Obituary: Donna R. Danielson

Grandmother, longtime choir director, sports fan

“The colorful life of Donna Rae Danielson closed its earthly chapter on March 18, 2024,” her family shared.

A proud Wisconsinite, Donna was born in Park Falls, Wisconsin on September 12, 1937, to Gordon Dahlie and Madge (Smith) Dahlie. She was raised in the nearby small town of Phillips, Wisconsin, where she was the eldest of four beloved siblings.

After graduating from Phillips High School, she attended the University of Wisconsin at Superior, where she majored in music. She graduated in 1959 and went on to teach music education and choir in New Richmond, Wisconsin. She subsequently moved to Winnetka, Illinois, where she was a nanny until she married Don Danielson, a classmate from college, on February 27, 1960.

Pursuing his interest in the medical field, Don enlisted in the U.S. Army and the two of them set off to Wurzburg, Germany in 1961. Their eldest daughter Kristin was born in Germany in 1962. They returned to Madison in 1963, where one of her most memorable jobs was teaching music education to 82 seventh graders the last class hour of the day.

The Danielsons then moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, so her husband could pursue his MA at the University of Michigan. They welcomed their second daughter, Melissa, in 1966. The young family moved to Burlington, Vermont in 1968, where she was involved in many musical endeavors. She directed the choir at Trinity College, taught music and choir at Burlington High School, and sang in the Vermont Choral Union.

The family’s next move was to the wild west of Billings, Montana in 1974, where she soon became the Christian education director and choir director at First Congregational Church. She also sang in and became the director of the Billings Symphony Chorale.

After her husband’s unfortunate death in 1979 she married Larry Schulz in 1982. They relocated to Alameda, California in 1985. Straying a bit from her musical career, she was the director of an adult literacy program from 1987 to 2001, and helped many ESL students learn English. She also directed the choir at First Congregational Church of Alameda, where Larry was the minister. Together the couple enjoyed attending symphony and chorale concerts, taking road trips, and cooking for their numerous friends. They “retired” in 2001 and moved to Pilgrim Place in Claremont, where she was always busy.

Not quite done with her musical career, she directed the Pilgrim Place Chorale from 2003 to 2018. “Because of Donna’s easygoing, friendly nature, she made and kept many close friends,” her family added. “Besides music, Donna enjoyed playing bridge and anyone that knew her, knew that sports were an integral part of her life. She was an avid Green Bay Packers fan and loved watching football games on Saturdays and Sundays. She also loved watching baseball and golf, always cheering for the ‘good guys’ to win. Donna had a serious reputation for making the best molasses cookies and also for her famous Chex Mix. She also grew beautiful roses which she freely shared with others. Donna was proud of her Norwegian heritage and was lucky to visit her relatives in Norway.”

She is survived by her daughters Kristin (Jim Wilburn) Danielson of Glendale, Arizona, Melissa Spear of Vail, Colorado; stepchildren Karl (Jennifer) Schulz of Portland, Oregon, Keith (Laura) Schulz of Rockville, Maryland, and Karen (Ray) Thomas of Scottsdale, Arizona; and grandchildren Mitchell (Erika) Wilburn, Taylor Wilburn, Riley Spear, Natalie Spear, Keenan (Lizzy) Schulz, Steffen (Lindsay) Schulz, Anya Schulz, Alex Schulz, Lisa Thomas, and Patty Thomas.

She was predeceased by her brother Paul of Wellesley, Massachusetts; sister Sharon of La Jolla, California; brother Jim of Jamestown, New York; and her husband Larry.

A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15 at Decker Hall on the Pilgrim Place campus, 625 Mayflower Rd., Claremont, CA 91711. A reception will follow in Napier Common Room.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Doctors Without Borders at, or Pilgrim Place at

“We will always remember the good times,” her family said.


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