Donna Ann Stewart
22 February , 1931 – 27 October , 2019
Donna Ann [Kinzel] Stewart, known to her family as Mom, Nana and Yady, passed away on 27 October 2019 in Houston, Texas at the age of 88. Donna’s passing in Houston was a world away from her simple beginnings in what was then small town, rural east Indianapolis, Indiana.
Her life’s course certainly veered at the young age of two when her 24 year old mother, Mildred, died. She and her older sister, Nell were thus raised by her maternal grandparents, Grandpa (William) and Grandma (Mary) Kleine, after her father, George, was overwhelmed at the concept of raising two young girls. Donna learned at an early age that there are risks to growing up on a farm run by people who came of age during the Victorian Era. Playing with and naming the chickens posed inherent problems for her given they could end up on the dinner plate one day. This and other realities of a rural existence formed a rebellious streak in her that mystified her entire family, particularly her grandfather. While Grandpa Kleine truly loved her, there are stories that have reached the heights of myth of him chasing young Donna around the dining room table with a switch and predicting that she would end up in reform school. Fortunately, he rarely caught her and she was an extremely intelligent student. She glimpsed the freedom she sought after graduating high school. Donna began college studies at Indianapolis’ Butler University, 16 miles away but quickly realized this was not going to suffice. She found that the University of Cincinnati, in a big city and 104 miles away (!), would make a more appropriate start. And she would finally explore the world through her love of fashion design. It was there that she met her husband Dan after he spied her sitting under a tree studying. Given her inherent shyness, it took many attempts for Dan to convince her to go out with him. Her world expanded exponentially after dating Dan because he was from NEW YORK. OK, he was from New Jersey but went to school in NEW YORK. What the exceedingly well-managed Dan didn’t realize about Donna was that she worked best under pressure, always doing her finest work at the very last minute. Though he was in architecture school, a curriculum notorious for requiring late nights, he would end up pulling his only all-nighters helping Donna complete her project boards. She knew she had found her man. They were married after graduating in 1954 and moved to Boston, Massachusetts so Dan could complete his Masters degree at MIT. Donna stayed in fashion working at Filenes department store to help make ends meet and further developed an appreciation for art, art history and museums.
The move to Boston proved to be the first of many in their lives together. They lived in Rome for two years after Dan won the Rome Prize in Architecture, traveling to Europe the least expensive way they could find, on an old freighter … and through a hurricane, of course. They were on a shoestring budget so they bought a BMW motorcycle for touring during breaks both long and short. They developed an appreciation for the good and bad sides of weather, steep mountain inclines, oil patches, dirt, animal herds, manure and wind burn. Grandma Kleine was none too pleased when she heard how her grand-daughter was living and offered to buy them a car. They relented toward the end of their stay in Rome, purchasing a Karmann Ghia and cementing the notion that Donna could never return to the farm. Donna and Dan moved to Michigan when he worked for Eero Sarrinen and it was there that they had their first daughter, Britten. They then moved to Houston, Texas where they had their son, Joslin before moving to Santiago, Chile where daughter, Arin, joined the scene. They traveled extensively together but Dan traveled even more by himself for work. It was during this time that Donna’s role as CHO (Chief Home Officer) was firmly established. As with everything else she did, Donna added her creative approach to this role and found a way to bring in her fashion sense to everything whether it was to repurpose wood crates as avant-garde coffee tables, fabricate her own couch cushion covers, sew the kids clothing and Halloween costumes or help her kids with custom drapes. She also saw other possibilities for every-day items, creating wall mounted sconces made of salad bowls and shelf angles for her son when he was just setting out on his own. Donna was always conscious of cost and discovered her favorite four-letter word was S-A-L-E. She learned to stretch the family income by buying clothes two sizes too large for her rapidly growing kids. That could create consternation for Joslin as he tripped over his clown shoes and rolled up jeans (of the less expensive, non-cool variety) and for Arin because she had a wardrobe made entirely of hand me downs. Dan, as well as the kids (and dogs) had home haircuts. Donna excelled at these, though we were never quite sure whether she used a different set of clippers on the poodles. Of course, it was only after we stopped getting haircuts at home that she got a dog that didn’t require trimming.
Donna and Dan traveled extensively during their 59 year marriage and, though they didn’t let having kids slow them down much, their travel experiences increased exponentially after the children left the roost. The kids also benefited greatly from their parent’s wanderlust, going on trips throughout South America, Mexico and Europe when still young. There were also numerous road trips to see Donna’s family in Indianapolis and to Boise, Idaho to visit Arin later in life. It is thought that they hold the world record for the number of routes they discovered one could take to get to Boise, Idaho from Houston, Texas in pre-GPS days.
One of Donna’s most enduring (and frustrating) attributes was that she would not give up on anything or anyone. If she was told something couldn’t be done, she found a way to do it. Her stubborn streak would not allow her give up on her children or husband or friends, nor furniture, old mail, grocery bags and pieces of scrap fabrics. Everything had a second life and she was an upcycler long before it was fashionable. Donna would also not abandon any project she set her sights on though some took years to complete and others never quite made it that far. She had the best of intentions when it came to fixing broken furniture or lamps, even when others found them beyond repair. To Donna everything and everyone was redeemable and thus deserved a second chance. After Dan passed away in 2013, she saved a little dog named Tater from the SPCA and her family will attest to the fact that this little dog, in turn, saved her, adding many years and much joy to her life.
It is fair to say that it was her stubborn streak that carried Donna through two difficult bouts of breast cancer (beginning in 1984!). But she did it with such panache that one would have thought she was dealing with a common cold. She was ‘one tough bird’ and just kept moving forward. Though it was her final battle with pancreatic cancer that she could not win, she will forever be remembered for her can do attitude, her belief in second chances, her fashion sense, her interest in the arts and other cultures, her ability to fix just about anything and her strong understanding of right and wrong.
Donna is survived by her sister Nell, daughter Britten and her husband, Edwin; son Joslin and his wife Patrice; daughter Arin and her husband Doug; as well as grandchildren Ashlen, Bryce and Taylor. She is preceded in death by her husband, Dan and granddaughter, Cameron.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make a donation in her name to the Houston SPCA. https://www.houstonspca.org/give/
No services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Donna Ann Stewart
7 November 2019
We would like to offer our sincere condolences to the Stewart family.
We took Dan and Donna twice to France, in 1998 ("Gothic Cathedrals of Northern France") and 1999 ("Romanesque Churches of Auvergne and Burgundy" and we became friends. We last had lunch with Donna on August 27.
Jean-Michel Lanskin and Bill Braden