Donna Marie Thomas was born to Victoria Ruth Thomas née Worden and Francis John Thomas on May 7, 1939, in Denver, CO. It was the beginning of a life that those who knew her to consider to be a blessing beyond words. As the youngest of three children, she was no coward. She once claimed to school chums that she could do anything that boys could do. When challenged to pee like a boy, she rigged a garden hose to successfully fool them all. Perhaps these early acts of bravery, though not expected for the time, would lead her to raise 3 very confident and independent girls. She spent her younger years traveling to the many places her father, a civil engineer, worked. In high school in Potsdam, NY she played basketball and so began her love of athletics. She remarked many times that she enjoyed going to the ice hockey games with her friends, but only to watch the fights when they broke out. This seemed to be just the opposite of her personality, but events through her life would demonstrate that she actually was a strong fighter who was able to conquer battles as they came, because of the power of prayer.
When the family moved back to Colorado, she went to college at CU Boulder to be a teacher. She was adept in mathematics and did well in her classes. She would often joke about being so bad in a language class that the professor promised to pass her as long as she promised to never take it again. Earning her teaching degree, she went to work in elementary classrooms across the state. She taught in Boulder, Grand Junction, & Gunnison and used her first teacher’s pay to buy the Blue VW Bug that she is so well known for driving in Durango. During this time she met the love of her life, Gordon Alva Rowe. Only God would put together a rough, cauliflower-eared wrestler with this clever, good-hearted school teacher. The two married in 1964 and began their life together as a teacher and Army vet turned college student. Not only did she teach as her husband attended college, but she spent her evenings helping (doing his assignments for him) him with writing papers and draining his wrestling ears.
In 1966, Donna gave birth on Easter Sunday after a bumpy ride across a bridge to her first child, Marie. The curly headed imp took over their lives for the better. She cinched together this little family and gave the couple an intense desire to serve God with all of their actions. At two year intervals, Donna gave birth to two other children. Christina was born in 1968 and Anita was born in 1970 following 2 miscarriages. Even though Donna decided to leave the classroom for a little while, she trained her daughters at home to read, write, do mathematics and play the piano. Each Sunday, she relished in teaching a 4th grade Sunday School class at the Four Square Gospel Church of Durango. She was simply a stunning person. She arranged treasure hunts for her 4th & 5th grade Sunday school students that lead them up the college hill trail and made them contemplate the spiritual treasures found in Christ. She tirelessly loved those difficult to connect with, she gave when it wasn’t easy, she was steady because she knew who she was in Christ.
Raising the children, Donna realized the importance of getting out into nature and along with Gordon and extended family, camping became a focal point of time off. These were always times of laughter, campfire hymns, stories, pranks, water fights, lots of hiking and memories to last a lifetime. It was on these outings that Donna became an avid photographer, especially of wildflowers, and added this artistic expression to her creative resume.
When the youngest child was finally old enough to go to school, Donna prepared herself to return to the classroom. While taking classes at Fort Lewis College to recertify to teach Elementary, she found that she had an incredible aptitude for pottery. One class turned in to many classes and she threw (pun intended) herself into the craft and art of pottery. She developed her own firing techniques, glazes, and patterns. Donna perfected her own styles and was a renowned artist in downtown Durango for about 20 years. She was the owner and operator of Durango Pottery and sold pottery that literally went all across the world. She was remarkable in her longevity as a potter. Pottery thrown on a wheel is notorious for destroying the arms and back of the potter. However, Donna was still throwing pottery as late as 2016. It was her artistic outlet. It was her joyful occupation. It was the way she blessed and supported her children in college and beyond. Often times she would speak at conferences demonstrating the way the clay had to be thrown and centered on the wheel making a beautiful allegory for how our lives must be centered on Christ. She spoke eloquently about how God, the great potter, would tenderly remove our flaws and make us perfect in Him.
