School 11

Donella (Whitsler) Shirk

January 22, 1938 ~ April 24, 2021 (age 83)

Obituary Image

Life Story



Do not feel guilty for living

When I have passed away…

Keep smiling, laughing and playing,

And do this every day.


Quintessential grandma, unflappable humorist and prolific poet Donella Shirk passed away the morning of Saturday, April 24, 2021 at her Elkhart home following a bout of fragile health. She was 83. While we generally perceive Heaven as a paradise of plenty, we can also imagine Donella lecturing St. Peter about the advantages of keeping extra food around, “in case of emergencies”.

Donella was born in Connersville, Indiana on January 22, 1938 to the late Donald “Don” and Ella Whitsler (thus Donella). Don and Ella raised Donella (who was an only child) with an appreciation of life that remained with her throughout the years.

She is survived by her son David Shirk of Elkhart and her daughter Mary LaViolette of Niles, Michigan, as well as her beloved grandson Tommy “T.J.” Laviolette and his significant other Shayla “Shay” Friker, who reside in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Also left to cherish her memory are a host of extended family, good friends, Pedo the dog and her three-legged cat Kiki. Why, half a dozen or so of these folks might even speak fondly of Donella if pressed. Besides her parents, she is preceded in death by her children Stephen and Susan Shirk.  

In accordance with her wishes, no services will be held (because most of her friends have beaten her to the Pearly Gates) and cremation is to take place. Billings Funeral Home and Cremation Services of Elkhart is assisting the family with arrangements.

An accurate assessment of Donella would proclaim her as a kind-hearted woman, loving mother and “spoiler-in-chief” of her grandson, T.J., whom she showered with love without complaint. She was sweet with a side of zest. She worked nearly her whole life as a Registered Nurse and Nurse Educator and accompanied literally hundreds of young OB nurses along their career paths in “Labor and Delivery”! She also taught Lamaze birthing classes at Memorial Hospital for a time.

Believe it or not, Donella was an avid fisherman, if only for the sake of spending quality time with T.J. and would think nothing of returning empty handed because it was all about hanging out with the grandson as opposed to fishing. He became her side-kick and they became inseparable. She would also enjoy traveling with the family and would play games with T.J. during the trip where she would slip him money if he were able to visually identify certain things along the way. As he grew older, she relished the times she was able to follow his high school sports escapades and attended nearly all of his basketball, Football and Baseball games. Grandma was also a bona fide food hoarder, (you know, in case of emergencies…) and would cook or bake anything for her grandson. The usual request were her famous buttermilk cookies.

As eluded to earlier, Donella had an irreprehensible sense of humor, and she was just sweet enough to get away with saying about anything without repercussion. She made it her mission to laugh during inappropriate situations, and she had a “gem” for just about any occasion, and her “Donella-isms” livened up any conversation you would have with her. She had a knack of making up little rhymes and ditties on the fly and would get everyone laughing as she would sing funny, nonsensical songs to T.J. about little red Ferraris and such.   

Also mentioned earlier was the fact that Donella loved to pen her thoughts onto paper in a manner that would make James Whitcomb Riley proud. She would write poems about mundane, everyday things (Like taking the dog “Pedo” out to pee in the snow, stepping on a shard of glass in the basement or buying a “ ‘lectric blankie” for T.J.) and give them a flair that would bring out the humor that existed in real, everyday life.

“…My cold is not better, I’m still full of snot. First I am cold then I am hot. 

I hurt all over, I ache in my head; the puppy and I are staying in bed….”   

All in all, Donella lived her life putting others first and not sweating over the stuff that she couldn’t change. Courageous and strong, Donella lived life on her terms and imparted her strength and dignity to her children and her grandson. She lived, laughed and loved without compromise or regret. Isn’t that all anyone could ask for?


          Listen my children, with a smile and a smirk

As I tell you the story of Donella Shirk.

 A mom, a grandma and a poet as well,

Now she rests from her labors; the bell tolls the stark knell.


From humble beginnings she made her life’s stand

In the verdant rural pastures of Hoosier farmland.

Her daddy was Don, and mom’s name was Ella,

So they thought to themselves…”let’s name her Donella!”


She served as a nurse and an educator avowed;

In a fashion that would make Florence Nightingale proud.

She was blessed to be one of those special nurses

 who ushered in newborns but put others in hearses.


A “jack of all trades” and a master of one;

And THAT one thing was spoiling her grandson.

When it came to baking, grandma was no rookie;

And she especially loved throwing together buttermilk cookies.


She loved her T.J. without a shadow of a doubt,

because living life to the fullest is what it’s all about.

He gave her purpose; a reason to be:

She taught him how to be comfortable with that person called “me”.


She also loved to write and often took paper and pen,

To write down her feelings and moods she was in.

She’d write about rabbits, or dogs or snow,

Or catching a cold or the places she’d go.


Though she lived with a smile, a laugh and a joke

They were words of wisdom whenever she spoke.

But she knew just in case life fouled up her mission, 

She’s just say, “Screw it. C’mon T.J., let’s go fishin’.”  










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