Let there be bells ringing around the earth to celebrate the life force of Donna Marie Walker Wheeler West, who has passed on to a world of pure and eternal spirit. She was born into this world in Newton, Iowa, the daughter of Marie Hubbard and Donald Irvine Walker. She completed her life in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, accompanied by her husband, granddaughter and caregiver.
Donna Marie grew up in Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois. She graduated from Evanston High School and attended Park College near Kansas City, Missouri, excelling in theatre. She earned her license as a practical nurse and worked in labor and delivery at Evanston Hospital, then later in the office of Drs. Blackwell, Loeff, and Cass. She worked for a time as a fashion model. For several years she focused on making a home for her family in Evanston. She was wife to Robert C. Wheeler and mother to son Donald and daughter Margaret. During this period she was also active in community service and instrumental in the development of the Child Care Center of Evanston where she volunteered. When asked by one child, ´´which is your daughter?´´ she replied, ´´the one with the pigtails,´´ – Meg was the only white child present. She was politically active in the community marches for open housing with her young son, Don. Donna Marie sang in the popular Folk Chorale, and took part in ballet lessons with her daughter, Meg. The family delighted in roughing it for camping trips, which perhaps prepared her for the austere conditions of living and working in village-community development. She explored New Orleans, Peru, Russia, Estonia, Costa Rica, and Machu Picchu.
At mid-life, following ten years as a single mother and six years as a real estate agent in Evanston, supporting herself and her children, Donna Marie expanded her commitment to service and joined the Institute of Cultural Affairs, devoting herself to others in Guatemala, Peru, India, Mexico and the USA. After six years in Guatemala community development, she wrote a book titled Between Two Worlds. Donna Marie met her second husband there, and they formed a lifelong partnership. In Peru, she designed and implemented a program called ´´Space Between´´ for citizens of other nations to visit and experience an in-depth encounter of Peruvians and their culture. In India, she was part of the team to set up an International Exposition of Rural Development in collaboration with the UN, which brought together local people working in community development from sixty nations. In Mexico, she was part of the team that managed the international conference of ICA in Qaxtepec. In the USA, she set up and managed ICA´s conference center in Chicago.
Donna Marie maintained close ties with family and friends. She was a mother, a grandmother, a missional colleague, a wife, a friend to many, a vivid writer, an entertainer, a singer, a spirit guru, and an elegant lady. She bore the reputation of being generous, positive, quick with a smile, a laugh, and a song. She has now come full circle and will be deeply missed but never forgotten.
Gratitude for Donnamarie’s Life
(After each line, the community responds, “We are grateful”)
For the wonder of Donnamarie West
For helping our hearts grow
For her nourishing joy
For her appreciation and attention to beauty and details
For the sadness we feel that tells us something wonderful is over
For the life force and spirit that continues in us
For her deep care and compassion for others
For demonstrating how to enjoy the pleasures of life and living
For writing a book that enabled our parents and future generations to understand and appreciate our life’s work
For helping to find and create the Litibu Ecovillage
For raising us up at times so we could see more clearly
Joe and I send our deep condolences to the West family members and the Mexico Litibu community on the passing of one fine, missional lady. We consider Donnamarie our surrogate “daughter,” when many years ago in chicago we stood up as representatives of “the parents” at the wedding of George and Donnamarie. Although “our daughter in the spirit”, Donnamarie, is spared further pain from her long illness. Many of us will deeply miss her presence.
We remember especially her memoir of “awakenment” (my label) entitled “WhatMore Could I Ask For?” For us it was such a powerfully positive narrative of her journey from living a full, but somewhat circumscribed life in the suburbs of the US, to experiencing a call to serve the innocent suffering of the world — and daring to respond. (She wrote this long before the memoir was the literary form “du jour.”).
In the early 90s when we lived just outside Boston and Joe’s young parishioner (a dentist) expressed a “call to serve” beyond the Hispanic community of East Boston, Joe asked Donnamarie to describe your work in Peru and counsel her a bit on the “values screen” she might use in a discernment process for coming to a decision. That young woman is now approaching 50 and has served as a UMC medical missionary in Nicaragua for nearly 20 years. We believe her decision was at least in part influenced by the data, concern and passion shared by the West family.