For many years, Donna played cello with the Durango Chamber Orchestra. She continued to play in her home and with dear friends. She found such joy in repairing cellos and, of course, fostering the joy of music in others. She found ways to bring together diverse people and love them as they were. She created “home concerts” that became joyful events for all. During these years, she and her husband were also in ministry together- writing and directing Kids Crusades both in Colorado and Missouri. Her all-inclusive talents for weaving scripture memory, skits, music, and biblical truth were evident in these crusades. In her local church, she not only taught Sunday School but created a teenage drama troupe called “The Impact Players”.
One of her favorite things to do as a family was to get up before the sun, pack the 3 sleeping girls in the VW Bus and drive to the top of the LaPlata Canyon for some breakfast...to watch the sun come up. She was her husband’s partner in everything. They taught their children to love camping, hiking, and all things outdoors. She- in reality- was a renaissance woman, a true Proverbs 31 woman.
Donna Marie Rowe went back and finished her teaching recertification as well as a degree in Art all while teaching Ceramics at Durango High School. but focused on secondary education. Although she initially struggled with the challenges of teens, Donna came to appreciate their uniqueness and energy and found creative ways to motivate her students to do their best work at all times. Former students who had loved her dearly as their high school pottery teacher would regularly greet her with a heartfelt hug in the grocery store. They knew that she held a spot in her heart for each of them and loved them truly. It was a highlight of her life to see them out and about.
Her own teenagers weren’t necessarily the easiest to raise either. The Rowes met these challenges with time in her prayer closet and the patience of a saint. There were many sleepless nights spent in prayer and days filled with angry negotiations. However, after surviving those years, when referring back to them, she would always giggle and say, ‘Aw don’t be silly, you weren’t THAT bad!’ even though every parent knows what teenage girls can be like. Her parental advice has proven its value time and time again for the raising of the grandkids.
Her support of anything her husband needed was evident in so many ways: inviting wrestlers over for homemade donuts and “Rubber Jello”, painting clown faces on wrestlers during the Fiesta Days Parade and holding down the fort during wrestling season and beyond. When other kids needed a safe place to stay, she opened their home and lavishly poured out love- never with any notion of being repaid.
In the following years, her husband, Gordon, was diagnosed with MS and slowly left work so Donna redoubled her efforts in the pottery studio to support the family financially. She established an online store and relentlessly pursued her entrepreneurial presence all while building her local Durango Pottery business on Main Avenue. She saw this storefront as a way to give some talented HS students their own gallery showings and encourage their future artistic endeavors. Many know that she was quick to give scripture mugs to anyone she came in contact with. If someone fixed the car or helped her beloved dog, T.F., she presented them with a gift from her own hands. These gifts were the generous expressions of a very thankful heart.
At Christmas time, she gathered her growing family of children and grandchildren to sing Christmas carols to those that she particularly loved. Always, there was a plate of Christmas cookies and a pottery gift for each family on the route. When her oldest grandchild decided to play the cello, Donna reconnected with her former cello mentor and friend Sylvia Oliva for lessons. Soon, what started out as cellos lessons for a granddaughter, turned into an 8 member “Band with 4 Cellos” that performed original arrangements of Christmas music at local nursing homes. Again, Donna showed her knack for promoting the talents she saw in others. She was an encouraging friend to all. But most of all she was a friend to her daughters & husband. She mountain biked & hiked to be with her daughters. She played hacky-sack to befriend her daughters. She began running to be that irreplaceable support and friend to her daughters.
Even though her heart was among the most spiritually healthy, it was physically compromised. In spite of this, in her late 50’s, Donna became a runner as a way to inspire her oldest child to start exercising. They started out jogging for 30 seconds at a time and worked up until Donna was running half marathons and winning in her age group. From that time onwards, she was always interested in keeping physically fit so that she could keep up with the beautiful grandkids that God had blessed her with. Donna decided to join a gym and met some wonderful friends. They kept her motivated and she was an inspiration to everyone who bore witness to her resilience and strength.
