attended Newton Public School and graduated in 1996. After graduation, she attended Cowley County Community College for one year before transferring to Bethel College. She graduated from Bethel College in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and German, which had been her first language in Paraguay. While at Bethel, she studied abroad in Germany and Costa Rica and played forward on the women’s soccer team. She is still one of the top three goal scorers there with 103 goals scored.
Bethel is also where she met the love of her life, Matthew Westerman, and the group of women that she would call her best friends for 24+ years. She had an intense bond with these women, and they had many adventures and trips over the years. Most memorable were their float trips on the Elk River where she always made sure to give her “Vanessa glare” at the men trying to vye for their attention. She made sure to spend a couple of days with them when she would come home for the holidays.
After graduation from Bethel, Vanessa did voluntary service at the Richard M. Cohen AIDS hospice in San Francisco, CA; where she helped homeless men who were dying from AIDS. This experience really opened her heart to those in need, and she gave of her time and talents throughout her life. After working at the hospice, she moved back to Newton and worked at Prairie View Mental Health Hospital for several years.
In 2005, Vanessa moved to Kansas City where she became a certified personal trainer. During that time, she specialized in training women and helping them feel more confident inside and out. She also began competing in figure competitions and won several trophies. She spent many weekends traveling back to Newton or McPherson to love on and spoil her six nephews. Being Auntie Nessa was one of her titles that she was most proud of.
In 2011, Vanessa moved to Fresno, CA to attend Alliant University to study Forensic Psychology. She earned her doctorate in Forensic Psychology in 2016. She began her career with Coalinga State Hospital as an intern in 2015 and over the next 8 years, she would work her way up to Senior Psychologist Specialist in the Assessment Center.
In May 2018, she opened K & L Clinical Forensic Practice with her best friend and business partner, Tamar Kenworthy, PsyD., who had been her professor at Alliant University. In her practice, Vanessa was a mentor to doctoral students, and she was highly respected, both personally and professionally, by the various individuals that she worked with. She worked with local courts and attorneys conducting forensic evaluations and assessments of clients. She was extremely goal-oriented and always looked for ways to expand their practice.
In Fresno, Vanessa enjoyed hiking, watching movies and the Golden Girls, hanging out with friends at the local wineries, taking trips to the beach, and working out. She worked out at Title 29 Fitness where it was known that the men working out would peek over and see what she was lifting so that they could add just a little more weight to their bar!! Vanessa really enjoyed eating and was known to eat several plates of food and then ask if she could eat everyone else’s leftovers. Her favorite food was anything that her mom, Betty, would cook, especially Brazilian food. She loved spending time with her precious rescue dogs, Moose, Bear, and Zero and with her best friend, Tamar and her sons, Logan and Cole. Vanessa was a second mother to those boys and had a special bond with them.
She was preceded in death by her grandparents, Robert G. and Myrtle Unruh, fiancé, Matthew Westerman, a nephew, Gabriel Fetsch, and biological father, Armin Klassen.
She is survived by her parents, Alcione (Al) and Elizabeth (Betty) Leite, her sisters, Tanya Leite, Olivia Fetsch (Clay), Sophia Klassen (Bruno González), and Pia Klassen, and brother, Dustin Leite, as well as her step-mother, Bodil Klassen, brother-in-law, Jeremy Chalfant, and her nephews, Ayden, Sylas, Corbyn, and Zeke Chalfant; Owen and Dylan Fetsch; Bruno Gabriel González and nieces, Isabella Maldonado and Viktoria González. She is also survived by a host of family members and friends in Brazil, Paraguay, Germany and Austria as well as in the US.
Vanessa’s wishes were to have her ashes spread at her grandfather’s experimental farm in The Chaco, Paraguay. Her family and friends will travel there in 2024.
A Celebration of Life is planned for May 28, 2023, from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM at the CRU Winery in Madera, CA. A second Celebration of Life will be on June 4, 2023, from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM at Grace Hill Winery in Whitewater, KS.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to https://fresnobullyrescue.org/