Donna Grace <I>Glenn</I> Humphrey

Donna Grace Glenn Humphrey

Goff, Nemaha County, Kansas, USA
Death 28 Feb 2005 (aged 89)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Burial Woodlawn, Nemaha County, Kansas, USA
Plot Lot 76
Memorial ID 76982762 · View Source
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Donna Grace Glenn Humphrey was born on August 25, 1915 in Nemaha County, Kans., the fourth child of Coloma Jane Record and Hugh Ashley Glenn.

The Glenns moved west from Pennsylvania through Kentucky during the era of Daniel Boone. Donna's great-great-grandfather was Alexander Walker Glenn, a farmer who married Nancy Austin in 1829 and settled in Boone County, Mo. In 1855 the Glenns moved to Lecompton, Kans., and were among the earliest pioneers settling the Kansas Territory.

According to family lore, one of their sons, Hugh Thomas, abandoned his family and went to California during the Gold Rush. Perhaps intending to return he died there "of a fever." While still a boy his son, John Thomas, ran away from a problem stepfather to live with an uncle in Sabetha, Kans. John and his wife Sylvia Ermine Ashley–they were known as Tom and Min - farmed in nearby Woodlawn, a small town providing services to the settlers of the area. The eldest of their three children, Hugh Ashley, was Donna's father. Tom and Min were founding members of the Woodlawn Baptist Church, the faith community in which Donna and her children were brought up and which holds regular services to this day.

Her mother's family, Donna wrote, "was very different from the Glenns." The Records were "a rather wandering family who had moved from Nebraska, to Missouri, to Iowa, and lately to Kansas." Coloma Jane was the fifth child of nine in the family of Sarah Rachel Young and Robert Allen Record. "Al Record was illiterate but was an accomplished carpenter and, as such, he provided after a fashion for his enormous brood." Donna recalled that "[Coloma] brought from her single days a fine sewing machine. She had been a seamstress before she married. She had bought the machine with her own money and prized it highly." As a young woman, Coloma was comely with beautiful hair.

According to Donna, Coloma fell in love when she met Hugh Glenn. They were married Feb. 24, 1909. Like Tom and Min, Hugh and Coloma farmed near Woodlawn. From all accounts, the romance did not endure. Hugh was jealous of his wife, emotionally distant, and harsh on the children; family life was grim. A son, Willis, died at age 11 after seven years of ill health. After the birth of her sixth child, Coloma's health failed. There was too much work, too much sadness and despair, and too little money. As Donna put it, "We were emotionally impoverished by a lack of love, laughter, trust, and just simple fun, which was poverty indeed."

Donna described her grandmother Min as the one person in her childhood who tried to bring a bit of joy into her life with small gifts and books. Min enrolled her in a correspondence school after Donna's father refused to let her go to high school, a long-cherished wish. Donna was needed at home to care for her ill mother and the children. Donna may have started the correspondence course; since she never spoke of it, it is unlikely that she finished more than a course or two.

Inspired by the desire to escape her grim home life and conscious of the poverty of options for young women, Donna accepted the proposal of Otis L. "Jake" Humphrey, the handsome son of recent Kentucky emigrants to Woodlawn. They were married October 6, 1933 at the Woodlawn Baptist Church. During the Great Depression, they moved with their young son John to Denver, Colo., in pursuit of work, but failing to get a foothold they returned within a couple of years to farm 480 acres near Woodlawn. John recalls that they bought a 1933 Plymouth coupe with a rumble seat for the return trip.

Jake and Donna raised their four children on the farm until, in 1954, they sold part of their land and purchased the Woodlawn General Store. The store was the last commercial enterprise left in Woodlawn, which by this time had dwindled to a crossroads. They closed the Woodlawn Store in 1958. Jake, who had begun to build houses for neighbors, built a new house for his family on the farm where Donna was born and which is the subject of "Leavetaking."

The leave-taking occurred in 1960 when the family sold the farm and moved to Sabetha.
Actualizing a dream of having money to call her own, Donna secured her first office job after composing a letter of application so exceptional that her employer selected her over women with office experience. In 1964, Jake and Donna returned to Denver. Donna worked for many years at the Lutheran General Hospital, retiring as assistant to the controller in the late 1970s. Jake died from a stroke in 1977 and Donna lived alone as a widow for nearly 30 years.

