Donna Fay Dowlin McDonnell

Donna Fay Dowlin McDonnell passed away peacefully Friday February 16, 2018, at her home in Missoula, Montana. In the weeks preceding her death she was surrounded by family and friends in her home, by telephone, or in their hearts and prayers.

Donna was born in Forsyth, Montana to Floyd (Whitey) and Fay Dowlin on January 13, 1926. Her growing years were spent in Rosebud County enjoying the offerings of a young Montana with her five sisters and one brother. In January of 1944 she graduated from high school and joined the United States Cadet Nurse Corp moving to Great Falls, Montana for her training. After finishing her training she went to the Navejo Reservation in Arizona for her service. After completing her service she went to Forsyth and lived with her parents while working at the Forsyth Hospital. She then returned to Bozeman and earned a degree in nursing. She loved her student life and was a member of the Delta Gamma Sorority. She taught nursing at MSU and headed up the obstetrics floor. During that time she met her husband Leo McDonnell who was a fellow student. They married December 21, 1948 started their family; they moved about for jobs before settling in Billings, Montana in 1955. “

Donna and Leo had six children. Loving on family” included warm smiles, big hugs and good stories. The years were filled with activities and holidays that embraced her sisters’ families and her children’s interests: boy and girl scouting, 4-H, music, swimming, gymnastics, football, wrestling, horseback riding, church activities and more. She supported her children as they grew and followed their dreams. The door was always open to all of her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and their children. “Everybody’s Grandma” she really enjoyed young people, encouraging their dreams, and participating in their lives. She was always thankful for the gifts she had been given.

As spring dawned each year she spent hours planning, planting and enjoying beautiful flower gardens. Donna taught all to relish music through her gifts as a pianist. She loved knitting; her family appreciated a variety of afghans and sweaters. Reading was her favorite pass time. She was a lover of Bridge and other card games. Donna was active in the League of Women Voters. Faith was the fabric of her life and many activities with family and friends were centered on the church and fellowshipping.

Donna and Leo started Midland Bull Test in 1961 which has grown to become one of the premier yearling bull testing and sale facilities. Donna was the accountant, office manager, secretary, with all of the endless hours that entailed to start, grow and succeed in business. Midland was taken over by Leo and Debra (Sam) McDonnell, JR. in 1993 and is now thriving in the hands of their son Steve Williams.

Donna moved to Missoula, Montana in 1993 after her husband’s death. In the years since she embraced life fully. Hours spent reading and dreaming of travel and adventure as a girl were realized as she travelled throughout the world either with friends or with family. She took classes in photography, joined a health club, played bridge with a lovely group of women, and spent hours reading, and listening to music.

Donna is survived by her sisters Libby Wark and Bobby Seader; her children Michael McDonnell, Leo McDonnell Jr. (Sam), Jeanette Manley, Patty Brus (Tim) and Kevin McDonnell; as well as her beloved daughters-in-law Nancy Nicholson, Marci Gaines, and Beth Ihle. She was blessed with grandchildren Chris Nicholson (Nancy), Darcy Goni (Vic), Kelsey McDonnell (Steve), Steve Williams, Buffy Chamberlin (Tom), Kristine Maltby (Levi), Ben von Forell, Amanda Decker (Nick), Andrew McDonnell, Augusta McDonnell, Katherine McDonnell, Grace McDonnell and Erin Brus. Donna also was able to enjoy her great grandchildren Dallas and Gavin (Darcy), Keegan and Keesee (Kelsey); Guy, Grayson, and Tenley (Steve) Cale, Colter, Cade (Buffy)  Mark, Rachael, Naomi, and Matthew (Kristine) and Maddie (Amanda).  

Donna was preceded in death by her husband Leo McDonnell; daughter Mary von Forell; her parents Floyd and Fay Dowlin; her sisters Peggy, Helen, and Wilma; and her brother Floyd; and son-in-law Scott Manley .

Memorial Service will be held in Laurel, Montana at the United Methodist Church at 1 p.m. on Saturday, February 24th with a reception to follow at the church.

A Memorial site has been set up at where we hope you will please share your stories, thoughts, and pictures.

In lieu of flowers contributions can be sent to your local senior center, hospice center or other favorite charity.


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