Donna Lee (Helms) Black
May 19, 1930 - September 25, 2009
Beloved wife, mother, grandmother and friend to all
“There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us” – West Side Story
Surrounded by family and friends, our beloved wife, mother, and grandmother died at home in Des Moines, WA, after a long battle with cancer. She was 79 years old and had a glorious life.
Mom was the rock of our family. She brought great strength to our lives. She and Dad raised us as a team, with firmness, guidance, and all the love we could need.
She loved her family and her church. She was a wicked bridge player right to the end. She loved travel and collecting glass paperweights from around the world. She was a talented musician and loved playing classical music on her baby grand piano in her later years.
She was born May 19, 1930 in Gresham, Oregon, to Walt and Minnie Helms, and her big brother Phil. Her father worked in rural Bull Run, Oregon for Portland General Electric. When she was a teenager, the family moved to Tualatin, just south of Portland, where they lived and worked on a filbert orchard. She is preceded in death by her Mother, Father, and her brother, Phil.
She attended Oregon State College (now University) where she met the love of her life, our father, Ralph. They were married on July 11, 1953. Her best friend Ruth married Ralph’s brother, Harold, and the two couples remained best friends all their lives.
They settled in Tualatin and welcomed their first child, Randy in 1954. A second child, Laurel, died within days of her birth in 1956. Phil was born in 1957, Brenda in 1959, Penny in 1961, and Tracy in 1962.
Mom and Dad bought part of a car dealership in Grants Pass, Oregon in 1957. After renting for years, they bought their first home in 1963.
In 1965, Dad was hired as an engineer at Boeing and the family relocated to Normandy Park. In our new home, Mom created a foundation for raising us functionally in a changing world, staying home full-time until we were older. She taxied us to our events, spent hours sitting on hard bleachers at baton and gymnastic events, and opened her home to our friends. During our busy teen years, Mom provided a welcoming household to these friends and they had a knack for showing up at dinnertime, where there was always an extra place at the table and plenty of food. As we brought spouses in to our family, she welcomed each and every one in the same way, with open arms and an open heart, loving them all unconditionally and including them and their families into her own.
As we left the house, she returned to the work place. She worked for the Highline School District as an executive assistant to the Superintendant and then opened a dance apparel shop, On Stage, in Federal Way. She and her business partner grew the business to include 3 successful stores. In 1977 after a difficult separation from her business partner, she retained ownership of the Federal Way store and renamed it The Dance Collection, where she singlehandedly ran the business full time until she sold it in 1991 and retired. The store is still in business today and has since expanded.
In retirement, Mom & Dad traveled the world. If they weren’t on a cruise or tour, Mom was planning the next one, from the Great Wall of China to an island in the Caribbean. She especially loved Thailand and Russia, and was thrilled to see the terra cotta soldiers of China.
In 1991, Mom and Dad built their dream house in Three Tree Point, overlooking Puget Sound, the Vashon ferry boats, and incredible sunsets. Wanting to be a part of everything, she insisted on designing a kitchen open to the living room so she could watch Seahawks games while cooking for the family.
Mom doted on the grandkids, first Doug in 1989, then Louis in 1990, Claire and Russell in 1991, Emma in 1994, Kaitlin in 1999, and Jackson in 2002. They lit up her life and she would always babysit whenever she could. She didn’t consider it work but instead felt it an honor and a privilege to spend time with her grandkids.
Her long battle with cancer started in 1987 with breast cancer. After surgery and radiation treatment, she went into remission until 2003, when her endometrial cancer was discovered. After surgery, chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, she was healthy until 2006, when colon cancer was discovered. After surgery, she was healthy for another year, when the endometrial cancer became active again. Two more rounds of chemotherapy within 2 years took it’s toll on her, and in the end, the cancer took her body but not her spirit.
Mom and Dad planned well for their retirement. They sold the dream house in 2003, moved into an apartment in Des Moines, then a cottage at Wesley Homes in 2004.
Perhaps nothing made her happier than gathering the family together. Later in life, she organized two family vacations where we were all together in paradise. We traveled to Jamaica in 1999 and Puerto Vallarta in 2008, each time staying in beautiful villas and being waited on by staff while we enjoyed ourselves around the pool and on the beach. The Puerto Vallarta vacation was especially important to her. The oldest grandchildren were ready to leave the nest and Mom’s health was precarious. We knew that it may be the last time we would be traveling together.
Her last year brought another recurrence of the cancer, another round of chemotherapy, and a prolonged bout of weakness. She fought hard but it was a battle she couldn’t win.
Her entire family gathered around her the day before she died. We talked to her, sang to her, held her hands, even told bad jokes. It’s impossible to know how much she understood, but it’s equally impossible to think that she couldn’t feel our love.
She slipped away quietly Friday afternoon, her fight finally over, her soul at peace, her family strong.
We love you Mom and you’ll be in our hearts forever!
Love is life.
Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source.
Love Lives On
Those we love remain with us,
for Love itself lives on.
Cherished memories never fade;
because one loved is gone.
Those we love can never be
more than a thought apart,
for as long as there's a memory
they live on in our heart.
Think of her as living
in the hearts of those she touched,
for nothing loved is ever lost,
and she was loved so much.