Donna Simanton has advocated for peace
Peace pole in park with prayer for peace to prevail in Japanese and dog paw prints, left. Donna Simanton in her home, right.
From growing up with Swedish Lutheran and Czech Bohemian Catholic parents on a farm near Lansing, Mich., to living in Spokane, Donna Simanton's commitment to advocate for peace and justice has woven throughout her 95 years.
In the Qualchan Hills neighborhood, she and her late husband Jim built a park across from their home. It has a peace pole with the prayer, "May peace prevail on Earth" in English, Swedish, Japanese and paw prints (for pets).
Donna's philosophy is that people should love one another—people of all colors and all creeds—and should care for the earth.
She shared how her life and Jim's intersected with the times in which they lived.
Jim, who had served in the Signal Corps and helped rebuild communications facilities at air bases in Germany and France after World War II, returned from seeing the destruction saying, "Never again!"
"I was glad he felt the same as I did," she said.
Influenced to live frugally by growing up in the Great Depression and World War II, and by their modest incomes, Donna and Jim gave gifts of $20 to $50 to groups promoting equal rights, peace and environmentalism.
Then, after they received a settlement for royalties from television manufacturers for Jim's development of stereophonic sound, they created the James R. and Donna H. Simanton Foundation in 1988.
They decided to use the funds to support global, national and local groups that promote education, medical health, mental health, hunger relief, housing, peace and justice, including KSPS, KPBX, Doctors without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, the Salvation Army Spokane, the Southern Poverty Law Center, UNICEF and the Taos Music School for latchkey children.
Donna mentioned some other favorite beneficiaries, and told of some peace and justice actions she joined in.
• Another Mother for Peace, founded in 1967, educates for ending war to solve disputes among nations, people and ideologies. Donna marched with their Chicago group on the snowy day before President Nixon signed the peace treaty ending the Vietnam War.
• The United Religions Initiative fosters interfaith efforts for peace, justice, cooperation and dialogue.
• Acting to protect the environment, Donna and a friend lay down in front of bulldozers to stop DuPage County near Chicago from building a road through a forest preserve.
• To protest war, she participated in a Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane march against the Iraq war and a candlelight march.
Donna said her commitment to peace was influenced by her involvement with Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, nondenominational and United Church of Christ churches, and what she called a "hip" church—the Community Church of the Servants led by a Lutheran pastor in an Episcopal church. In Spokane, she is active in Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ.
Donna shared her story.
Living on a farm outside Lansing, Mich., she began first grade at five in a one-room country school with 11 students in eight grades.
Her mother cooked Swedish food and re-made second-hand clothes for her to wear.
In the Depression when Donna was in junior high, her family's farm was auctioned off. They moved to Okemos, a Lansing suburb and home to many Michigan State University professors.
She attended a small high school where she was one of two students studying Latin, the only language offered. The principal also taught math and shop. She was the lead in school musicals and plays.
Her father found work with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) public works projects. Some classmates made fun of WPA workers.
Donna graduated top in her class of 26 and worked a summer at a WT Grant store, earning $15 a week.
Living at home, she started at Michigan State, but failed chemistry and went back to work. Then she saw a brochure saying that John Hopkins University School of Nursing was recruiting women for its Nurse Cadet Corps and would pay for three years of study plus $15 a month. She started the program in Baltimore in 1944.
The war ended in April 1945, and Donna graduated in June, so she returned to Lansing to work as a private duty nurse and with an ear, nose and throat specialist.
In an evening philosophy class at Michigan State, she met "a delightful man." Jim had spotted her, too, asked the instructor for her name and called her mother, on the excuse that he was missing an assignment. Their first date was Nov. 9, 1947. They were engaged on New Year's Eve, before Jim left for California to work with his brother. In July, she flew there. They shopped for an engagement ring, which took them five years to pay off. They married in October 1948 in Berkeley.
Her parents couldn't afford to come, so her mother made and sent her wedding dress. Donna and Jim drove on a one-week honeymoon, returning with no money, so co-workers at Jim's plant gave them a food shower.
In Berkeley, Donna was a private duty nurse and physical therapy nurse in a polio unit.
Then Jim's brother invited them to move to Phoenix for a job with an agricultural chemicals company, but it went out of business. Jim had education points on the GI bill, so they returned to Lansing for him to study at Michigan State.
Their first son, John, was born. The delivery cost $300, which meant another five years of payments. They lived in married student housing, a prefabricated World War II Quonset hut with no plumbing and a communal dining area, built to accommodate the influx of soldiers going to school.
Donna left work as a visiting nurse after Jim earned a master's in business management in 1950. They moved to Port Huron, where he developed an auto light, one of his many inventions.
From 1951 to 1956, Jim taught chemistry with Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, where their son Michael was born. There he helped faculty discover Aluminum 26, a radioactive isotope, and did carbon dating on the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls.
In 1956, he began nuclear research at Argonne National Lab in Glen Ellyn, Ill., helping develop a particle accelerator. In the 1960s, he joined Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill., developing robots to work in radioactive areas.
They took out a $15,000 loan to build a house in Glen Ellyn, moving in when it was just a foundation and shell. Until the boys were in school, Donna stayed at home, nailing wallboard and painting walls.
She worked seven years as an orthopedic nurse and then as a private duty nurse for a rich retired couple. She also went as a nurse to vaccinate children in Chicago's crime-ridden Cabrini Green neighborhood.
With the Glen Ellyn United Church of Christ, she chaired Casa Central, helping inner city Spanish-speaking and Mexican people.
In 1975, Jim helped found Telesonics, Inc., which developed and patented the stereo sound system for television. The first tests, conducted with station WTTW 11 Chicago, were at the Simanton home in Glen Ellyn.
In the 1980s, Jim sued Zenith for patent infringement. Zenith's 20 attorneys did not show up in court, so the judge awarded Jim patent royalties for every TV in Japan, Canada and the U.S.
After retiring, they spent winters in Arizona and the rest of the year in Spokane, which they discovered while traveling around the U.S. in an RV. Jim designed their Spokane house and had it built before they moved in 1995.
The summer after Jim had a stroke in 1998, he sat on their front porch in a wheel chair and designed a park across the street on an Etch a Sketch. Qualchan Hills Park Homeowners Association now owns it.
Their son John retired from the Navy and moved to Spokane to help care for Jim until he died in 2002 at the age of 80.
Donna continues her activism, which today includes writing letters to the editor and praying every day for peace.
For information, call 448-7680 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2020