Life Story / Obituary
Donna Irene Alexander centered her life around her family. With tremendous love, hard work, and resiliency, she met each day with determination and gratitude. Though strong in opinion and notably stubborn, Donna’s fierce love and unwavering support were unquestionable. Donna met each day with gratitude and faith and cherished nothing more than those she loved. A devoted daughter, sister, wife, mother, and grandmother, Donna will long be remembered and ever so missed.
The beginning of 1929 continued to ride the decade’s roaring wave of peace, prosperity, and hope. The nation celebrated the recent inventions of Penicillin, the iron lung, bubble gum, and the Yo-Yo, as well as Charles Lindbergh’s Congressional Medal of Honor and Amelia Earhart becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. As the wave of sweeping social and economic growth rapidly increased nowhere was there more hope for the future than in the home of Donald and Nellie (Webb) Brown as they welcomed their daughter Donna into their family on November 9.
Growing up in Stanton, Michigan, during a time of global struggle, Donna’s childhood was rich in family values and resourcefulness. While her father worked at Georgia Pacific and was a hobby farmer, her mother was a homemaker. The fourth of the Alexanders’ 10 children, and the oldest girl, Donna was called into helping care for her younger siblings, including twins born when their mother was 42 years old. Though the family’s home had a pump for water, it neither had electricity or an indoor bathroom. Instead, there was an outhouse with three stalls for the boys and three stalls for the girls. Eventually, the family moved to a plaster mill house in Grand Rapids near the mines where Donna’s father and brothers found work.
Donna attended the local elementary school. While attending high school, Donna road the bus in the morning to school, and at the end of the school day, she took a bus to work at a linen company. She and her sister, Patricia, were the only children in the family to graduate from high school.
At the age of 15, Donna met Neilon Alexander, a friend of her brother Don, who moved from Northwest Tennessee to work in the local mine. Though the two hit it off, it wasn’t until he safely returned from serving in the Army Military Police in the Philippine that they began to date. After catching a ride from Donna and her neighborhood friend, the pair started dating and setting their eyes on sharing a future. Two years later, the happy couple married at a church parsonage in Grandville, on July 2, 1949, officially beginning their 60-year marriage.
After honeymooning for two weeks in Tennessee, where Donna met Neilon’s family, they returned to Grand Rapids and settled into a mobile home near the mine, where Neilon worked for 45 years. It wasn’t long before the Alexander family grew to include six children: Neil, Jr. in 1950, Sandy in 1952, Don in 1953, Walter in 1955, Kevin in 1957, and Bonnie in 1959. Initially, the Alexanders raised their family in a two-bedroom home on Coit Avenue. As their family grew and they needed more room, they moved to a home on Perry Avenue in Wyoming, where they remained for the rest of their lives.
While life with a large family was always filled with activity and work that needed to be done, the family enjoyed annual camping trips. They came to make a tradition of renting a cottage on 28th Lake near Remus, where the kids learned to fish, and Donna would cook on a wood-burning stove. A natural historian, Donna always had a camera ready to document family events. She loved taking pictures. As a result, the family has a wealth of memories to recall while looking at her many great shots.
Rarely one to be still for long, Donna had many interests. She loved being outside with the trees and watching birds, and often too long walks at Johnson Park. She enjoyed tennis and bowling in a league with Neilon at Paragon Lanes. She relished in a good cookie, reading Nora Roberts novels, and never said “no” to a game of Scrabble. She first learned to play the game with her mothers and siblings and delighted in later playing with her daughters and grandchildren. Neilon insisted that she learn to play golf so that they could play together. She instantly fell in love with the game and often played at Maple Hill in Wyoming. She and Neilon also liked to go to the casino and made many trips over the years to visit with his family in Tennessee. Memorable trips were also taken to Florida and out west. In addition to watching golf matches, Donna also enjoyed scary movies.
A skilled collector of Coca-Cola bears, Santa Clause figures, and angels, Donna’s most cherished possession was her family. A perfect day for Donna was any day spent with those she loved, possibly sharing her delicious Southern fried chicken or beef and noodles. Christmas was particularly important for Donna as she and Neilon loved welcoming the entire family into their home and showering them with gifts.
During the mid-2000s, Donna began to develop dementia. Fortunately, Neilon was there to ensure her excellent care and comfort. Sadly, Neilon died in 2009, and Donna was later diagnosed with sundowning syndrome. Sundowning often involved a pattern of sadness, agitation, and fear that occurred in the late afternoon, evening, and night. To support Donna’s desire to stay in her home, her family rallied together. To provide the extra care she needed, her daughter, Sandy, son, Don, or her great-granddaughter Megan, would stay with her.
Though saddened to have to say “goodbye” to the good woman we were blessed to know, may we find comfort in knowing that Donna has reunited with her beloved and is free from earthly constraints. May we also find comfort in the privilege of carrying her legacy of love and her persevering spirit forward in our own lives. With each walk we take in the park, Christmas we gather with our loved ones, Scrabble game we play, and putt we sink, we will celebrate the many ways Donna gifted our lives.
Donna I. Alexander, age 90, of Wyoming, died in the comforts of her home and surrounded by family on August 18, 2020. She was preceded in death by her husband, Neilon; son, Neilon Alexander Jr., brothers, Richard (Barb) Brown, Donald (Eleanor) Brown Jr, Robert (Helen) Brown and Patrick Brown. Donna is survived by her children, Sandra (David) Stiles, Donald (Kathy) Alexander, Walter (Carol) Alexander, Kevin Alexander, and Bonnie Medina; 16 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren; 13 great-great-grandchildren; brothers, Clyde Brown, Verlin (Kay) Brown, LeRoy Brown; sisters, Caroline Abbott and Patricia Brown; sister-in-law, Glenny Brown; and numerous nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held at 2 PM on Saturday, August 29, 2020, at New Life Baptist Church, 840 Wilson Ave NW. Please visit www.heritagelifestory.com to read Donna’s life story, submit a favorite memory, photo, or to sign the guestbook online.