Her epitaph, she said, should simply be this: Wife, mother, artist, citizen. It’s a spare description that belies what a strong, thoughtful, engaged and exceptionally talented woman was Donna Brinkman, who died Jan. 3 at the age of 84.
Born Donnabelle Elaine Roush on November 24, 1932, to Harold and Iva (Sheneman) Roush of Walkerton, Indiana, Donna graduated from Lincoln High School in 1950. She studied art education at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, before marrying Jerry A. Brinkman on June 9, 1951.
For 61 years until his death in 2012, Donna and her “dear Jerry” shared an enduring love, raised five children, and collaborated as full partners in family, civic and business life. Over 30 years, they owned and operated Industrial Specialists, a marketing firm in Dayton with worldwide clients and customers. She and Jerry complemented one another in ways simple and profound. Jerry enjoyed taking risks; Donna was more measured, a planner. In their portraits painted by Donna, his was titled “The Optimist”; hers “The Realist.”
Donna was astonishingly well read -- the book shelves, coffee tables and end tables of her home overflowed with books on Russian and European history, literary classics and biographies -- and she fostered in her children a thirst for learning and an understanding of others. She wrote always, her letters, poetry and journals recording a closely observed life. In all the homes where the family lived, there was a dedicated room set aside as the "library," where Donna’s diverse literary collection was an open book for all to share.
She and Jerry believed in Dayton, remaining faithful residents of the Dayton View neighborhood for five decades. Donna especially thrived on the vitality and diversity the city offered. In 1972, the family joined the NAACP in seeking to undo decades of discrimination by the Dayton School Board and unequal access to a quality education for all children. The resulting class-action lawsuit, known as Brinkman v. Gilligan because the family's name appeared first in the alphabetical list of plaintiffs, made four trips to the U.S. Supreme Court and would become a landmark school desegregation case.
Donna took her civic responsibilities seriously. Since casting her first vote for president for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, she never missed an election. With her last vote in November, she had hoped to see the nation elect its first woman president. On a community level, she was instrumental in the revival of Dayton’s historic Oregon District, the preservation of the neighborhood post office on Salem Avenue and numerous other neighborhood initiatives.
From the time she was a child, Donna painted. She experimented with landscapes and still lifes but was drawn principally to classical portraiture and the lived-in faces of her subjects. She loved to interview her models as she painted, their stories informing the shape of a face, the arc of a brow. Donna’s creative energy was prodigious, and she produced countless paintings over her lifetime. Her works hang in every room of her home -- and the homes of many of her subjects. She participated in dozens of juried art competitions and earned numerous honors. Through her work with the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors and its High Street Gallery, Donna helped mentor the next generation of Dayton’s thriving arts community. Some of her happiest moments were the weekly gatherings of her portrait-painting group, Dayton Associated Fine Artists (DAFA), a vital relationship that lasted 30 years. In recent years after Jerry’s death, the group reconvened in her basement studio. The combination of lively banter and artistic collaboration was a balm in a world without Jerry.
Her long association with DAFA and a 30-year membership in her book club, The Forum, nourished her artistic and literary life. Her life was also enriched beyond measure by a 50-year friendship she and Jerry shared with three other couples who called themselves the “Four Seasons”: Richard and Margie Beach; Martin and Liz Knapp; and Bill and Jane Topp. Over countless hands of bridge, at dinners and weekend retreats, they shared their family tales, joys and sorrows.
In 1990, following many years of dialysis, Donna was the grateful recipient of a kidney transplant. Since then, not a day went by that she didn’t offer a private devotion for this extraordinary gift, which gave her 27 more years with Jerry and their family.
Donna is survived by three daughters, Anna Marie (Don) Bowers, of Burton, Ohio; Kathy (Michael Montopoli) of Washington, D.C.; and Patricia of Dayton, Ohio; two sons, Mark (Victoria Duran) of Chicago; and Phillip (Sarah) of Madison, Wisconsin; grandchildren Sarah Meador, Carmen Montopoli, Shawn Bowers, Nicholas Montopoli, Chaney Burlin, Lina Montopoli, Alexsandra Bowers, and Paley Burlin; great-grandchildren Evelyn Bowers and Miles Montopoli; a sister, Beverly (Fred) Wolfarth of Indianapolis; and two brothers, Jim (Gloria) Roush of Cassopolis, Michigan, and John Abell of Granger, Indiana. She was preceded in death by Jerry; her parents; and her step-mother, Eleanor (Trousdale) Roush.
The family will receive friends from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, at Baker-Hazel & Snider Funeral Home and Crematory, 5555 Philadelphia Drive, Dayton. A celebration of Donna’s life will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, at the chapel of Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, 118 Woodland Ave., Dayton. Friends wishing to honor Donna’s commitment to the arts may make a donation to the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors at http://daytondsps.org. Online condolences may be made at www.bakerhazelsnider.com.
Source: Baker-Hazel & Snider Funeral Home and Crematory