There were few things she enjoyed more than ‘snitching’ one of her grandkids from their sleep and taking them off to WalMart in the middle of the night to watch the doughnuts being made, followed by a nice, hot one of course. Another favorite activity was when she invented the ‘make it rain’ game which involved tipping millions of wooden beads down the wooden staircase resulting in a thunderous noise, both from the beads and the giggling kids. Countless hours were invested in babysitting, being a music teacher, athletic supporter, counselor and prayer warrior for Donna’s 11 beautiful grandkids but it brought her so much joy and she felt so privileged that she never complained. Her most important mission was to always encourage them to trust in God to direct their paths. Donna was able to be a living example of someone who truly did this. Duty was never her motivation. She took care of many elderly neighbors until they died, she took care of her parents and sacrificed her own daily freedom to make sure her mother (who lived in their home for almost a decade) was well cared for. She sacrificed many other things so that some of her children could have music lessons from top musicians at UNM. Ironically, she never thought any of it was a “sacrifice”.
She was the grandparent who never said, “No” to watching her grandchildren. Even if it was inconvenient or she had other plans, she put time with them as the priority. She was never-failingly kind, giving superior love and gentleness. If given the choice between seeing friends and going to “Mimi’s,” the grandchildren chose her.
Donna Marie Rowe was an expert in showing love. She made it her life’s goal to pick up those who were lowly. The words she spoke and the things she did were all meant to direct others to her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. However, her love did not stop there. She kept constant records of the prayer needs of those around her. A short conversation that would pass from the memory of others would prompt her to pray for that person. She did not fail to remember those in need and lift their names humbly to God.
She knew that she was admirable, but did not want the praise. She tirelessly and lovingly directed others to the truth of Jesus Christ. Those who did not believe, she loved even more deeply. Their distance from God only prompted her to pray for them even more fervently. As she battled sleeplessness throughout her life, she simply used the restless nighttime hours to pray for the ones who were lost, the ones who were suffering, and the ones who were troubled.
The evidence of her witness and testimony can easily be seen in the words of her grandchildren:
Tori Marquez: Mimi always encouraged me to listen to the Holy Spirit. She was one of my biggest advocates, someone who I knew would always step up to the plate on my behalf and would do anything and everything to make sure I knew how much she loved me. She did that to everyone she met. I truly believe her prayers for me are part of the reason I am who I am today. She is my role model in every aspect of life. I will deeply and indescribably miss her but I know I will see her again!
Lauren McMunn: My Mimi was the loudest encourager! She was the person who saw past my insecurities and my faults to see that my fears came from lack of trust in God and once she was able to show me that that was my problem she was the first person to always pray with me. She was a prayer warrior. It didn't matter when it was or where she was she would cry out to Christ with fervent prayers of complete trust in who He was and what He could do. I am the grandkid that wants to carry on her amazing talent of bringing people together with great food! I will consider my life a success if I can be surrounded in prayer and love at the end of my life the way she was!
Sydney McMunn: My grandmother was a teacher by nature. She taught me everything; music, art, cooking, gardening, pottery, math, and also things that reach beyond the physical. She taught me how to love God well and serve his people. She taught me that loving God comes by time spent with him in prayer and time spent with him and others. She was a woman who wouldn’t just agree to pray for you, she would do it that day and for as long as she thought she needed to afterward. She had regular meetings with other friends in her life including my aunt Nancy, where they would do devotions together. She taught me that serving his people meant being kind enough to be around them and bold enough to give them what they really need. She would act with raw, infectious love towards the guy at the grocery store, the women at the front desk of her gym, the kid at Fuzzywigs, the parent at my volleyball game, anyone and everyone. On top of that, she grew in boldness as her life grew. She was not afraid to give God the credit he deserved as she spoke about his glory to others. My memories of my Mimi are a cup overflowing with Jesus. I think of Dr. James Dobson on the radio, I think of instrumental Christian music flowing through the house on cleaning days, I think of conversation around the dinner table about the baptism in the Holy Spirit and predestination and really heavy stuff, I think of her washing my feet in total humility, I think of trading white elephant crosses at Christmas time. Though all of this may be flooding back right now, two things were always on my mind when I thought about her. One is her love of hymns in all their simplicity and tradition. I have been happy to adopt that as my own worship focus as well. The second being her unswayed, durable and unconditional love for me. I never doubted her deep love for me her deeper still desires for my life, a life filled with Christ, a life that I hope to he as sanctifying and surrendered as her own.
