On March 2nd, LaDona Marie (Gardner) Henderson, passed away in Tucson, Arizona after a 3-week battle with Covid-related pneumonia. Dona Marie died among her care-home family, and will be missed by them for her humor, determination, surprising strength, and smile. We are beyond grateful to Rose of Sharon and Amedisys Hospice for their years long care and friendship.
Dona Marie is survived by two daughters – Diana Hansen (husband Dick) and Carol Levanger (husband Jim); three siblings – Floella, Floyd, and Jack Gardner; two grandsons – Kazuki Arakaki (wife Melissa) and Ryowa Arakaki; four great-grandchildren – Kaiden, Addison, Alexis, and Tyler; and former husband – Harry Henderson (wife Andrea). She was predeceased by daughter, Debra (Henderson) Arakaki; siblings, Lavona (Gardner) Lorance and James (Jim) Gardner; and parents, John (Jack) Gardner and Vera (Chance) Gardner.
Born in Alva, OK in 1933, she grew up working with “daddy” as the only farm hand until brothers were old enough to join her. They moved a lot, ending up in Lamoni, IA. Dona Marie graduated from Graceland College and then nursing school in 1955. Harry and Dona Marie were married in 1958 and brought three daughters into the world while living in Omaha, NE. She worked for the Visiting Nurses Association and studied nights to earn her Master’s in Nursing in 1967. In 1978, she began a career with Indian Health Service among the Winnebago and Omaha Tribes in Nebraska. After a couple years, she transferred to western South Dakota and worked with the Lakota and Dakota peoples. At the time of her retirement, she was helping the Utes in Utah. She enjoyed working with the various tribes and especially loved the pow-wows. A few years after retirement, she moved back to Lamoni to care for her mother. It was there she encountered hospice health and began volunteering. Dona Marie was a member of Community of Christ, ordained an Elder, and served in congregations, or at family reunions and youth camps wherever she lived.
Dona Marie was a compassionate advocate for others’ wellbeing. She had a quick wit and boisterous humor, was an incredibly hard worker, a stickler for rules (and following them), possessed a zest for life, relished a challenge, picked herself up when she failed, welcomed adventure and most dares, fidgeted when still too long, tried to recycle everything she could, loved being in nature, either took charge or stubbornly tried to, could beat most men at arm-wrestling, sang hymns loudly (in her own key), could talk & talk & talk…and though not a gifted cook, when younger she would bake cinnamon rolls that melted in your mouth. She was dearly loved.
For the last years of her life, dementia made it difficult for her to communicate with family and friends (and them with her), becoming non-communicative during her final year. We have no doubt that if she were of able body and mind today, she would have been among the first volunteers to help vaccinate communities hardest hit by Covid-19. She maintained her compassion for others and strength of will to the end.
As a family, we hold differing beliefs regarding faith and life after death – beliefs she would want to be respected even though some differ from her own. It is ultimately our hope that there is peace in her release from life. May we gain personal strength from her example, and in our own unique ways, follow her desire to serve others.