Catching up with a millennial baby with a peaceful name: Serenity now
Serenity Nicole Lauderbaugh was the first baby of the new millennium born at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, arriving at two hours and 17 minutes after midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, and weighing only two pounds, 15 ounces. She was nine weeks early.
Among the gifts pledged in the hoopla was a full, four-year scholarship to Mitchell College in New London. As then college president Mary Ellen Jukoski said, the scholarship “not only celebrates the birth of a new child on the first day of the new millennium,” but also the new four-year liberal studies program at the college.
By the calendar, Serenity, now 18, would have entered her first year at Mitchell this fall. But the world, in its most convulsive, tragic and ultimately heartening way, intervened.
Serenity was the child of a Navy couple, Jeffrey and Tammy Sutherland Lauderbaugh, who had come north to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton from Georgia, where Jeffrey was stationed near Tammy’s home, St. Marys, at the Trident submarine base in King’s Bay. The couple, who separated shortly before Tammy went into labor with Serenity, had two other children together, and Tammy had three children by two other men.
The publicity attending Serenity’s birth was not a blessing to Tammy, then 25. Within days of the birth, New London police charged her with second-degree failure to appear in court and a couple of driving infractions. It was not the first time she’d been arrested here. Drug dependency was much of her life story.
When Serenity, a name that never quite fit the disquiet surrounding her birth, was healthy enough to leave the hospital’s neonatal care, she was in the company of two of Jeffrey Lauderbaugh’s sisters, who had driven to New London from their home in Minnesota, in a town renowned as the birthplace of Paul Bunyan called Bemidji. The baby, as with the couple’s two older children, would be raised by Jeffrey’s parents, Gail and Larry Lauderbaugh, both then in their 60s. Serenity would be known as Nikki.
That spring, Tammy Lauderbaugh returned to Georgia, where she went to work at the Guest House Inn in St. Marys, and where, in November 2000, she was murdered.
She was found strangled in her apartment. An ex-convict, who’d confessed to killing one woman in Florida and implicated in the drug overdose death of another, was charged with murdering Tammy Lauderbaugh. He told police they had been smoking crack cocaine before the slaying.
Nikki Lauderbaugh has lived with her paternal grandparents in Bemidji, also known as “the first city on the Mississippi,” since leaving New London as an infant. This fall she enrolled as a first-year student at Bemidji State University, with a total student body of about 5,100 on the shores of Lake Bemidji. She is a part-time student this semester, and will be full-time in the spring.
The scholarship offer from Mitchell College turned out to be for tuition only. The Lauderbaughs had inquired about exercising the college’s pledge, but found that the full cost of a year in New London would be prohibitive. Tuition at Mitchell is 13,500 with another 18,000 a year, including tuition ($7,700), room and board and fees.
Nikki lives at home and works two jobs — for a wild rice company and at J.C. Penney’s — to help with her education. Her father is out of the picture. Gail Lauderbaugh, who worked as a receptionist at a medical clinic, said she has not heard from her son.
“I could have liked Tammy,” she said back in 2002. ”… She wanted to be a good mom. She just didn’t know how. She wasn’t capable. Her family history was bad, and she was on the stuff.”
She said the same the other day, when we spoke by phone. She also told me Nikki earned A’s in high school, remains active in the Evangelical Free Church of Bemidji and though only a first-year student has talked about pursuing a degree in criminal justice.
When I first wrote about Nikki and her mother and their fate, the story ended ”… a newborn for the ages and a story of sorrow that this child, through the strength and goodness of her grandparents, has been able to survive.”
And Nikki, with whom I spoke on Tuesday, told me she’s starting to go by Serenity again.
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Day. He may be reached at: email@example.com.