Jaden Hinger: It was clear in Mimi’s life that every moment was cherished because of her walk with the Lord. Breath by breath she put her faith in Him, and the Lord used her to speak love. For me, she was a prayer warrior that I hope to emulate. If one were to ask “What moment did you see the Lord speak through her?” I would not be able she never hesitated to share what God was doing, and how she heard Him speak. She raised her children and grandchildren to love the Lord, and any work we do reflects Him.
Kaleb McMunn: My grandmother had poured into my life by just how she lived her life. From learning the basic education lessons to the countless hours on the potter wheel learning the right form. Out of all the lessons, she taught me none are more important to me than the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Like Jesus, my grandmother sought to be that kind of servant-leader in the world. She showed love and compassion to everyone she met by living a God-filled life every day. No matter where or when she always had time to bring up Jesus and his Love for us.
Tate Hinger: God never overrides our free will in order to acquire obedience. He asks humbly if we will lay down our rights, pick up our cross, and follow Him. He never promises that the journey will be easy, but warns us that there will probably be a few bumps along the way. I was extremely fortunate to have Mimi as a spiritual leader in my life. A servant of the humblest proportions, Mimi showed me how to live a life of surrender and meekness. She chose to be a doer of the word, not just a hearer, and the fruit of her lifestyle are still present today. Even though she’s gone to be with God, her legacy continues through three beautiful daughters, eleven grandchildren, and many generations to come. I’m so thankful for her presence in my life and I hope to someday become the servant she was.
Daniel Rowe: Mimi taught me how to pray when I was just 2 years old. She told me to always trust in Him, and that whatever happens is part of His plan. Ever since then I pray every night before I go to sleep because I wanted to have the faith that Mimi had. At the time I didn’t realize the effect that had on me but I am now so spiritually driven, I now am fully in God’s hands, I go where He wants me to go.
The night I found out that Mimi was given days, I prayed to God asking Him to make her last days easy and when it’s her time, for it to be easy and peaceful, without pain. The day it happened my mom told me she went peacefully and without suffering from pain. When she told me I immediately thanked God and for the first time, I felt He had heard me and it was just for Mimi, His most faithful, loving servant.
Cam Hinger: Throughout the 16 years that I’ve known Mimi. She’s impacted my life dramatically, she’s always have had a happy and a positive attitude even if she was feeling under the weather. When us grandkids were feeling bad, sad, or just tired. She would always be happy to take care of us, even if we were having a bad attitude she would direct us towards the right thing.
Nika Hinger: There was a Christmas where she took each of the grandchildren one at a time and washed our feet. This showed me that God loves me no matter what. She was showing me the love that God has for me. She made a teapot for each of us grandchildren, a keepsake that showed that how much she loves us. She didn’t think about herself and put us before herself.
Levi Hinger: She always was there for me when I was down. She never gave up. Even when it was hard she kept on trusting.
Annaliese Hinger: I loved her too much I loved to go to the pool with her. Every time we went there she would get me chocolate, chocolate chip cookies. I wanted to stay here and stay with her.
The marriage that lasted 54 years, until her death, produced countless good memories, infinite hope, and knowledge of the strength of love. Gordon and Donna Rowe made a team that was truly centered on Christ. Because of that, they were able to withstand trials that many cannot. The final two years of this beautiful life only served to tighten Donna’s relationship to Jesus Christ and deepen her love for Gordon Rowe.
And although there were times after she was diagnosed with cancer and suffering with pain that she wanted to quit, she looked to the Lord of her life and He lifted her every time. She continued to battle and ‘run the race’ that God had set for her, knowing that He is faithful and would not give her more than she could bear. Donna knew that her life, and her death, was in his loving hands and she would continue to shine His light through her strength until He called her to the finish line to claim her reward. A reward which she craved and believed that His grace would bring her. There is no doubt that today, Donna is there, at the throne with her Saviour. She will be dancing and leaping and praising God, and one day, those who trust in the Lord and accept Jesus Christ will see her again.