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Donna Clemson

Donna S. Clemson

Tuesday, July 18th, 1933 - Sunday, January 31st, 2021
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Obituary

Bellefonte native and longtime resident Donna Symmonds Clemson, 87, died in her home in Amberleigh development, Bellefonte on January 31, 2021 of colon cancer caused by Lynch Syndrome -- a genetic disorder that predisposes carriers to a variety of cancers including colon cancer not caused by polyps.

Born July 18, 1933, in Bellefonte, she was the only daughter of Harry Clair and Frances L. Krouser Symmonds. Her father, an Army officer, was killed in Korea in October 1948 and is identified in its archives as the first American military casualty of the Korean War, two years before the war was acknowledged. Donna was 15 and her little brother, Harry, was 7.

In 1956 she married Frank Gray Clemson, who survives, along with their five children, 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Growing up in Bellefonte, Donna became captain of the varsity cheerleading squad and front-page editor of The Red & White newspaper at Bellefonte High School, where she graduated in 1951. Four years later she earned her B.A. degree in journalism from Penn State, graduating in its centennial year, 1955, and then beginning a long journalistic career, starting as a newspaper reporter for the Meadville Tribune, later for the Huntingdon Daily News and finally for the Centre Daily Times. At the Times for ten years from 1957 to 1967, she was a feature writer and general assignment news reporter covering borough fire and police along with Patton and Ferguson Township government beats. She earned professional awards for enterprising news writing, editorials, government news series and photo features, but claimed that her only 15 minutes of fame resulted from her one-on-one interview with Thelma “Pat” Nixon in the dining car of a train going from Altoona to Huntingdon on a pre-election whistle-stop campaign tour in 1956.
In the early 1970s, during the Watergate surge in journalism admissions, she was recruited as an adjunct instructor for both beginning and advanced public affairs reporting classes at Penn State. In the three years prior to that she had been executive secretary of Collegian Incorporated and adviser to both news and business staffs of the Daily Collegian student newspaper, before joining Penn State’s Alumni Association staff as an assistant editor. From 1975 until her retirement in 1993 she was editor-in-chief of The Penn Stater magazine and other alumni publications, including the biographical presentation booklets for the annual Distinguished Alumni and Lion’s Paw award programs. In 1992 The Penn Stater earned first-place honors in Pennsylvania and subsequently a third-place national award in competition sponsored by the National Federation of Press Women. Donna also was recognized with the Professional Excellence award of Penn State’s Division of Development and University Relations in 1991. In retirement she published a memoir for her family.

A member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, national social fraternity for women, Donna had served as president of its State College alumnae society and had been a longtime adviser to the active chapter on campus. She also served for three years as Beta Province Director of Chapters, responsible for the collegiate chapters at that time of Penn State, Allegheny, Bucknell, Carnegie Mellon and the universities of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh and Connecticut. She was invited to give the keynote address at Kappa’s participation in Penn State’s first Greek reunion.

Locally, Donna chaired the first membership campaign for what was then the Bellefonte Museum for Centre County, now its Art Museum, and served as curator for its 1998 Victorian Christmas exhibit, Mini Magic: The Wonder of Dollhouses and Other Wee Fantasies. An amateur miniaturist herself, Donna created dolls, furniture, houses and a variety of polymer clay items in 1:12 scale.

She was a charter member of Bellefonte’s Tourism Commission and took a leadership role in producing its Victorian Bellefonte brochure, distributed at travel centers throughout the state to promote the community’s architectural and tourist attractions. She also helped design and promote Bellefonte’s Lamplighter Tours to explore the town’s mysterious sites of yesteryear during the Halloween season. On several occasions she was recruited by Ollie and its predecessor to teach bridge lessons to would-be card players.

For the first 19 years of her retirement, Donna and her husband operated The Garret bed and breakfast in their antebellum home on west Linn Street, one of the sites featured on Bellefonte’s Bicentennial Homes Tour in 1995. Beginning in 1972 the house was a frequent stop on homes tours sponsored by the Bellefonte Woman’s Club and the Victorian Christmas. The Clemsons closed up shop and downsized, moving to Amberleigh in 2009.

Donna considered her crowning achievement to be her five children, three sons and two daughters who survive: F. Christopher (Cindy Moyer), Murray, KY; Andrew G. (Wendy Baney), State College; Kirk D. (Lisa Park), Bellefonte; Leslee Torsell (Dan), Leadville, CO; and Dr. Angélique Clemson, Lewistown. Also surviving are 13 grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; brother, Harry of Honolulu, and nieces and nephews.

