When you meet this spry, energetic senior from Port Alberni, it is hard to believe that she is now 90 years old. Donna James was surprised on Sept. 18 with a celebration of epic proportion at McLean Mill National Historic Site for her birthday. That she didn’t know anything was obvious by the shocked look and tears.
Donna’s son Lindy greeted the vehicle and escorted his mother to the building with the aid of a walker—James had had a knee replacement 10 days before.
There were many hugs and tears before entering the hall that had been filled with tables and chairs. There was a special chair of honour that Donna had so that she could put her feet up.
The birthday cake was brought out by her son Raymond, just as he had done 10 years earlier at her 80th celebration. Great-granddaughter Ella Webber handed a fire extinguisher to Donna to put out the candles. Candles had been done in a way that added up to 90—a trick that Donna always pulled on the children to see if they could figure out what each candle was worth. It took her a few minutes but then you could see by the expression that it clicked.
Another great-granddaughter, Theresa James, spoke about how wonderful her grandmother is.
Donna was born in 1932 in Donalda, Alberta to Henry and Edna Paege. She had one brother Harley (Sue) and has one sister Anita (Gerry). Donna said, “After school I went to work for my Dad at our creamery. In 1951 I decided to move to Vancouver, my girlfriend Faye was living there. I went to work for the Bank of Montreal and then the Credit Union. In 1952 I met Jack and in 1953 we were married, in Edmonton, Alberta. Our first child, Lindy, was born in Vancouver.”
Donna and Jack (now passed)went to Powell River where Donna worked as a bookkeeper at Marshall Wells. She also coached Junior Olympics while in Powell River. “I was always into sports,” she said. Their children Raymond and Sharron were born in Powell River. The family then moved to Atwood Bay for two years and at Christmas of 1964 they moved to Port Alberni.
Jack was transferred and went to work as a foreman for MacMillan & Bloedel’s Cameron Division. Donna taught PE at ADSS and substituted at EJ Dunn for a couple of months. She then went to work for a couple of years at the Esso Depot that was located by the Lady Rose Marine Services dock and then at Western Bus Lines (owned by Lyn McLeod) for 12 years.
“I played softball for Rayner and Bracht Ladies team. Delores Dwolinsky and I started the D & D Denim Line Dancers in the late ‘70s and did this for about 20 years,” she said.
Donna credits her oldest son with fostering her love of dragon boating. “I went to watch my son Lindy paddle in a dragon boat in False Creek (Vancouver) and while there he won me a dragon boat t-shirt. I went to parks and rec here in Port Alberni and they said if you buy the boat we will have lessons.
“My friend Joan Thompson brought her dragon boat over from Qualicum and wanted to use me as a contact. We had a lot of interest and with the help of Kenn Whiteman we raised $20,000 and got a boat within a year. I still enjoy paddling and also do outrigger paddling.”
In the mid 1980s Donna was the president of the Cherry Creek Golf Course (now Alberni Golf Course) and was the first lady to hold this position. While president they expanded the course from nine to 18 holes. She curled for years and attended the B.C.s one year. “We didn’t win but had a lot of fun.”
Donna has been a Sunshine Club member for 40 years and is a member of the Folk Song Circle.
Besides her three children she has four grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
“I would like to give a heartfelt thank you to Lindy, Raymond, Diane and Danielle Webber for organizing such a wonderful surprise party for me,” Donna said.
“I would also like to extend a special thanks to my sister Anita and her husband Gerry from Edmonton for attending and to Jack’s brother Lorne of Vancouver and all the family and friends that made this an unforgettable and treasured memory.”