In Memory

Donna Merritt

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08/25/15 09:42 PM #1    

Robert Ambrite

On June 8th, 2014, Donna Merritt passed away at a hospice facility in Houghton Lake, Michigan. This is all I know. I don’t know if Donna had a family, was married, how she made her livelihood, what she passed away from or if she had suffered. I have been unable to discover anything about Donna’s life journey due to the lack of any type of online obituary, memorial or remembrance. Donna died and the world goes on, and the one thing we all know for certain is that everyone we presently know will also die someday. During my time at Denby, I did not know Donna very well. We were merely friendly classmates, but, throughout my life, I have thought of her often. In fact, she comes to mind every time I hear, “Where were you November 22, 1963?” because no one forgets where they were the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

In early 2000, when I first relocated from New York City to Dallas, Texas, I was struck by how everything was new. I had lived in Texas before, Houston to be exact. But, Houston, modern as it may have been, had a gritty, blue collar, soulful vibe to it. Dallas, on the other hand, with its glass and chrome buildings, its ten lane super highways, its city-sized airport, its big-haired beautiful women, its right-wing oil tycoons and its abundance of over-the-top mega-churches, was a completely different animal. The city reminded me of the brushed aluminum Delorean sports car – well designed, lots of flash, expensive, but, in reality, not much speed and a rather loose turning ratio while trying to make a tight corner. One thing, however, that does touch me very deeply when headed to a downtown Dallas concert or a Maverick’s basketball game at the American Airlines Arena, is driving over the large, white “X” painted on Elm Street that designates the spot where Kennedy was killed. From there you can look right toward Dealey Plaza and up to the Texas Book Depository building and the sixth floor window from where the fatal shots were fired. Today, the building is a museum dedicated to the memory of our 35th president.

An air of excitement hung over Denby High that cold day on Nov. 22, 1963. That night, Denby was scheduled to play Notre Dame High School for the city championship in the annual Goodfellow’s Game at Briggs Stadium. I had attended Notre Dame for two years before transferring to Denby, so the game was especially meaningful to me. I wanted “The sweet taste of revenge… go Tars!” I was in Mrs. Sheridan’s civics class sitting right in front of her desk. Next to me sat Tom Andrews and behind me sat Donna Merritt. Next to her sat my good friend, Terry Kelly. Donna was the epitome of what we guys referred to back then as a “sosh” or a “cake.” That was to say she was cute and preppy with her pixie haircut, plaid skirt, cranberry sweater over a monogrammed oxford blouse with knee-high socks and Bass Weejuns.  She was sweet-natured with a great smile and a very good student. Donna was one of those kids everyone seemed to like who truly cared about people, their ideas, their feelings, even their personal success. As usual, Terry was in his own world during class. He loved music and had the ear plug of his transistor radio carefully placed listening to Bud Davies play tunes on CKLW.  Suddenly, without warning, as the rest of us sat listening to our civics lesson, Terry yelled out, “The president’s been shot!”  Mrs. Sheridan left the room and returned a short time later in tears. It was just a matter of minutes before we heard the halls erupt with talk, tears and the stampede of a very confused student body. I turned and looked into Donna’s tear filled eyes and with sadness as she just shook her head and spoke in a quiet voice of the shame of it all. I did not know what to say or what to do. It all became a blur of chaotic events. Perhaps, looking back, it was this day that the baby boom generation began to lose their innocence.

That night, the nation stood still. Events around the country were cancelled. Saddened Americans were glued to their televisions watching Walter Cronkite, attending their local place of worship to pray or sitting at home in solitude wondering what the future would bring. That is, all except for the 46,000 Goodfellow ticket holders who attended Briggs Stadium, me included, to watch Denby defeat Notre Dame in a 7-0 lackluster, frozen turf game. What was it Donna had said to me earlier upon learning the president had been shot? “Oh, the shame of it all.” A few days later, I remember asking Donna if she attended the game. “Oh, no, I didn’t, out of respect for President Kennedy and his family,” she replied.

And, so, Donna, when I read of your passing, I knew I owed you that same type of respect and regard that you showed our president and to many others during your life.  Yes, the beat does go on, life usually gets back to the normal, daily routine, but please know someone remembers the dignity, grace and insight you showed as a young woman all the way back in 1963.

May you rest in peace.

Robert Ambrite

Dallas, Texas

10/02/15 10:46 AM #2    

Nancy Rutherford (Camilleri)

I lost a best friend when Donna passed on Jun 8, 2014.  

We knew each other since we were about 10 years old and remained friends till she departed.  We stood up for each other in our weddings - vacationing together - lot's of laughs and tears along the way as it should be with good friends.  We both loved our cats, and I was heir to her last kittie who reminds me of her every day (even tho my 3 cat's don't like their step sister, nor does she like them - so we are a house divided, but I wouldn't be able to give her up for anything!).

Donna was a very private person and very kind and  generous with her friends.  She lived in the UP for 30+ years and had a small group up there who were very loyal to each other, and whom I've become friends with.  When she moved there she and her husband bought a 1900 year old farmhouse with acreage.  They turned it into a lovely home and then later she added on new sections to make it up to date and very comfortable.  The old house didn't have running water so we had to use the outhouse and went to a sauna for a shower. Best memories are of going out at night with the Northern Lights above you... it was a WOW.  She should have been born a 100 years earlier as she loved that life.  Altho, when she became ill and bed ridden we were so glad there was cable and tv as it was her entertainment (reading became hard - that darn cancer can take so much away even before death). I love that house, but it's not in the cards for my husband and I to move up there, so it's on the market - if anybody is interested???

She left her job as a Respritory Thearipst when her husband became ill so she spent years learning quilting techniques, which later became a profession for her - she was a hand quilter and did work for people all over the world.  Her stitches were some of the best in the business and she won a lot of awards for both her quilts and her quilting.  Over the years she gave quilts to her family and friends and she left me all that she had - so I'll be warm for the rest of my life.  

She was good at just about everything - from her first profession as an x-ray technologist, then into respiratory.  When she got help with her husband, she worked as a house keeper, painter, did wall paper and worked with an antique dealer, and of course her quilting. Early in her time in the UP she and I traveled around looking for antiques - if we both liked the same item, whoever bought it would then share it at some time with the other.  We also shared our love of books - special books we both loved (if we couldn't buy two of them) we shared  - literally, one year she'd have it, the next I would.  

She was a good friend for all those years, and I miss her lucky that I have so many memories.



10/04/15 09:57 AM #3    

Sharon Molnar (Filkin)

A beautiful tribute.

10/11/15 08:18 PM #4    

Nancy Gould (Gomoll)

Thanks Nancy Rutherford for sharing your wonderful memories of Donna with us all.  It really brings so much light to her life for those of us who lost track of her after high school. Beautiful tribute to a very special woman.

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