In memoriam: Ava Preacher, professional specialist emeritus and A&L assistant dean

Author: Josh Weinhold

Ava Preacher
Ava Preacher

Ava Preacher, a professional specialist emeritus who served for 25 years as an assistant dean in the College of Arts and Letters, died Wednesday, July 14, at her residence. She was 67.

Preacher first came to Notre Dame in 1985, teaching in what was then the Department of Communication and Theater for six years, then serving as director of the Gender Studies Program for three years. From 1993 until her retirement in 2018, she served in the College of Arts and Letters’ Office for Undergraduate Studies as an assistant dean, advising hundreds of undergraduates every year, including students from across campus who were pursuing law school.

“I can’t think of anyone who has had a direct and positive impact on the lives of more undergraduates than Ava did,” said Nicholas Russo, an assistant dean and director of advising in the Office for Undergraduate Studies. “As one of our colleagues noted, Ava couldn’t go anywhere without a former student recognizing her and stopping to thank her for her advice, guidance, and care during their time at Notre Dame.” 

Born in Washington, D.C., Preacher grew up in Iowa, graduating valedictorian from St. Katharine's School in Davenport. She spent a year at Vassar College before earning her bachelor’s degree at the University of Iowa. She studied for a year in Paris at the Centres des Etudes Cinematographiques, and obtained her master’s degree in comparative literature, also at Iowa. She taught there and at Wayne State University before joining the Notre Dame faculty.

Preacher was the recipient of numerous campus and outside awards throughout her career, including the Notre Dame Presidential Award, the Kaneb Center Teaching Award, the Dockweiler Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising, and the American Mock Trial Association’s Congressman Neil Smith Award for outstanding and exemplary contributions to law-related education.

“Ava is one of those amazing individuals who always leaves you feeling optimistic and excited for the future,” one of her advisees, accountancy major Andrea Kochert, said of Preacher in 2010. “She helped me with the entire law-school application process — studying for the LSAT, dealing with my score, writing my personal statement, and, most importantly, choosing the school that best fit me. Words do not do justice to the high regard that I hold for Ava.”

In addition to her published scholarly work, Preacher was a frequent contributor to and coordinator of national and regional pre-law advisors events, a Notre Dame Academic Council member, Faculty Senate member, Gender Studies Executive Committee member, and Truman Scholarship interview committee member. 

“Ava had tremendous influence on the advising of undergraduates in the College. She possessed a wealth of knowledge about the College, which was greatly appreciated by everyone who worked with her,” said JoAnn DellaNeva, a professor of Romance languages and literature who served as associate dean for undergraduate studies from 2010 to 2017. “She was a warm and intelligent advisor who cared passionately about the welfare of her students, and they, in turn, did not fail to profess their admiration and affection for her.” 

Preacher is survived by her wife, Coleen Hoover; daughters, Nell (Max Tolomei) and Ava Collins; stepsons, Nathan (Laura) and Dane Hoover; grandson, Dashiell Collins; step-grandchildren, Lydia, Steven, and Samantha Hoover; siblings, Mary Ann Beck (David) and Robert Preacher (Joy); and numerous nephews.

At her request, there will be no funeral or memorial service. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Planned Parenthood, the Food Bank of Northern Indiana, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Heart to Heart Hospice. To send private condolences to the family, visit

“Ava was such a generous, kind person who always had time for anyone – students or colleagues – in need of comfort, understanding, and direction,” said Stuart Greene, an associate professor emeritus of English and Africana studies who was associate dean for undergraduate studies from 2005 to 2010. “I know I am a better person having known her.”