Our OE Community of Saints is forever growing these days, each time with tears “about” the specific loss of beloved ones like Donnamarie, and tears “over” the final separation we all will ultimately encounter. Grace, peace and love,
What a lovely tribute to the life and service of George. I, like Martha, remember the power of George’s Spirit Conversations. Many of us learned the process well enough to lead meaningful reflections and touch on “the profound” with topics like “tears,“ or “fire”, or “birth,” but George was able to “bleed profound meaning” out of something as inanimate as “a pentel pencil”. The latter was a tool of the mission he carried in his shirt pocket always, loaded with the .7 size lead — just perfect for building 4 X 4 charts. Another memory that holds for me his willingness to experiment to create “something out of nothing” was his hydroponic garden on his porch in Litibu, laden with juicy tomatoes, hanging upside down. And finally, I am embarrassed to admit like others, I can’t remember the year George and Donnamarie were married and I should, because Joe and I were asked to stand in as “his parents” and give the family blessing, as it were. This was comical to me, because although Joe was 5 years older than George, I was 10 years younger. From then on I felt I had permission to say, “Now son, I need to share this with you…..” to which his eyes would twinkle and he would quietly chuckle. Thanks again for making this community event happen.
~~ Marilyn Crocker
When we were interning in Chicago, we moved into the Wests apt. at 314 S. Trumbull. (I think that was the address….near the Preschool). It was pretty rough, but a move up from the bunk beds and a desk in the dorm side of the building (above Room E side). They had knocked a hole in between studs with some remodeling in process, giving Johnny a little space of his own. We had a big double sized loft bed with desks underneath and a sofa with broken springs that practically sank to the floor. But with their Picasso print of the Blue Man, I thought we were in Hippy Heaven. I think they had left for the Urban Academy. Later John was in Cano Negro with George for the consult. We remember George as a very quiet man, full of wisdom and care for local people. His book on community building was a real gift to us all.
~~ Lynda Cock
There was something very unassuming about George that I loved about George. I took notes and watched everything he did and every move he made as my prior in the 5th City Auxiliary.
~~ Leah Early
I have two stories to tell about George: about our conversations together and about transportation.
The fact that he enjoyed pipes was revealed to me as I often visited while smoking mine. He would comment on the pipe and I would inform him a bit of the history of that particular one and the tobacco I smoked. Our conversations were on one of two topics: either theology or politics. George was always reading a book. Usually it was a book of one of the sources we had through RS-I like Bpnhoeffer or Tillich or one of Joseph Mathew’s talks from his two volume set. I would listen to his insights and then comment on them myself. We always enjoyed the discussions.The second area of conversation was politics. He was a fan of Rachel Maddow, and I watched Morning Joe. On the long run-up to the 2000 election that led to Donald Trump’s election, right up until the result was in I was sure that Hillary Clinton would win and he kept worrying that Trump would. Like so many Liberals I thought that Hillary would come through it. But she didn’t. I had to apologize to George for being wrong and we would talk and talk about it.
The second story I wanted to share about George was related to transportation. George was a horseman. In the early days of building his house he owned a horse and kept it in the village. Finally he had to give it up as it was costing him to much! His alternative mode of transportation was a four wheeler that Mike Stringer gave to him many years ago. Right up to the year of his death George would find time to use the four wheeler to go and get things from the village of Higuera Blanca. Finally there was the car, a 1985 Oldsmobile made in 1988. I believe Donnamarie’s father gave it to them. George babied that car every time he drove it. It had such good shocks that the bumpy road had no affect on it. We called it the “Float-mobile” . As George aged he used it less and less until finally he sold it to the mechanic in Higuera. It is still sitting there waiting for repair.
~~ Jack Gilles
The Memorial for George West was a privilege. I only had one face to face encounter with him. It was Summer 1984 Research Assembly where we paired up in a Neuro Linguistic Program (NLP) workshop. The leader asked us to alternatively look at each others eyes and ask the other partner a question. When I asked George a question, he waited a minute then slowly looked up, down, left, right, then straight into my eyes and took another breath without answering. I suppose he eventually did answer, but I don’t recall. Comprehensive, incusive, intentional, reflective, and caring modestĺy describe his noble presence among us. That was a pivotal summer from which I took the practice George demonstrated in that mini workshop. Whole and perfect indeed!! Walk in Peace.
