Donna Jean Baker was born on October 3, 1949, to Helen Marie (Schott) Baker and Ervel Albert Baker. She grew up on a farm near Schaller, Iowa and attended Schaller Community Schools graduating in 1967. She then attended Wayne State College majoring in English. Graduating in 2 ½ years, she began her student teaching at age 19 in Cherokee, Iowa. She then accepted a position at Cherokee High School teaching English. It was while teaching in Cherokee that she met her husband, Jim. They were married on December 28, 1971, at the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Schaller, Iowa. She continued her career in education until the birth of her children, Jennifer Joy and James Thomas Ervel. She found great joy in raising her family and transforming the Senator Guy Gillette house into a home she loved.
She worked many years in Cherokee as a substitute and cheerleading sponsor in the Cherokee school system. She also worked at Hanken’s Law Office where her clients and co-workers became her extended family. Throughout her nearly 50 years in Cherokee, she remained proud of the Cherokee community. Donna was an active member of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church throughout her adult life, serving as a CCD teacher, past parish council member, pianist, eucharistic minister, and past president and member of Catholic Daughters of America. Donna also gave much of her time and energy to philanthropic organizations which included PEO, TTT, and Beta Sigma Phi Sorority. As an avid reader, Donna enjoyed attending book club, and she cherished the times with the friends in all of these organizations. Donna had a love of gardening. She spent endless hours tending to her yard and flowers. She was so appreciative of the many friends and community members who helped tend her gardens when she was not able. When hearing of her death, a friend’s comment expressed it well: “The flowerbeds in heaven are going to be phenomenal.”
Donna’s heart belonged to family and friends. Her nieces and nephews were her children, and she continued to open her heart to those with need. There was always time, always energy, and always more love to give to family and friends. Donna particularly excelled in her role as a grandmother. She was adored by her granddaughters and rarely visited without bringing Cheetos.
Donna passed away on May 23, in Madison, WI surrounded by her family following a six year battle with pancreatic cancer. She continued to demonstrate her determination, and sense of humor. When family surrounded her and expressed their concern, love, and emotions she simply looked at them and said “Don’t count me out yet.” Donna’s life will continue to exemplify courage and the power of love.
Donna is survived by her husband Jim; children Jennifer Lewallen Rohlwing (Jeff) and their children, Thea, Solee and Linnea of Madison, WI, and James Lewallen (Andrea Nelson) of Madison, WI; sister, Diane Baker of Yankton, SD; brother-in-law, Thomas Lewallen (June) Dyer, IN; sister-in-law, Jane Leckrone of Crawfordsville, IN; and 11 nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Helen and Ervel Baker, brother, Thomas Baker, sister-in-law, Donna Marie Baker, brother-in-law, Paul Leckrone.
Donna's family wishes to extend thanks to countless friends who have provided meals, driven her to appointments, cared for her yard, visited, and been her prayer warriors. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifs may be made to Cherokee Public Library (712-225-3498) or the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (pancan.org)