Donna Fenn Literacy Fund

Donna FennAfter 27 years in elementary education, most teachers would be thumbing the pages of travel brochures planning an enjoyable retirement.  Donna Fenn held a different view of life after work and it involved her lifelong passion of developing literacy skills for young children.  When this first and second grade teacher left the classroom in 2002 it was to become the Title I program coordinator for her school, William Tell Elementary, in Tell City, IN. In her new position  she served as the implementer for a new teaching curriculum called Four Blocks Literacy.  It was from her Four Blocks studies and training with the program authors in Winston Salem, NC,  that Donna began making presentations to groups of  teachers in other school corporations around Indiana.   By sharing the benefits of this new way of teaching literacy she discovered a large need for people who could help implement this new curriculum and her new interest in consulting  developed and grew.  An invitation to speak at a local university prompted her to refocus her retirement goals  to include teaching at a university level, recognizing that new generations of teachers would be the best vehicle for reaching children with these new teaching concepts.  This grand and exciting plan was cut short in July of 2004, when Donna was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer.

Donna collected favorite teacher accolades from her students and their parents like the Grammy awards of her favorite Motown artists of the 60’s.  Her career spanned enough years that she taught the children of many of her former students, and stayed in contact with them as they attended college, married and began their adult lives.

One of her former first grade pupils,  Jamie Cutter, took a class called cadet teaching when in high school. It required going to a local school and working in the classroom with a teacher with the hope of developing a career path in education.  Jamie chose Donna’s classroom and their second, student-teacher term together took on the guise of mentor and budding teacher.  A few years later, for her college freshman education class, Jamie wrote in her class essay, My Favorite Teacher,

“She was the most patient teacher I ever had.  She never raised her voice, even when we behaved inappropriately.  She made learning fun! I was not a strong reader when I was in the first grade,  but before I began the second grade she made sure that I was at the same level as the rest of the children.  During the summer, after that unforgettable year, Mrs. Fenn tutored me in her home once a week, and worked with me in other subject areas as well to ensure my future academic success.”…”Learning in Mrs. Fenn’s classroom did not stop there, now that I am in college, I visit her often.  We have remained in contact and our relationship has shifted from a teacher/student relationship to colleagues and friends.  Donna is a very inspirational person in my life…..”

Donna and Jamie have indeed remained friends and colleagues after her college graduation. Today, she is Jamie Cutter Guillaume and is now a teacher. Lovingly, Jamie’s last act of devotion to her former teacher was to contact the vocalist from her home church to sing at Donna’s funeral.

Donna’s treatment for ovarian cancer required surgery to eliminate as much cancer as possible and then regular treatments with chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells and put the cancer in remission.  In the seven months following her surgery of  July of 2004,  she held fast to the hope that her cancer would go into remission  and she would be able to continue her work to normal retirement and begin her second career as consultant and college professor.  Late in November of 2004, with her scheduled treatment complete, her lab work prompted her Oncologist to declare that she had “no evidence of disease”,  the best possible outcome.  As the Christmas holidays approached, Donna began to make plans to return to her school and resume her duties and restart her consulting work.  Tragically, a follow-up visit to her surgeon, little more than 30 days later revealed new cancer growth activity in her abdomen.

The new year brought continuous chemotherapy treatments, frequent outpatient hospital procedures, and 61 days of hospital confinement from April through October of 2005.  Following a lengthy hospitalization in April, Donna and Doug, her husband of 34 years,  left Tell City to relocate to Evansville, with her family, to be closer to her medical providers.  It was during that difficult hospitalization  that Doug sent word to The Community Foundation Alliance that he wanted their help to establish an endowment that would continue the dedication to literacy skills development that had been so central to Donna’s  professional life. That contact was the beginning of the Donna Fenn Literacy Fund.

After a fifteen-month struggle with cancer, Donna died on October 11, 2005.  Although her life’s work was cut short, the dream she had can continue through the fund that bears her name.  Managed and administered by the Community Foundation Alliance, the mission of the fund is “to promote the development of literacy skills of elementary students in the Tell City-Troy Township public school system.”  Anyone, individuals or groups, can make a permanent gift to this tax deductible, dedicated endowment fund.  No contribution would be too small because it would  never be spent and would grow in perpetuity with other contributions and provide annual gifts to the school for literacy development.  Only the income and net capital appreciation, up to approximately 4.5% per year, will be gifted to a committee at William Tell Elementary School to carry out the mission of the fund.

Unknowingly, Donna’s colleagues at William Tell Elementary became the first donors, when their retirement gifts to Donna were made in the form of cash donations, to the unannounced fund.  In addition to her husband and son, Donna’s parents and her sister and family have made substantial gifts. It is their hope that Donna’s students, their parents, her extended family, and her friends will join them in supporting a passion of Donna’s that will benefit the school and its students for eternity.

“Obviously, a great opportunity exists now, to support literacy skills development and to honor Donna’s passion that was so dear to her heart.”, said her husband Doug Fenn.