In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by an infant brother, Kenneth Alan Symmonds.

There will be a public viewing held on Thursday, February 4, 2021, from 1-2pm, at Wetzler Funeral Service, Inc. at 206 N. Spring Street, Bellefonte. Funeral services will immediately follow at 2pm at the funeral home with Thomazine Shannahan officiating. Burial will be private at the convenience of the family. Following CDC recommendations, social distancing is encouraged, and face coverings will be required at all services.

In lieu of flowers, Donna has requested charitable donations to the following charities that are dear to her heart: The Kappa Kappa Gamma Foundation, 6640 Riverside Drive, Suite 200, Dublin, OH 43017 or https://donate.kappakappagamma.org/, Penn State THON, 227 D Hetzel Union Building, University Park, PA 16802 or https://donate.thon.org/, or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105 or https://www.stjude.org/donate/.
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Service Details

  • Visitation

    Thursday, February 4th, 2021 | 1:00pm - 2:00pm
    When
    Thursday, February 4th, 2021 1:00pm - 2:00pm
    Location
    Wetzler Funeral Services Inc.
    Address
    206 North Spring Street
    BELLEFONTE, PA 16823
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
    Notes
    Following CDC recommendations, social distancing is encouraged, and face coverings will be required at all services.
  • Service

    Thursday, February 4th, 2021 | 2:00pm
    When
    Thursday, February 4th, 2021 2:00pm
    Location
    Wetzler Funeral Service, Inc.
    Address
    206 N. Spring Street
    BELLEFONTE, PA 16823
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
    Notes
    Following CDC recommendations, social distancing is encouraged, and face coverings will be required at all services.
    Officiant
    Thomazine Shannahan
  • Interment

    Location
    Private at the convenience of the family
    Address
    206 N. Spring Street
    BELLEFONTE, PA
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email

Condolences

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Melanie Neumann sent flowers to the family of Donna S. Clemson.
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BS

Bill Stover

Posted at 07:12pm
Frank and family I am so sorry for your loss. While my career took me away from Bellefonte, it was always nice to visit when I returned 5o Bellefonte. I have many stories of my teenage years that involve Donna expressing herself at her displeasure of our antics. I will never forget her or my time with the Clemson family.
MP

Mary Prendergast

Posted at 12:30pm
My thoughts and prayers are with all of Donna's family.
 
LT

Leslee Torsell Posted at 04:24pm

Thank you, Mary, for the care you helped give Mom and Dad during her last couple weeks of life. The Clemson Children
VF

Vicki Fong

Posted at 07:56am
Donna was a leader at Penn State as editor in chief of the Penn Stater magazine. She displayed sharp, no-nonsense wit, intelligence and integrity in keeping alumni informed of the happenings at the University. I greatly appreciated Donna's kindness and wise counsel to a young communications manager like myself in the late 1980s. She brought the same energy and leadership to her community work as well. Thank you, Donna and Frank.
U

Umeeta Sadarangani

Posted at 09:03pm
Donna hired me as a proofreader when I started in the PhD program In the English department and before I had an assistantship. Recognizing I could write and being the mentor she was, she would have me write little pieces for the Penn Stater, too. I think I had my interview for the position in August 1990—after Iraq had invaded Kuwait, where my parents lived, and it would be mid-September before I had contact with them again. Though I was new to the staff and only part time, she made me feel cared about and less alone during one of the most difficult times of my life. The Penn Stater office in Old Main became my home on campus that year. I’ll always be grateful to her.
My sympathy for your loss.
Umeeta Sadarangani
 

Clemson Kirk Posted at 09:54pm

To be honest, the first time I shed a tear of losing my mom was reading the condolences posted on this website. I never realized how many people's lives my mom touched. Thank you for sharing!
TM

Terrence J McDonough

Posted at 03:14pm
Extending my condolences to the Clemson family/extended family of Donna. Her son, Drew, was a close friend and I worked with Frank at the Bureau of Employment Services in State College for a short stint after graduating from PSU in 1972. I wasn't around Donna that often but when I had the privilege of being with her she was so gracious and warm and made me feel like one of her kids. She was genuinely interested in my life and well-being and always let me know she welcomed future visits. I'm sure she will be missed by the whole Bellefonte/State College community. Rest in peace, Donna.
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