Donna Sheffield died Jan. 13

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Donna Lou Sheffield, formerly of Rockbridge County, died unexpectedly on Jan. 13, 2018, in Chicago, her recent home.

A resident of Rockbridge from 1994 to 2013, Donna was known by many as “The Flower Lady,” owing to her passion for creating beautiful one-of-a-kind cards from pressed wildflowers, cicada wings, and even the occasional snakeskin. Donna also loved all kinds of people and their life stories.

Donna’s own story began on Jan. 23, 1931, in Lakewood, Ohio, with her birth as the third of four children to Florence and Vernon Harris.  Tragically, Donna’s happy childhood was cut short by a car accident that took the lives of both her father and sister in 1938.  Also injured, Donna and remaining family members moved to Michigan to live near grandparents. In midst of this adversity, Donna still blossomed into a vivacious and creative young woman, graduating from Adrian High School as valedictorian. She put herself through Eastern Michigan University, earning a B.S. in occupational therapy in 1953. Her first jobs included working in tuberculosis sanatoriums and mental hospitals.

At age 28, Donna travelled by freighter to Europe for months of hiking and adventure with a friend.  Soon thereafter, she married a high school classmate, moved to San Diego, and became mother of two sons, Eric and Dan. A life-long advocate for equal rights, Donna worked for racial justice and housing accessibility while also raising her toddlers. In 1967, she and her children moved to Seattle following a divorce, then to the wheat fields of eastern Washington. After a brief second marriage, she returned with her sons to Adrian, Michigan, in 1974.

Donna faced challenging times as a single mother. Nevertheless, she always made sure her sons had what they needed to thrive: courage to be just and honorable people; capacity for creativity and self-reliance; enthusiasm for nature and adventure; plus practical knowledge of and respect for power tools. 

Living in Adrian for the next 20 years, Donna realized two of her greatest achievements. Most important to her, both sons graduated from college and became fine men, husbands, and fathers.  As an award-winning counselor with Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Donna also improved the lives of more than 200 people with disabilities by helping them develop home-bound crafts and micro-industries. Despite her own mobility challenges, Donna made a trip to Africa in 1987 to visit son Eric in the Peace Corps, arriving at a Kenyan airport with a wheelchair to donate and camping gear for a two-week safari.

Donna moved to Rockbridge in 1994 to be closer to her first grandchild. She actively volunteered for Hospice, RATS, and belonged to many groups. She also introduced her passion for flower pressing to many otherwise unsuspecting and kind-hearted people from all walks of life. Despite chronic pain, Donna sought and found beauty everywhere: in children, in the vulnerable and marginalized, and in the buttercup. Advancing years eventually led Donna to Chicago and while she successfully navigated several rabble-rousing years in a retirement high-rise, living close to son Dan and his family brought her the greatest joy.

Donna is survived by her sons Eric (Elise) of Rockbridge County, and Dan (Mary) of Chicago, by her beloved grandchildren Silvia, Scott, Laurel, and Molly, by her brother Clifford Harris, sister-in-law Beverly Cooney, and by several nieces, nephews, cousins, and dear friends.

She is preceded in death by her parents, sister Hilma, brother Victor, and stepfather (and uncle) Clyde Harris.

The family will celebrate the gift of Donna’s life with a graveside memorial in Adrian, Mich., later this spring. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor her memory are invited to make a gift to a local charity of their choice. Friends are also invited to share remembrances of Donna at RememberingDonna@BlueRidgeBlossoms.com.

“Now the swinging bridge/ is quieted with creepers/ like our tendrilled life.” – Matsuo Basho

 

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