Posted by: George | June 2, 2010

Stories about Donna

June 2, 2010

On June 2, 2008, Donna, my wife, passed away. We had been married for twenty-three years.

For about eight years before her passing, Donna had been sick almost without respite. She had some periods of three or four weeks when she felt pretty well, but she also had periods where we had to take her to the Emergency Room two or three times a week.

In the early days after her death, as we were preparing for a memorial service, I put my laptop in the living room. All were invited to write some of their favorite memories of Donna. We read these stories at her service:

When Donna was being treated for Crohn’s Disease at the University of Chicago, she had to gain ten pounds before she was allowed to go home. She solved this problem by adding full Coke cans to the pockets of her robe. 

During the same stay at the University of Chicago hospital, she was not allowed to eat or drink anything for a full six months (sustained by IV nutrients), but she did what she could to make the situation fun.  Sometimes, this got her in trouble, as when she was caught riding her I.V. poll down the parking garage or playing with the mice in the testing laboratory.

Donna often helped others and she often invited these people who were having difficult times to live in our finished basement on Impala Court in Springfield. When the family talks about memories, we often hear questions like, “Who was that guy with the mustache who lived in our basement for about six months?”

Donna loved cell phones but hated cell phone companies.

Donna didn’t believe in fixing things when a new one could be bought.  I don’t know if she ever bought ink toner, but we do own seven printers.

Donna liked to buy cars and barter with salesmen. One day she left the house in a minivan to go fishing with her friend Carole at Table Rock Lake. When she returned, she had a cooler full of bass and a Chrysler convertible. When George drove to Branson the next day to sign papers, the salesmen had a nickname for Donna and Carole: they called them Thelma and Louise.

When it came to decorating, Donna followed the teachings of Chairman Mao. The Chairman believed in Never Ending Revolution. Donna believed in Never Ending Decorating.

Heraclitus says that a person can never step into the same river twice. The Jensen family never stepped into the same house twice.

Whenever life beat her down, Donna always had an answer and the answer was usually “Go Fishing.”  She often fished with Bob, her one-eyed Black Lab, who always protected her.  She dressed up Bob every Halloween.  One time she dressed him up as a cheerleader with purple socks on his paws, a school letterman jacket, and a bandana over his bad eye.  He got more candy than he could finish by himself.

Donna liked to fish so much that she earned her Captain’s license and became a fishing guide on Table Rock Lake. This bothered many of the good ole boy guides who could not pass the test.

When we were living in Springfield, Missouri, Donna once saved a dog that was too ugly for even a Dr. Seuss book. She flew it to a new owner in Atlanta, telling the handlers that it was a movie star dog.  Reportedly, the new owner felt the dog did not look exactly as Donna had described it over the phone. The lady gave the ugly dog a home, but she never took it out in public.

On another occasion she saved a dog from the pound and then convinced a woman working at the Drive Thru at Dairy Queen that she should adopt it.  As the woman passed Donna her milkshake, Donna paid for the milkshake and passed her the dog. The transaction was complete.

George often came home to find new animals in the house. With some grace, he handled the new dogs, turtles, electric eels, flying squirrels, and birds. He didn’t particularly like the bathtub full of bull frogs. He was a little chagrinned at the horse tied to the tree in the front yard. He totally lost it when he saw the goat in the backyard with tennis balls covering his horns incase he tried to take a jab at Bob’s good eye.  Donna gave the goat a name (Kirby) and drove it to a boys’ home in Oklahoma. The next year, Kirby won first place at the state fair.

Donna knew when to keep things simple.  One time when she was working as a counselor, supervising residents in a mental health facility, she walked onto a scene where a woman was threatening to jump off a bridge.  As others grew frustrated in their attempts to explain that suicide was never the answer to existential woes, Donna convinced them that she should resolve the crisis.  Within a few minutes, she got the patient down from a bridge by promising to buy her a pet mouse.

Donna also knew when the obvious solution wouldn’t work.  At one point in time, when more than a few of the neighborhood kids were having family problems, she went out and bought pairs of rollerblades, batons, and cowboy hats, and led a parade with the kids.  By the time the parade was over, many of the parents had joined in. Things were better for a while.  This was just one instance of her caring for all the neighborhood children as if they were her own kids.

Donna knew that the best way to make friends with the mail-lady was to put a can of sprite and a pack of gummy worms in the mailbox every day for a month.

Once Donna was shopping with a friend and she saw a lady looking at some expensive pottery. Donna began to talk to the lady, who said she really liked the pottery but couldn’t afford it. Donna bought it for her.  The family budget was tight for a few months after that.

Donna hired Laura, a young college student, to clean our house in Missouri. While George was at work, Donna talked Laura into going fishing. How did the house get cleaned? Donna called Merry Maids to do that. By the way, Laura ended up living in our basement for a few years.

Donna was not necessarily an early riser.  Whenever George was away at conferences, she made Jay and Jeff sleep in their shoes and put pop tarts in the minivan before they went to sleep. This gave everyone a few more minutes of sleep before leaving for school.

On Wednesday nights, George couldn’t cook because he had to teach night classes.  Donna solved this problem by instituting chicken night. Everyone in the house, even the people in the basement, got their own Cornish hen.  Jay and Jeff never wore their good clothes on Wednesday because chicken night usually erupted into a food fight.  When we sold our house some years later, we tried to convince the buyers that those weren’t actually food stains on the wallpaper.

In the last few months, when her sickness got really bad, she would make trips to the ICU fun by having her visitors hang up empty double-bubble and skittles wrappers on the wall for decorations.  If you wanted to go see her, you would also probably have to wear her heart rate monitor for a few hours.

In the past year or so, one of Donna’s favorite hobbies was vacuuming the dog.  She would keep the vacuum by the bed and flip it on every time there was a commercial break.  Donna also bought her current dog (Mona) a pair of dog-goggles, or doggles, and let Mona look out the sunroof while she was driving around.

Many people have owned scooters before; fewer have owned scooters with plastic milk crates on the back; and yet fewer have driven these scooters on the highway with a Yorkshire terrier in that basket.

If Donna liked you, you knew it.  And if she didn’t, well, there wasn’t really anyone she didn’t like.  For her, there was no such thing as a stranger and no one who didn’t deserve love.  She had a special gift for realizing the potential in people before they were able to see it in themselves.



  1. I’m sorry to say I don’t know George and I didn’t know Donna but reading all of these entries made me feel like I do. These stories made me laugh and cry. She sounded like she really lived… such an example and inspiration for me. I am so sorry for your loss. But, I am so thankful I took the time to read about her here. From what I read she was a very neat and incredible lady. Thank you for opening your memories and sharing them. May God continue to embrace you all.


    • Thanks so much for your comment.


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