Humble Beginnings and Hard Work
“She was the hardest working person I’ve ever known, and always had a smile on her face,” said Mary Vanier about her mother Donna. “She was very much a person who wanted to get in and help and when she said she’d do something, she did it 150%.”
Whether it was setting up for church or cleaning a bunk house at the family ranch, no job was beneath her. She did the labor herself and it wasn’t unusual to find Donna on a riding mower well into her 70s. Much of her hard work ethic can be attributed to her upbringing.
Donna L. Vanier was born on October 24, 1934, in Salina, KS, and grew up in a working-class family with her younger brother Doug. Her father, Willis Lindsey, worked for Kansas Power and Light, living mostly paycheck to paycheck. Although her family didn’t have much extra in terms of money, she was very rich in her faith at Christ Cathedral Episcopal Church, and a talented vocalist, singing in many church and school productions growing up.
After graduating from Salina High School, Donna attended the University of Kansas for two years before returning home to work at Dillons as a checker. Unbeknownst to Donna, her future mother-in-law, Lesta Vanier, had heard great things about this “young lady”, and made a point to go through Donna’s checkout line at Dillons to see if Donna might be a good match for her middle son John, “Jack” Vanier. After that, the rest is history. Jack and Donna were married for 65 years, and together ran the family cattle business at C.K. Ranch west of Brookville while raising three children, Marty, John and Mary.
Donna believed strongly in helping to provide opportunities for people to have a better life, particularly children. Her son John says, “You can’t guarantee success, but you can guarantee opportunity,” and Jack and Donna very much lived by this. Donna grew up in a family that did not have a lot, so when she married into one that did, she took that with great responsibility and wanted to make a positive impact.
Her daughter Mary said, “She believed we’re all in this together, and we need to help each other whether we know each other or not. She wanted to lift people up and help give them the opportunity to have the best life possible.” And that is what Donna did.
Donna was very active in the community during all stages of her life, whether it was with her children’s 4-H Club activities, her church or serving on nonprofit boards in Salina. She had a huge soft spot for children and proudly served on the board of St. John’s Military School and was the driving force behind the Donna L. Vanier Children’s Center. She contributed in ways that she felt she could help the most, whether it was through service, money or both. Recognition was not important to her and she gave back because she felt it was a calling from a greater power and that’s just “what you do.”
When Donna passed away on May 23, 2020, she left a gift in her will to the community foundation to create a permanent fund that will forever support the causes that were near and dear to her heart—human services, education, children and her church. As one of the foundation’s founding donors and original board members, she knew that her gift would be well taken care of and distributed in the way that she wanted.
Donna loved people and she loved the people of Salina. It was home.