Donna D. Michels, 96, died Wednesday, April 3, 2019, ending an extraordinary life of significant contributions to her family, her various communities, her church, and this diocese.
The Memorial Service will be at noon, Saturday, April 27, at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 5001 Crestline Road, Ft. Worth, 76107. The Rev. Bill Nix will preach. She will be inurned in the All Saints’ Episcopal Church Columbarium. Memorials can be made to The Donna Michels Scholarship Fund at All Saints’ Episcopal School. Make checks payable to All Saints’ Episcopal School, with Donna Michels Scholarship Fund in the memo line. Mail checks to All Saints’ Episcopal School, Advancement Office, 9700 Saints Circle, Fort Worth, TX 76108
Michels is survived by three children, including the Rev. Sandi Michels, priest in charge of St. Elisabeth/Christ the King Episcopal Church, Fort Worth; seven grand-children; four great-grandchildren, and twenty-one God children – as well as an untold number of former students whose lives she touched.
Donna D. Davis was born July 9, 1922 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She and her mother and stepfather, Lora and M.G. Alsever, moved throughout the farm belt during the Great Depression. They often made their home in a car-towed travel trailer parked at gas stations while M.G. worked as a traveling bank representative. They settled in Windom, Minnesota, where Donna met Raymond Michels at Windom High School. They married on May 24, 1944, while Raymond was on a brief leave during WWII. Raymond was a B-24 pilot stationed in England.
For the next 20 years, Michels was an Air Force wife, moving to a new base every every two to three years. During this time, she received two Commander Awards for service in Christian Education. In 1960, the Michels were transferred to Carswell AFB in Ft. Worth Texas. In a move that would have delightful consequences for decades, the family joined All Saint’s Episcopal Church. Facing yet another transfer, Raymond retired from the Air Force in 1964.
Michels became very active in the church, donating her time to the infant nursery, Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and the choir. At the time, All Saints had a small parochial school with class rooms in the church undercroft. Donna was hired as a four-year-old class room teacher. She soon taught one of the first grade classes and became teacher/principal in 1964. As the school expanded, she shepherded its moves to ever larger facilities. Because of the growing demands of the job, she reluctantly gave up her role as a first-grade teacher in 1971 to become principal, and became director of the schools in 1977. She remained in the classroom as the religion teacher until she retired from the school in 1988.
“She was the smartest decision I ever made,” Father James P. DeWolfe, Founding Rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church of Fort Worth, regarding the hiring of Ms. Donna Michels.
After her retirement, she continued to serve All Saints’ Church as superintendent of the Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible School, vestry member, Diocesan Convention delegate, and untiring volunteer. She remained active in St. Anne’s Guild and the Choir until her limited mobility made this impossible.
A partial list of her activities include her participation in the Texas Episcopal School Association and the Association of Southwestern Episcopal Schools. She was one of the first female vestry members. No job was too mundane for her — she served lunches, she drove the bus, she ran the concession stand at the school basketball games, she played ‘Dolly’ in the faculty follies. She established the first PTO. She was a frugal and shrewd manager of budgets. She would sweep the school sidewalks if it was needed and there was no one else around to do it.
Six Decades of Service
Donna began her career with All Saints’ Episcopal School as a Sunday School teacher in 1961 inthe undercroft of the Sanctuary. Simultaneously, she taught First Grade from 1961-64, and soon transitioned into the role of the first Principal in 1964. In 1977, Donna was appointed Director; soon thereafter, she became the first Head of School for All Saints’ Episcopal School of Fort Worth. She served in this capacity from 1977-1988.
Few school communities in the nation have benefitted from such care and love, and have undergone as much positive transformation as a result of her steady hand and faith. Donnaoversaw the growth and transition of All Saints’ Episcopal School from the Early Childhood in the basement of All Saints’ Episcopal Church to early elementary grades located at a mission planted at Christ the King on Lackland Road. From there, she managed the move to the Tumbleweed Trail Campus, where the Middle and Upper Schools came to fruition. Major Gift initiatives under her watch yielded Goodrich Chapel, Leonard Gymnasium, and the Michels Building, which housed Grades 5 and 9-12. Prior to her retirement in 1988, she prepared the School for its first accreditation with the Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools.
In the history of our School, no one person has made more hands-on contributions than hasDonna Michels.
In addition to maintaining close relationships with Church and School families, Mrs. Michels also hired some of our favorite faculty Saints, including a few stalwarts still teaching: Pixie Moseley, Third Grade; Bill Fanning, US History; and Doris Williams, US Spanish. Her management philosophy was to “give [teachers] control of their classroom and let them teach; then support them. A happy teacher means a happy child.” Her presence in the All Saints’ Episcopal School community has spanned six remarkable decades!
Servant leadership marked her career, as well as balance of energy and patience, evidenced by a willingness to jump in wherever needed, including leading the Admissions Office, serving lunches, counting the Coke machine money, running concessions at basketball games, coordinating and driving the “bus,” and even establishing the PTO. I remember her telling me she used to create the School’s budget on a Big Chief tablet, where she would make notes such as, “Request for upcoming year: 1 Smith-Corona typewriter.”
She often boasted in having “more children than anyone in Fort Worth!” In addition to shepherding all the children at the School, she was also named as the godmother to 21 young adults! Life may appear to have been simpler then, but I do not know of a person who made more of an indelible imprint on our character than Ms. Michels. Her presence has and always will be a part of the All Saints’ fabric.
Time, Talent and Treasure
In addition to her role as faculty and administrator, she was a generous donor to the development of the Tumbleweed Trail Campus, and is a member of the School’s DeWolfe Society, meaning that she has included All Saints’ as a beneficiary in her estate plans. Her outstanding contributions were recognized in 1997, when she was named recipient of the Saints Award, the highest honor accorded a member of the All Saints’ Episcopal School community.
For most of my tenure, Donna Michels attended these Saints Day celebrations on our campuses (Tumbleweed and Normandale). During every Saints Day Eucharist, I remind the congregation of her profound impact on our School community. On many Sundays, including many Parish Reports, I would see her in Church and either squeeze her hand or kiss her forehead and say “thank you” for her quiet, yet substantial support.
When we built and consecrated All Saints’ Chapel in 2003, we dedicated the garden on the south side in her honor. An angel of grace, she embodies the principles of a Saint, so clearly shared in our School hymn, Hymn 293, appropriately selected under her watch:
“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green: they were all of them saints of God and I mean, God helping, to be one too (293).”
Father of all, we pray to you for Donna, and for all those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May Donna’s soul, and the souls of all of the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. (BCP, 498)