Life Story / Obituary
The plains, canyons, wheat and blue sky of Western Nebraska formed the background of her life. But, family was the firm foundation and meaning for a wonderful life that spanned 89 years. She would want us to celebrate that life, not mourn. Near the end, prayers for love, strength and caring let her visibly relax and move to the presence of God.
Henry Otto Dicke and Margaret Ida Dicke celebrated the birth of their second daughter on June 15, 1926 in their farm house 17, miles northwest of Stratton, Nebraska. She was delivered by Dr. Carlson from Wauneta. Her siblings were Doris, Letha, Leonard, Marjorie and Henry.
Farm life, during the depression, filled her young life with hard work and responsibility for younger siblings. Days began at 5:30 AM. For a daughter, chores included house cleaning, making beds, packing lunches for school and gardening. She helped dress out chickens; but couldn’t stand seeing heads chopped off. Her brother, Leonard, loved walking with her to the pasture, to gather the cows for evening milking. He laughs and says, “She wasn’t much help with the actual milking and usually disappeared”. She preferred to work in the house. After evening chores, the entire family came together for the evening meal; then popping corn, checkers and caroms.
Donna attended country school through the eighth grade. Doris, Donna, Letha and Leonard walked to country school 1&1/2 miles south and 1 mile east of their home. After school, they stopped at their Dicke grandparents farm house to warm up and for sugar cookies. On extremely cold and snowy days, their father, Henry,would hitch horses to a wagon and take his children to school. Brother Leonard had a favorite memory of a school party when he and Donna dressed alike in dresses. No one could tell them apart.
Not all of Donna’s memories of the walk home were quite so good. During the Dust Bowl ,she frequently had to walk home with rags tied across her nose and mouth to be able to breath. On one occasion she nearly lost her life. Seeing a dust storm coming, she decided to cut across the neighbor’s pasture, something she was never to do, to get home quicker. Unfortunately, the storm hit before she was home. Terrified and blinded by the storm she felt her best chance was to try and get back to the road from which she had come. She stopped, turned where she stood 180 degrees and started out blindly. Eventually, she reached the road where she took shelter in the ditch. Hearing a car, she stood and started waving her arms. The car stopped and it was her father who had borrowed his parent’s car to come look for her.
Donna received her eighth grade diploma from Dundy County on May 19, 1934. She began her freshman year of high school at Stratton High School in the fall of 1939. She boarded in Stratton with several other girls in order to attend school. It was simply too far to travel on a daily basis from the farm. During her freshman year, Donna met Alice Rife and Leta Clark. They became life long friends and felt of themselves as the “Three Musketeers”. Alice remembered they all participated in school activities. Donna was a drummer in the band and sang in mixed chorus. She was a member of the Dramatics Club, Girl Reserves, PEP Club and Future Teachers of America. Alice remembers Donna giving an amazing speech, “Mary Queen of Scots”, for which she won first prize in the county dramatics contest. During her junior year, Donna, Letha and Leonard shared a house in Stratton. (The twins were freshman.) It was a family affair with all the Dickes active in school. Donna was president of the junior class. Leonard was on the basketball team and a member of FFA. Letha was a member of mixed chorus, Girl Reserves and the Dramatics Club. In 1942, Henry and Margaret moved to the farm just west of Stratton. All of the Dicke family was reunited in that farmhouse. Donna graduated, from high school, with honors in May of 1943.
After graduation from high school, she moved to McCook to attend McCook Junior College. McCook would be the city where she would ultimately meet her husband and raise her young children. During the 2 years that she attended McCook Junior College, she supported herself as a telephone operator. She enjoyed telling friends and family of her qualifications for that job. “I was tall, had long arms and could reach all the plug ins.” Receiving her teaching degree in 1945, she returned to live on the farm west of Stratton and taught in a country school south of Trenton.
In 1950, Donna met Byron A. Warlick at a gathering, in McCook, for single men working for the Department of Roads. Donna went with a friend. She remembered Barney being “a little rough around the edges” and that she was “a little snotty” with him. Barney told her she would have to be nicer for him to spend time with her. Their love story would span almost 65 years until Byron passed away in July of 2014. They were married on February 11,1951 at the Methodist Church in Stratton, Nebraska. They both recalled the minister showing up an hour late and younger brothers turning their car “sideways” in the garage.
They raised two sons, Michael Allen and Dan Patrick in McCook and later in Lincoln, Nebraska. While living in McCook, Donna was a 4th grade teacher at West Ward. She was involved and committed to Eastern Star, serving as Worthy Matron in 1962. The Warlick family moved to Lincoln in 1966, when Barney received a promotion within the Department of Roads. Part of the decision for the move was Donna’s wish that her sons be able to afford and attend college in Lincoln. Donna enjoyed a long career in sales at Sears. She was deeply committed to Christ Methodist Church and service throughout her life in Lincoln. As her family knows, Donna was a “night owl”. In quiet moments late at night, she loved to read, do the crossword and adjust the thermostat.
Donna had a deep love of family that sustained her until the end. Her sons are so grateful for her love, intellect and commitment to their education. She was blessed with two wonderful daughters-in-law, Peggy and Ramona, and subsequently four grandsons, Zachary, Joshua, Sean and Ian. Her parents, brothers and sisters were always in her heart. The doors of her home were always open to nieces and nephews, many living in her home for periods of time. Nothing made her happier than helping family and returning to western Nebraska for visits. Donna remained close to childhood friends Alice (Rife) Wiedrich and Leta (Clark) Bell. Later in life, these friends and their husbands met and vacationed together in Arizona and California.
Donna and Barney moved to Fort Dodge, Iowa in 2008, near Dan and Ramona. Later, in 2012, they moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, near Mike and Peggy. She enjoyed being near her children, but Nebraska was always, always her home.
Donna passed away quietly at Rose Arbor Hospice Facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan on July 19, 2015. She was preceded in death by Barney, her parents and three sisters. She is survived by two sons, Michael (Peggy) and Dan (Ramona) and 4 grandsons Zachary, Joshua, Sean and Ian.
Her children plan a memorial service and burial for Donna and Barney in 2016, when family and friends can gather. We hope that a part of their ashes can be scattered in Western Nebraska, on the land she so loved.