It was with a mix of heartbreak and gratitude that our family said goodbye to a wonderful mother and cherished grandmother, Dona Lalah Brownell. She lived a rich life, all 92 years of it. Dona passed away peacefully in Omaha on June 24th, the city in which her and little brother, Dennis, grew up.
She was born to Denzil and Edith Huffman on March 26, 1928 in Havre, Montana. Denzil, sold meat for the Morrrill Company after discharge from the US Army, following WWI. Dona said, even during the Depression, he provided very well for his family. But they moved a lot. Dona moved from Havre to Idaho, then to St Louis, then Omaha and finally to Cedar Rapids where she spent some of the best years of her life.
In Omaha, she attended what was then known as Tech High. After High School graduation, she attended Creighton University studying to be an X-ray technician. But God’s hand intervened. Dona met her first and only love, Jim Brownell. Jim shipped off to be a part of the invasion of Japan toward the end of World War II, but Little Boy and Fat Man ended that bloody affair before the GIs ever stormed the beaches. Jim’s unit was then assigned to the occupation. Upon discharge, Jim proposed to Dona and, in 1948, she accepted. They celebrated 66 wedding anniversaries together.
At that time, their move was to Lincoln, where Jim attended the University of Nebraska. First son, Robert, was born in Lincoln, but he avoided the Big Red genome inhabiting Jim and Dona. A condition that lasts a lifetime, apparently. Jim graduated with honors carrying a degree in Electrical Engineering. Shortly thereafter, Jim was offered a position with a small Cedar Rapids firm named Collins Radio Company. It later, of course, became Rockwell-Collins. They moved in 1952 and lived there essentially the rest of their lives. Jim passed away in May of 2014. He is now happy to be reunited with the love of his life.
Dona’s time in CR was marked by great accomplishments as well as valuable service to the less fortunate. As importantly to her, though, were the friendships she made along the way. Preceding her in death were two of Jim and Dona’s most treasured friends, Ralph and Wanita Lacombe. Both couples spent vacation weeks at Estes Park Colorado. Some people love the oceans, Dona loved the mountains. After Jim’s retirement, they both enjoyed the Collins Retiree group and traveled to Europe with those friends multiple times.
A treasured daughter, Cathy, was lost to meningitis in 1956. But a beautiful daughter, Barbara, came along in 1958 and another son, Mark in 1960. Dona was profoundly devoted to all three children and each in equal measure. Jim and Dona raised them with high standards but mostly with simple love.
Dona became an active and valued part of the First Presbyterian family shortly after moving to Cedar Rapids. She remained a faithful member until she moved to Omaha in 2019. Her activities at First Presbyterian included being a deacon, working in the thrift shop, and the homeless ministry. Dona was also a devoted member of many church Circles. Her kindness and easy smile will be missed by all those who knew her well at First Presbyterian.
Dona became chair of Fourscore in 1974. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Dona was also named President of her PEO chapter in Cedar Rapids. PEO members are sworn to confidentiality as to the meaning of the letters P E O. As much as her husband and certain children tried to trick her into breaking that vow, Dona said she was supposed to take that information to the grave. And, always true to her word, she did.
Dona was an active volunteer at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids. She loved adding her talent for a kind word and a helping hand at St Luke’s for fifteen years. Many a family member and loved one was thankful for her presence during their family’s stressful moments at the hospital.
Of the millions breaths we take, we have no idea when we’ll reach our last dozen. When Dona reached her last few, she was surrounded by her loving family, her late husband, generations of ancestors, and God who awaits her with open arms.
It is heartbreaking, of course. Only because of our overwhelming gratitude for such a woman, for such a mother.
Dona is survived by her brother Dennis (Doris) of Albuquerque NM. Children; Robert (Jenna) Brownell of Clive, IA; Barbara (Kevin) Shoemaker of Omaha; Mark (Kim) Brownell of Des Moines. Grandchildren Kevin (Maria) Brownell of West Des Moines, Aaron (Litsa) Shoemaker of Omaha, Ben (Alicia) Shoemaker of Omaha, Chris (Ferole) Shoemaker of Omaha, Caitlin (Siphamandla) Simelane of Omaha. Great grandchildren, Carman, Oscar, Charlie, Penny, Jacob, Juniper, Marcella, Felix, Marley, Lucca, and Rhylin. Dona also leaves many loving nieces and nephews.
Services will be 10:30 AM on Monday June 29th at First Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids. Visitation at Cedar Memorial Chapel Stateroom from 4:00 to 6:00 PM on Sunday June 28th. Dona asks that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions go to Methwick 1224 13th St Cedar Rapids, IA 52405. Cedar Memorial Park Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.