Local educator honors his wife’s memory through giving
Don Shaffner and his wife, Mary Donna, excelled as educators and enjoyed a life of travel together.
Don was in education for about 35 years, most of which was spent in Granite City schools. The last 21 years he was there he lead a cooperative education program that grew from nothing to more than 300 children.
“It was an interesting job because it gave me a chance to meet people in the community I never would have met just teaching in the classroom,” Don said.
Teaching is what brought him and Mary Donna together.
“I was the president of a bi-county teachers’ union and she was a delegate,” he said. “That’s how we met.”
But before the two were together, Mary Donna was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 21. Don says Mary Donna’s cancer was found during a routine chest X-ray.
“So, she was in a small town named Venice, Ill., down by the river,” he said. “Anyway, she went in and her small-town doctor said, ‘Miss Scaturro, something’s not right. I don’t know what it is, but you need to go somewhere where they can work with you.’”
Mary Donna went to Jewish Hospital, which later merged with Barnes Hospital to form Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Later in her journey, she received her treatments at Siteman Cancer Center. She battled cancer until her death at age 63.
“Mary Donna was a role model to me,” Don said. “She never backed away from living life to the fullest. I know that the physicians at Siteman share her resolve to never to give up.”
During Don’s time in the Granite City school system, his superintendent encouraged him to get involved in a large service organization in town, so Don joined the Rotary. As a Rotarian, Don ended up being a correspondent for five countries in Europe. Everywhere he went, Mary Donna went with him.
“They were paying my way and I was paying her way, but anyway, the long and the short of it is, I always had to have somebody who was keeping records of everything we did. And she was a business major in school, and so anyway…” Don said.
The couple traveled the world together – from Australia to Turkey to Sweden. Mary Donna didn’t let her diagnosis stop her.
“Well, as I said, with her health history, it could easily have been a situation where she sat back and said, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that,’ Don said. “But she didn’t. If I said, ‘I got a chance to do this,’ she said, ‘Let’s go,’ so.”
Don started supporting Siteman in 2011. He’s given through annual contributions as a way to say thank you.
While he has given to other organizations that helped in Mary Donna’s care, when it came time to plan for a larger gift, his focus turned to Siteman.
“When I was making plans for my estate, I realized I could do more. I have included Siteman’s Discovery Fund in my will so that I can help fuel their groundbreaking research and advance the fight against this disease,” Don said.
Don says that since he and Mary Donna didn’t have children, the decision to give part of his estate to Siteman was even easier. He was motivated to give because of what he and Mary Donna went through. He wants to try to make things different – better – to make cancer as simple of an illness as a common cold.
Don’s desire is to make an impact in the fight against cancer, and to inspire others to join in that fight by giving.
“By sharing my commitment, I hope to inspire others to give,” he said. “You don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference.”