Donna died peacefully Sunday, January 28 at Friendship Village Health Center in Kalamazoo, at the age of 88. She was born March 7, 1935 in Aurora, IL to Adolph and Margaret (Gehrt) Memhardt. She and her parents moved to Davenport, IA and later Ferndale, MI. She graduated in 1957 from Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) in Ypsilanti, where she studied special education. She earned two master's degrees and had a fulfilling lifetime career as a teacher of the hearing impaired with Kalamazoo Public Schools.
Donna was married to David Grath in 1957, and later divorced. Their children Carson (Kirk) Leftwich, Adam Grath (Anne Thompson), and Maiya Grath (Andrew Rose) mourn her passing deeply. She also leaves behind her beloved grandchildren David (Lyric) Leftwich, Chelsea Leftwich, Lexi Grath Willits, and Jackson Grath Willits; and great-grandchildren August and Henry Leftwich.
Donna had a rich and joyful social life with multitudes of friends throughout her life, including her bridge groups, her decades-long book club (before book club was a thing), tennis partners, fellow teachers, the "Table 1" gang at Sarkozy Bakery, and friends and neighbors of all ages who gathered often in her comfortable house on historic West Main Hill, and later her beautiful apartment in downtown Kalamazoo.
An avid swimmer, she adored Lake Michigan. Farther afield, she was an adventurous traveler: Exploring nearly every part of the U.S., with a special fondness for New York City; walking trips across England; white water rafting in Alaska; African safari in Kenya; sailing the Norwegian fjords; traveling to the former U.S.S.R. when it first opened to Americans; and visiting Costa Rica, Panama, and Curacao, some of her most recent travels. She experienced a significant stroke while trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal when she turned 60, which reduced her mobility in later years but did not dim her enthusiasms. She simply turned up the volume on her lifelong passion for fabric and needlework, especially quilting. In 2016 she completed her version of the legendary Civil War-era "Dear Jane" quilt of 5,602 pieces, an epic lifetime achievement.
Donna believed deeply in being of service to the community. She was a stalwart advocate and volunteer for organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the USTA Boys' Nationals tennis tournament, the Gilmore Piano Festival, Ministry With Community, the Kalamazoo County Democratic Party, and Friends of the Kalamazoo Public Library, just to name a few.
She was a long-time member of People's Church Unitarian Universalist Congregation. A memorial service will be held there (758 10th St N, Kalamazoo) on Thursday, March 7. Visitation with the family will begin at 5:00 p.m. with the memorial service following at 6:00 p.m. If you're so inclined, we invite you to join us in wearing blue, her favorite color. Memorial contributions may be directed to Ministry With Community, a daytime shelter and resource center in Kalamazoo.