Posted 9/26/18 (Wed)
Donna Christensen Sundby passed away late in the day on Aug. 12, 2018, in Manhattan, Mont.
She was born Donna Jeanne Jeannette, the fifth of six children, to Fred and Ellen (Nelson) Propp on Nov. 15, 1928, in Raub, N.D. The family moved to Washburn, N.D., in 1934 where Donna grew up and graduated from Washburn High School in 1946.
She entered the Bismarck Evangelical Hospital School of Nursing in Bismarck, N.D., for a three year diploma degree. While attending college she met Bill Christensen, a young rancher from Dunn County, N.D. They announced their engagement in 1948. Donna won the argument about finishing school. She received her diploma in nursing, and passed the North Dakota State Board of Nursing Exams to become an RN in 1949. Donna and Bill were married on Sept. 1, 1949, in Washburn.
With her goal of completing her education accomplished, Donna jumped feet first into ranch life with Bill, joining his family and starting her own. She learned the art of baking bread from Aunt Emma, and once mistakenly turned all the hired hands long handles pink with a stray sock in the load of whites. Five children were born, though one very small son would be buried in the cemetery in Watford City.
The Figure 4 Ranch, a family corporation, was sold in 1957, and Donna moved with her husband and young family to start a new ranch in the Madison River Valley in Montana. This dream was not to be. While living in Ennis, Mont., just before closing the deal for the new ranch, Bill suffered his first heart attack. Ranching was no longer a possibility. Donna gathered her family and with love, strength, and courage moved back to Watford City to begin a different, new life.
Bill became a business owner, opening the Western Saddlery, and Donna became a Christmas window decorating winner, a bread baker, a bandager of knees, a clothing and costume sewer, a hunter and a jam maker, a carer of parents, children, and strays of all kinds. In 1960, another child was born, making a houseful of five. In 1966, she joined the ranks of the working mothers, outside of their homes.
Donna became the Public Health Nurse of McKenzie County, N.D., the largest county in the state. It required traveling to several small, rural schools to administer eye and hearing tests, and to set up vaccination clinics. She also had those duties in Watford City, and her children often heard her referred to as “the Shot Lady.” They were never actually shunned because of it, as far as I know. This job and her family kept her busy, but she was active in the community and enjoyed the company of friends.
Life change for Donna, again, when she lost Bill to his second heart attack in 1970. She started over as she had done before, with the courage she had always had. She continued working, still having the two youngest boys at home, not paying a lot of attention to any suitors. However, Jerome Sundby persisted, and they were married on Oct. 10th, 1975, in Watford City, N.D., at the Courthouse where Donna worked. Her granddaughter declared that was HER grandma and tried to disrupt the ceremony, but was unsuccessful.
Donna and Jerome lived in Watford City for a couple more years, until Donna retired from her nursing position in 1977, and they moved to Boulder, Colo.,. They had some time for traveling, going to see Donna’s brothers and sisters and their families, and to Hawaii and other fun spots. The kids got raised, but she never really suffered from any empty nest syndrome. The first year of her marriage to Jerome, any child that had “flown” somehow needed to return, at least for awhile. The pattern held true for many years, kids or grandkids wandering in and out.
Donna and Jerome moved to Bozeman, MT in 1980, and remained until the end of their lives. Jerome passed away in 2011, and Donna remained in their home until 2017, when she moved to the Parkhaven Retirement Community on Manhattan, Mont. In her later years, osteoporosis took its toll, and she couldn’t get around as much as she would have liked. She had family in the area, and enjoyed many barbecues, birthday parties and holiday get-togethers over the years. There were many weekends when there were five generations running through her doors.
She’s gone on now to see her mom and dad, Fred and Ellen; her brothers, Bob and Fred; her sister and brother-in-law, Dorothy and Roy Volkman; and her sister, Oranda; her husband, Bill and their small son; and her husband, Jerome; plus many family and friends gone before.
She left behind her children, Ellen Christensen Endres, Tom and Mary (Schmidt) Christensen, Mark and Kathleen Christensen Davis, Jim and Gay (Horan) Christensen, and Bob and Ruth (Dziuba) Sundby; her brother, Doug and his wife, Linda; and her sister-in law, Lila Propp; five grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; two great-great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews, greats and grands, and cousins first, second, once, twice and thrice removed, and friends in many places. Good-bye and God speed.
A celebration of Donna’s life will be at 2p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at Dahl Funeral & Cremation Service Tribute Center, 300 Highland Blvd., Bozeman, MT.
Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at www.dahlcares.com.