Donna suffered from chronic depression and bearing feelings she identified as "losses, humiliations, longings unfulfilled, unnamable yearnings, and most of all, that hideous, nearly unbearable knowledge of failure." Under such clouds, her married children announced each pregnancy with the knowledge that it would not necessarily be good news to her. She dwelt on the emotional pain of her past which must have equaled the terrible humiliation she endured from the genetic malformation of her feet. Without the treatments widely available now, she groped through her darkness by reading her Bible and praying to a God by whom she felt abandoned. Yet through her faith, determination (see "Small Beginnings"), and the love and responsibility she felt toward her children, she endured and in many respects thrived to do her duty to husband, family, and community.

In another era, Donna would have had a different life. This intelligent, sensitive woman would certainly have gone to high school. Her depression and disability might have been better managed. We can only imagine what might have been. She lived with what was and so do we.

Later in life, those feared-for grandchildren became perhaps her greatest enjoyment. With them she could unbridle her love and let it flow. Food was important. She called it "just country cooking," but each grandchild treasures the memory of being welcomed to her home by a cherry pie or cinnamon rolls freshly baked just for them. She handmade a patchwork quilt for each; the last for her great-grandson, John William, remains in tiny pieces, unfinished. Her grandson, Glen Kauffman, at her funeral stated, "I celebrate my grandmother's life, her love of words, her passion for spirituality, her fervent opinions on politics. She was born of that strong and noble Kansas farmer blood, growing up in a time that her grandchildren cannot begin to appreciate. She devoted her life to ensure a better future for us. Grandma found and filled a gap in each of our lives. We were blessed by her ability to make each one of us feel like number one."

At some time—probably while quite young—Donna began to write poetry. A clue is found in a memory book where Laura asked her grandmother to "[s]hare a memory involving an outhouse." Donna answered, "I wrote my first poem, standing at the door of the outhouse watching the snow fall—the first snow of the season. I wrote:

Little fairy snowflakes falling
Falling through the air …

and on and on." She added, "Not great immortal words but after that I wrote lots of verses."

We know that as a young mother Donna wrote poems. A few verses were published in POETRY FORUM during the 1950s. She also wrote a winning jingle for a cleaning product for which she won a gold watch, a great thrill for a woman for whom new clothes and jewelry were only fantasy. Over the years other poems were published occasionally, but most were shared one at a time with a daughter, niece, or trusted friend, then tucked away in drawers and in closets safe from the fearsome criticism that warped her sense of self since childhood(see "The Watcher").

Donna died a horrifying death on February 28, 2005 at the age of 89 while visiting her daughter Joan and family in Chicago. The event was widely covered by the media and will not be dignified by description in these pages. Because she was an aged woman, the loss of Donna was eclipsed by the death at the same time of her son-in-law, Michael Lefkow, and the outpouring of sympathy to his wife and daughters. A few friends who knew of Donna's poetry, however, asked at that time to receive a copy of her work. These requests were the seed planted in our minds that led us to publish this collection of the poems we discovered as we sifted through her things that winter and the following spring.

Those who knew her well knew she had a keen sense of humor, distaste for falsity, and uncommon intelligence. In publishing her poems we present our mother as she was, "all wool and a yard wide," as she liked to say. Would she have approved of making this collection public? We are confident that she would have, even though a few reveal secrets she did not share outside her intimate circle. To hold these back would have distorted the truth of her life.

Primarily, it is a gift to our children and our children's children, to the end of Donna's line, so that they may know this grandmother, who was an extraordinary woman. We hope that all who read her verses will see in her verbal images an era now past of rural life, unromantic, often cruel, its harshness smoothed by the wonder of the natural world, the communion of family, and the yearning we know as God.

Joan Humphrey Lefkow
Judy Humphrey Smith
August, 2007

Family Members



Donna Grace Glenn Humphrey
Aug 25 1915 - Feb 28 2005
Remember Me With Kindness, I will be Content

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  • Maintained by: Laura
  • Originally Created by: K - B
  • Added: 23 Sep 2011
  • Find A Grave Memorial 76982762
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Donna Grace Glenn Humphrey (25 Aug 1915–28 Feb 2005), Find A Grave Memorial no. 76982762, citing Woodlawn Cemetery, Woodlawn, Nemaha County, Kansas, USA ; Maintained by Laura (contributor 47617185) .