~~ Judi White
Fred and I were somewhat frequent visitors to Litibu by the Sea. I recall our first visit in 1993 when Fred was asked to come and work with the community and other advisors to design pathways and house placements. Plants may have played a part in his assignments as well. I wonder if you can guess where we stayed in those early days? If you guess George and DonnaMarie’s casa, you would be right. That was even before they had a second floor. I think the only buildings were the garage with the two units and the cottage. Although we visited a few more times in the early days, our next foray and the many visits to follow were for Fred to design and begin the implementation of Cheryl’s memorial Garden by the Sea. George was always available to lend a hand and a bit of sage advice as he carefully watched the construction of the site. Each of these times, being with George and DonnaMarie was a highlight in my life. And as DonnaMarie became less able, George took on the role of loving care person.
George was all of the things each of you have mentioned, “a man for all seasons’? I have a personal story to share. My favorite: I went to their casa on a visit following DonnaMarie’s death: George’s humor is low key; and he is such a tease that sometimes I couldn’t discern humor from seriousness. His “dead pan “ expression was priceless as was his smile and twinkling eyes. I remember walking into the house and he offered me a seat, the chair with its back to the kitchen, the one I usually sat in when in their casa. George left to go to the back door and upon his return, he stepped around the corner and saw someone sitting in the chair, he stopped and gasped – did he imagine it was DonnaMarie? I’ll never know for sure because he very quickly came back into the room for our visit. We talked of DonnaMarie and told several stories of her incredible life and her determination and love of community – remember her pulling herself up the stairs when she could no longer walk well? When it was time for me to leave from the visit with George, somehow we imagined this might be our last visit. I tried to open the door but either pushed or pulled on the door incorrectly and of course, it wouldn’t open. We laughed and George suggested, “perhaps I just don’t want you to leave”!!!! What beautiful parting words from a man who had become a good friend, teacher, and spirit guide. Love you George!
~~ Nancy Lanphear
George was a Spirit man with a capital S. The best and dearest mentor in my life since we lived together in the Lima, Peru house in the mid 80’s. and then periodic visits over 20 years to Litibu. He always pushed reflection and never let a “that was a great collegium or movie” comment go by without asking “what were 2-3 key points?”
~~. Judith Hamje
I remember George from the first ITI we did in Venezuela. He was the dean. I think the Bunkers chafed under his tutelage, but they had expected to lead it themselves and were disappointed. George was magnificent! And though we were on the verge of leaving Caracas to return to the U.S. and couldn’t be part of all of it, I felt the impact of the event and was so sad not to be there for the end. Years later, I saw George again at ICA’s development conference in Tokyo organized by Shizuyo and Wayne. He didn’t remember me of course, but I remembered him, Spirit-giant that he was.
~~ Susan Fertig-Dykes
George was a master of the chalk-talk, bringing life-changing images to both the RS-1 lectures and seminar charts. His thoughtful choice of words linked the curriculum to the lives of the course participants. He was often quiet as he listened carefully to dialogue while discerning threads in a conversation. Truly a master pedagog. Thanks George, for the journey you have shared with all of us. Rest now, your work is done, and we are grateful for your life fully lived.
~~. Sherwood Shankland
George was – I think – my first ‘First Teacher’ in Religious Studies I. I was probably 23 or 24 and feeling pretty young. George said something like, “Fix yourself in your mind that you’re 35.” I still do!
~~ Bill Schlesinger
George was a vital part of the fall Academy 1969. Gratitude for his capacity to expand the context, encourage critical thinking, stimulate imagination, beckon participation, and courage to touch the deeps of life.
George provided his creative juices to build comprehensive community development to marginalized villages and cities across the globe thru Institute of Ciltural Affairs .He, with his dear wife, Donnamarie, built the Litibu Ecovillage starting in the early 1990’s. With Rod & Rose Worden they formed the core that took raw land and carved out what we all see and enjoy today. Personally without him Casa Cancion del Mar and the Pas Jardin (Peace Garden) would not exist. I can say that he provided the experience in creating the LEV thru all the trial & error of community building he had experienced in the years before thru the ICA where he was a giant in community development. He found time to write his book about his COMMUNITY experiences in the now published and available to all. On behalf of the Litibu Ecovillage,
~~ Salvatore Caruso
George and John Bengel worked together in Conacaste, Guatemala. John brought two teams of college students from DePauw University to dig the deposito, a water storage system to feed the water taps in the village and to feed the drip irrigation system modeled on an Israeli design. John said that George was the best prepared, although getting a bulldozer from the state required herculean efforts..That work was a missional highlight for John. He and Fred Lamar from DePauw continued those trips after 1985, including an entire class of medical students from Harvard which John and Dr. Joan Fleishman organized. The mission continued.