Donna J. Hunter—just short of her 89th birthday—passed away peacefully early Thursday morning, March 6th, 2014, in Orem, Utah, as her family attended. Failing health in recent years had brought Donna from her beloved home of some 47 years in Firth, Idaho, to be with family in Utah.
Donna was born on March 23rd, 1925, in Salem, Idaho, to James and Virginia Jensen, where she enjoyed a blissful childhood with her younger sister, Beth, riding horses, swimming and running barefoot over the length and breadth of her father’s farm—blissful, that is, until they were old enough to help with watching the cows, with the milking and with the canning of summer fruit for winter. But, even then, there was always time to pick flowers and enjoy the love and companionship of her little cousins who lived nearby. She often recounted the precious memories she held of going to church as a little girl in her father’s large horse-drawn sleigh, wrapped up in blankets with large warm stones just pulled out of the fire to keep their feet warm for the ride in.
Such memories also included those of one of her first great tests of faith in life. As a very young girl, following a bout with rheumatic fever, Donna began complaining of an excruciating ache in one of her legs. The doctor’s diagnosis of osteomyelitis led to surgery much akin to that experienced by Joseph Smith in his boyhood. To everyone’s surprise, however, the set of home-made crutches her father had made for her out of willows were soon tossed aside and, with the help and encouragement of her beloved little cousins, she was out running and playing again.
Donna attended grade school in a tiny, one-room, “Little House on the Prairie-like” school house which, too, housed all eight grades. During the winter she always wanted to be the first one at school to get a seat closest to the big wood-burning stove. She attended high school in nearby Sugar City, and then went on to graduate from BYU.
She married a young man from nearby Saint Anthony, Idaho—Versal Hunter—in 1952—a boy who had recently returned from both WWII and from a mission he served immediately afterwards. Together they wanted to raise their family on the ranch that he had always dreamed of having one day. One of Donna’s greatest loves and remembrances was of her little mountain cabin next to Spring Creek on their ranch in Kilgore, Idaho. During summer months her little family would move out to the ranch for the summer work. Spring would bring the meadows surrounding her cabin alive with her favorite flower—Camas lilies—which appeared almost as a lake of beautiful deep blue water. It was always a little sad when it came time to move back down into the valley with the approach of winter.
As Donna passed away Thursday morning, she was facing a beautiful portrait of her little mountain cabin hanging on her wall which brought back the sweet memories of those “golden days.”
She and her husband Versal had six children: Mike, Kent, David, Ann, Jim and Susan. Tragedy visited the Hunter home at Christmas in 1966 with the untimely death of her husband. This would be followed sometime later by an accident that would put her son, Mike, in a wheel chair for the rest of his life, followed again by a plane crash that claimed the life of her son, David. But through it all, this courageous, self-sacrificing little lady was determined to somehow provide for her young family, which she did, and then some.
All of the sacrifice that went into raising her children, she always said, was more than compensated for with the coming of grandchildren. They were the delight and joy of her life. And these grandchildren felt the same about her. Everything that Grandma fixed, they thought, tasted so much better than what they got at home. Of course it did! There was always that extra measure of “Grandma’s love” that went into everything she made. In fact, whenever any of the little grandkids came up missing, so often and so mysteriously they would show up on Grandma’s doorstep looking for some ice cream, some love, and often seeking asylum from their parents!
Donna served for countless years as a Primary teacher, helping to raise a whole multitude of children in addition to her own. She loved to plant flowers and work in her yard. Grandchildren and flowers—those were her favorite things to grow. With her passing, there will now be fewer flowers in the world, and a whole garden of grandchildren who will miss her gentle, loving care.
Donna is preceded in death, of course, by her parents, her beloved little cousins from Salem, most of her dearest friends from over the years, her sister, Beth, her former fiancé, Lee, who was killed during WWII, her husband, Versal, her son, Mike, and her son, David. What a reunion must be taking place beyond the veil in this very hour!
But Donna—mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and “Grandma White Hair,” as she is known to her great-grandchildren—will be held forever in sacred remembrance by those who survive her: son, Kent (Linda), daughter, Ann (Leo), son, Jim (A-kuei), and daughter, Susan (Dan)—all in addition to, at present, 18 grandchildren and some 46 great-grandchildren—and all of whom look forward to the great reunion yet to come. Heaven only exists if families are eternal!
Mom, we love you and will miss you!
Donna Hunter, as a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and one who holds a current temple recommend, will be interred in the Shelley, Idaho, cemetery on Monday, March 10th, 2014, at 11:00 am, following a memorial service at the graveside, attended only by immediate family members, as she has requested.
“Irrespective of age, we mourn for those loved and lost, we mourn for those loved and lost. Mourning is one of the deepest expressions of pure love. It is a natural response in complete accord with divine commandment: ‘Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die.’ (D&C 42:45) Moreover, we can’t fully appreciate joyful reunions later without tearful separations now. The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life…. Life does not begin with birth, nor does it end with death. Prior to our birth, we dwelled as spirit children with our Father in Heaven. There we eagerly anticipated the possibility of coming to earth…. Knowingly we wanted the risks of mortality, which would allow the exercise of agency and accountability…. But we regarded the returning home as the best part of that long-awaited trip, just as we do now. Before embarking on any journey, we like to have some assurance of a round-trip ticket. Returning from earth to life in our heavenly home requires passage through—and not around—the doors of death. We were born to die, and we die to live. As seedlings of God, we barely blossom on earth; we fully flower in heaven…. Our limited perspective would be enlarged if we could witness the reunion on the other side of the veil, when doors of death open to those returning home. Such was the vision of the psalmist who wrote, ‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.’ (Psalm 116:15)…. Loving relationships continue beyond the doors of death…. Family ties endure because of sealings in the temple. Their importance cannot be overstated…. We need not look upon death as an enemy. With full understanding and preparation, faith supplants fear. Hope displaces despair. The Lord said, ‘Fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full.’ (D&C 101:36) He bestowed this gift: ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’ (John 14:27) As a special witness of Jesus Christ, I testify that He lives! I also testify that the veil of death is very thin. I know by experiences too sacred to relate that those who have gone before are not strangers to us..., our loved ones may be just as close as the next room—separated only by the doors of death.” (Ensign, May 1992) ~Elder Russell M. Nelson