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Remembering Donna Jean Walker-Haerich


Let us celebrate the life of a warm, wise, wonderful woman whom our community lost this last week. Donna Jean Walker-Haerich passed peacefully to her rest on February 9, after a long and gallant battle with breast cancer. For many years Donna has been a member of the Spectrum family and wrote a popular column here. 

Donna grew up in Graysville, Tennessee, part of a very close-knit family. She was a graduate of Forest Lake Academy and Southern Adventist University (history major). She made her career as a social worker and, when her children were older, continued this work for the Florida Department of Corrections, until her retirement in 2006. She was a woman of great intellect and mental curiosity, and her interests led her beyond career and family, to begin graduate work at the Adventist Theological Seminary as the first woman to study theology there, back in the 70s. She completed her work and graduated with a Master’s degree following her retirement, although her cancer had just been diagnosed. Then she went on to revel in her encore career as professor of religion at Adventist University of Health Sciences in Orlando, Florida. Her passion for teaching and learning was an inspiration to her students and all those she met.

Donna loved to write and lecture; She was a featured author in two books. Her special love was writing poetry and prayers. She was a great champion of women’s rights, enjoyed attending the symphony, and in her later years took up the hobby of painting. She was an ordained elder in Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church as well as in the Episcopal Church. She had a great heart for young people; carrying on what she called a “foyer ministry” where she would talk to anyone who looked lost, alone, or sad, and especially with the teenagers who hung out there instead of going into church. One of her favorite sayings was “People are more important than things.” Her husband called her his “Sparkles.”

I first met Donna through Spectrum, through her comments and columns, as I have many of you. I was attracted by her humor and dry wit. And apparently Donna saw something of a soulmate in Elaine Nelson and me, because one day we both got an email inviting us to join a little secret society of three! We would call ourselves crones (which she assured us meant “wise elder women”) and share our life experiences with younger women who would appreciate our strength. It was fun, and we got acquainted with a number of wonderful young women whom we saw could change the world, including Donna’s daughter Nikke.  It was a special experience for me, who never had a daughter! 

Donna never mentioned her illness, at least to me; I learned about it from Nikke. And her illness never held her back from any of her goals. We actually met face-to-face at the 2010 General Conference Session in Atlanta. She was one of the attendants at the Spectrum booth. She had alerted me ahead of time about a “wicked” little plan she had conceived to respond to the announcement that women’s ordination would “negatively impact” a majority of the church’s world divisions. So one day we, along with another friend, walked from the exhibit hall over to the auditorium and up to the first level of the balcony, where we quietly sat in the first row until a signal from Donna. Then we stood and unfurled a banner she had made, proclaiming, “The greatest want of the world is the want of men who still stand for right and equality in Adventist ministry, even if negatively impacted.” I think Ellen would have approved! We stood there until Vice President Geoffrey Mbwana came over and asked us to take it down. He met us outside the balcony and we had a long, thoughtful, and hopefully profitable conversation with him about the differences in our cultures. Donna told him about marching for civil rights in the 50s, so that he could feel like an equal in America. Donna’s friend, whose name eludes me, told about her lifelong desire and calling to the ministry which had been denied her, and a few tears attested to her distress. Donna, bless her heart, adeptly said, “Let’s pray,” and launched into a prayer for Elder Mbwana and all the other church leaders as they struggled to do the right thing.

Donna was the beloved wife of Dr. Fredric D Haerich, the devoted mother of Dr. Paul Haerich and Nikke Haerich-Yarbrough and loving grandmother to Nikke’s sons, Brennon and Scott. She had promised the boys a world tour, but when it appeared she hadn’t much longer to live, they wanted to cancel it. In her infinite wisdom, she exclaimed,“Why?  GO LIVE!” She instructed them to dance and sing in a mosque, temple and cathedral, to absorb everything they could in the Muslim, Jewish and Christian cities they would visit. It has been the trip of a lifetime and their Facebook posts and skypes have brought joy and smiles in the midst of sorrow. There will be good memories at this time of year, too! As Nikke says, “They took this trip for ‘such a time as this,’ as it says in Esther.” What a gift!

A memorial service will be held at Forest Lake Church on Friday, February 21, at 4:00 pm. Donna was only 72 when she died (the youngest of the three crones) but the world is a better place for the life she lived. Let us remember her with thankfulness.

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