GREENFIELD — Donna Davis was on the way to receive chemotherapy when she placed the call.
She knew of a student facing unexpected college expenses. She called a close friend and asked her to find a way to quietly send the student a small check.
Even as she dealt with her own problems, Davis thought of others, said Barbara Hembree, the friend who took the call.
Davis was part of the St. Michael Catholic Church parish for more than 40 years. After her death Dec. 18, the church received an outpouring of contributions in her memory. They’ve become the Donna Davis Child in Need Fund, a way to quietly help children that longtime friends say is a fitting tribute to Davis’ life of compassion and generosity.
Hembree met Davis when they started the third grade at St. Bernadette Catholic School in Indianapolis. They had desks next to each other in that classroom. Years later, when Hembree joined the staff in the St. Michael Parish Office, where Davis served as bookkeeper for about 18 years, the women again had desks next to each other.
In an email to the Daily Reporter, Hembree wrote that during Davis’ battle with cancer, she told Hembree she was grateful that she had been given the time to tell her family and friends that she loved them.
“She was surprised to learn just how many friends she had,” Hembree wrote. “She said this time was a gift. … What Donna didn’t realize is that she was the gift.”
Hembree remembers a woman devoted to faith and family, a good example who helped her be a better person, a friend with an unforgettable laugh.
“She could laugh so easily,” longtime friend Jeanne O’Donnell said. “She was very open to everybody. I think she really loved people.”
Davis and O’Donnell met when they were 16 and Davis’ family moved to Beech Grove, about a block and a half from O’Donnell’s family. They went to different Catholic schools, but they went on a few double dates and remained friends into adulthood, through several decades and multiple moves. They and their husbands played cards and traveled together; the Davises even visited the O’Donnells when they lived in Ireland.
O’Donnell said Davis often called with cooking questions and was able to laugh at herself. Davis thought of others, she said, whether they were the special education students she taught before becoming a stay-at-home mom, her own children, or the children at St. Michael School.
“She made everybody feel comfortable. … She just was a good listener,” O’Donnell said. “Even during her illness she wanted to be with people, she wanted to help. She wanted to maintain as much of the normal lifestyle as possible.”
Deacon Wayne Davis, no relation to Donna Davis, said the parish bookkeeper was cheerful, quick to pick up on a comedic moment and lift others’ spirits.
He worked with her in the parish office, particularly when the parish was between priests and the deacon served as parish administrator.
He said in the life of a parochial school, there are moments when families can get behind on paying tuition. He knows such moments impacted Davis.
“She was very empathetic to people, just really could relate to them,” he said. “She was very good mechanically, but Donna, she was not tough when it came to dealing with people.”
That’s why he finds the fund a fitting tribute to her life. He said the school principal, the business manager and the priest will confer about needs brought to their attention. Help will be given confidentially, the deacon said, so that no one’s pride is compromised. It’s in keeping with the quiet generosity of the fund’s namesake.
“The fund captures her contribution well,” he said. “The families that are just on the fringes … (for example) the child needs some tennis shoes or something to play a sport.”
That’s the kind of thing, he said, that Donna Davis would have supported.
“It really captures what her life was about.”