Dona Sturmanis (1955-2016)
April 11th, 2016
Respected and loved as a teacher and an ‘enabler,’ Dona Sturmanis died in the Okanagan of cancer at age 60 on March 8, 2016. Born in Texas in 1955, she received a BFA and MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and worked for twenty years as a journalist, author, editor, teacher and publisher for her own imprint, Orca Sound Publishing. Among the significant titles she published was Terry Gould’s first book, How the Blind Make Love (1984) and a poetry collection by Pat Lowther, Final Instructions (1980), edited by Fred Candelaria. Her own first book was The Coffee Lover’s Handbook (Intermedia 1979), co-written with Cathy Ford.
Having remarried in 1992, Sturmanis moved to Peachland where she was a contributing writer and editor for Okanagan Life magazine for 23 years. She also coordinated and published four ‘Secrets & Surprises’ books with local writers. These began with Summerland Secrets & Surprises: The Ultimate Small Town (Summerland Writers and Publishers, 1993), followed by Penticton Secrets & Surprises, Richmond Secrets & Surprises and Okanagan Secrets & Surprises. Her own books were Viole(n)t Culture (Word is Out Press, 1996) and a poetry collection concerning ancestry and relationships, You Mistook Heaven (Kalamalka Press, 1998). She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in June, 2012, whereupon her many friends and admirers in the arts community organized a fundraising benefit for her. In her final years, Sturmanis was writing a book about happiness.
She wrote on her blog:
“I am happy to report that most days, I am … happy. I made the decision to be happy more than a year ago when I was informed that my breast cancer had returned and metastasized into my lung and bones. Not knowing how long I had left, I wasn’t going to spend that time depressed, as I did after my first diagnosis. This time, I was determined to enjoy every moment.
“My decision to start my mornings by dancing around the kitchen to Pharrell Williams’s hit song “Happy,” while revelling in the aroma of the insanely priced coffee beans I’d just ground, is not unusual. According to a 2013 study, people who have dealt with adversity in the past often report a heightened capacity for savouring the moment. The study authors conclude that “the worst experiences in life may come with an eventual upside, by promoting life’s small pleasures.
“Getting happy, of course, is not just a priority for someone who’s been through a traumatic event—serious personal illness, death of a family member, divorce, et cetera. It’s on everyone’s mind. Books are continually written about happiness. It’s studied at universities. The University of California, Berkeley even offers a free online course called “The Science of Happiness,” which has been taken by more than 200,000 people since it launched in September 2014.”
Dona Sturmanis published articles in: Alive, Award, BC Agriculture, BC Business, BC Bookworld, BC Grocer, BC Homes, BC Woman, BC Pharmacist, Business in Vancouver, Bongarde Communications (safety publication), Bridges (online educational resource), Business in Vancouver, Canadian Art, Canadian Author & Bookman, Eat, Experience, Food & Wine Trails, Food in Canada, Georgia Straight, Gonzo, Kamloops Daily News—Insight, Kelowna Daily Courier, Niche, North of 50, Okanagan Arts, Okanagan Health & Wellness, Okanagan Home, Okanagan Life, Okanagan Mission Review, Okanagan Woman, Orchard & Vine, The Province, Quill & Quire, Regina Home, Sage-ing, Saskatoon Home, Savour, Senior Living, Summerland Review, Step, UBC Alumni Chronicle, University of Calgary Gazette, Vancouver Magazine, Vancouver Sun, West, Western Living, Western News, Western People, Western Report, Westworld. She has also worked as writer/editor on a number of custom publications—guides such as BCRA Annual Rodeo Guide (2014), Osoyoos Visitor’s Guide (2012), West Kelowna Visitor’s Guide (2011), Okanagan Relocation Guide (2004-2006), Okanagan Visitor’s Guide (2004-2006), Shuswap Visitor’s Guide (2005), and the Okanagan-Similkameen Tourism Association Valley Agritourism Guide (1994).
Mr. Twigg, thank you so much for this fine eulogy to Dona. I have many unpublished poems that I have yet to even look at let alone read and study through.
She had much time on her hands in the last three years or more and she kept telling me how much poetry she’d put down…I just don’t really know. It could be a small batch, but I doubt it.
In recent years, the idea of publishing just wasn’t in her anymore. As she would say, “I am but a small god.” Yet, I feel after re-reading her trilogy that there was far more to our little Dona than we may have first thought. On page 17,of You Mistook Heaven starts A Luvian Folktale. The poem reveals an awkward story that sent shivers up and down my entire nervous system–it seemed a foretelling of Dona’s own demise 20 years before it happened. Shivers once more.
Thanks again for this piece…I learned a few more things about my Dona that I didn’t know before. 🙂 Cheers, rand
I will always remember Dona as the most darling little baby and little girl when my husband an I were her parent’s very close friends in Houston, Tx. I still have great picture of her sitting in the bluebonnets on a Sunday outing so many, years ago. I was shocked and so sad to learn of her death. Too young, of course. It has helped to read from her other colleagues and friends about her. If there is a heaven, I know Leon and Fran were there to greet her. Bless them all.
Harriet, this is rand Zacharias…Dona’s dear friend. We shared the last six years together, licking each others wounds and rubbing feet–she loved a good foot rub with the best of lotions…blueberry was one of her favourites. 🙂
Could you send that picture to me at email@example.com? I have so many pictures of her and I in the last 13 years of her life, but none of her early beginnings. Tho’ she did tell me many tales of her nine years in Texas–she was glad her father was a globe trotter. 🙂
Thank you so much in advance…I would love to see that little madonna child. 🙂
Dona Sturmanis introduced me more than once as her oldest friend, starting when we were very young. By this she meant, and so did I, that we would get old together. She had the most beautiful cheekbones, and the best self-deprecating laugh ever. Her work ethic was frightening, she often spent all night between bites of pizza or one more cup of coffee finishing articles to other people’s impossible deadlines, in the most gracious way. I team taught with Dona several times, and was always wonderstruck at the way she simply opened people up, like huge hopeful flowers, just wanted to get the writing planted in the real world. I will miss her terrible in my life. Sending love to those who were affected by her energy and open heart. I am grateful having known her for over 45 years – who knew?
Dona Sturmanis was my Angel who treated me with great respect and encouraged me to use my writing skills. I didn’t realize how advanced her Cancer was and losing her 1yr right after my Mom to cancer (2015) hits me hard. I wish I would have had more time with her. . . .may her spirit from above help me as I move forward with my writing and use of my other Abilities.
She was a good friend of a friend, and a very quiet positive presence on our scene. Of course she will be widely missed.
Donna was always so kind and gracious to me. I first met her about 15 years ago when I attended some of her workshops as I flirted with the idea of becoming a writer. After producing much mediocre material I recently saw she was advertising more courses and I was looking forward to attending and getting my mojo working. I knew she had been sick but not as sick as she obviously was as she never let on there was anything wrong. I think I could have really liked her had I taken the time to get to know her better. I feel my hesitations in pursuing my goals robbed me of someone that could have helped. In the memory of Donna let all the great writers of the Okanagan produce some great work this summer and dedicate it to her.